Liverpool v Man City: What has changed since last season?
Jack Green analyses four key differences from the 2018/19 title race, including City's sudden vulnerability and Matip's emergence for Liverpool.
City are suddenly fallible…
City showed incredible resolve to hold off Liverpool with 14 consecutive Premier League wins last season.
Like a souped-up version of Arsenal’s Invincibles, Pep Guardiola’s side played with a swagger that suggested they always knew they were going to score the crucial goal eventually.
That aura is now gone.
Defeats to Norwich and Wolves – two matches in which they conceded a total of five goals – prove the champions can, in fact, be beaten.
City’s defence has been their weakness this term.
With Aymeric Laporte injured, Nicolas Otamendi struggling and Fernandinho regularly forced to drop into the back four, they’re more vulnerable than they were at any point last season.
…but still have unrivalled depth
While Jurgen Klopp continues to rely heavily upon the same players, Guardiola has consistently rotated his squad.
Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus have stepped up to ease the burden on attackers like Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva.
New signings Joao Cancelo and Angelino have both started games at full-back, along with Benjamin Mendy, who is now back from injury,
The addition of Rodri has also allowed Fernandinho to drop in at centre-back after Laporte’s injury without City losing any steel in midfield.
That depth will surely tell in the title race as both sides deal with congested fixture lists.
Liverpool have eight players who have played at least 800 Premier League minutes this season. City have two. Liverpool have 12 players who have played 300 minutes or more. City have 17.
The champions’ ability to rotate – along with the fact that their best player is fit and currently on track for 31 assists – means they can’t be ruled out, even if they lose on Sunday.
Liverpool aren’t as defensively solid…
Liverpool weren’t just beating teams at the end of last season, they were blowing them away.
They won their final five games last term by an aggregate score of 14-2, and were devastating at home, scoring at least two goals in 11 of their last 12 matches at Anfield.
But, as great as they’ve been going forward, Liverpool’s recent success has been built on having the best defence in the league, an area in which they’ve declined this season.
They’ve only kept two clean sheets in 11 Premier League matches, and their xGA per game has climbed to 0.93 from 0.77 last season.
That’s still the best in the division, but the clear advantage that City have in attack – they’ve scored 34 goals this season to Liverpool’s 25 – means the Reds must rediscover that solidity at the back if they are going to hold on to the top spot.
…though Matip has stepped up
Last season, Virgil van Dijk was the best defender in the Premier League.
This season, he hasn’t even been the best in his own team.
While it’s an exaggeration to claim the Dutchman isn’t having a great season, the statistics suggest Van Dijk hasn’t been at his imperious best.
His WhoScored rating has dropped from 7.44 to 7.22, he’s made fewer tackles and clearances per game and has also committed more fouls.
Matip, meanwhile, has emerged as an integral member of Klopp’s side after being given a run in the team to end last season.
The 28-year-old’s 7.52 WhoScored rating is the highest of any Liverpool player, while he’s made more interceptions, clearances and blocks than Van Dijk.
He’s out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury, and will be a huge miss.
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