Liverpool’s domination of English football is long gone, so too is Manchester City’s painfully-earned, well deserved reputation for contriving to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Despite the contrasting fortunes of the Reds of Merseyside and the Blues of Manchester in recent times, it’s perhaps surprising that Roberto Mancini’s side still find it a struggle to be wholly dominant when the teams clash.
Granted City have recorded convincing 3-0 wins on Liverpool’s last two Premier League encounters at the Etihad, but even with the champions-elect at the peak of their powers, the Scousers still nicked a 1-0 victory, effectively knocking City out of last season’s Carling Cup.
Back in August, a disjointed, underwhelming Brendan Rodger’s side gave the now champions a real scare at Anfield, as City escaped with a 2-2 draw. City have won only three of the last 10 home games with ‘Pool’ in a fixture where goals are often a rare quantity.
The somewhat sad, but wholly understandable, indeed, inevitable departure of Mario Balotelli surely cannot help City in the ‘goals for’ column. The erratic Italian has hardly bust the bank with his solitary PL strike against Wigan, but there was always the possibility of a flash of brilliance.
Unfortunately petulance and bone idleness were always stronger possibilities, but the irascible and irritatingly likeable Mario will be missed, especially with City not signing any significant replacement. That said, City won 59% of the games where Balotelli featured. Tellingly, they won 69% when he didn’t.
The onus of responsibility for firing City to a second title now sits with Aguero, Tevez and Dzeko. City are 18 goals shy of their haul at this stage of the season in 2012, and the triple strike force had better step up unless they’re going to be the Three Stooges.
Tevez has failed to score in the last eight PL games. In mitigation, he is the league leader in ‘assists’ with thirteen. Aguero has been bedevilled with injuries and Dzeko torn between Super Sub duties and underwhelming starter roles.
Whichever way you cut it, even with the steady introduction of Swedish prodigy John Guidetti from the subs bench, City have a £90m forward line that simply has to perform better.
The defence – often disrupted for one reason or another this season – is now exemplary, with or without the sadly missing skipper, Vincent Kompany.
With the man who gives hideous rodents a bad name – Luis Suarez – in top form, City could have done with their Captain Fantastic. In his absence, Mancini will be praying Matija Nastasic is fit, as the super Serbian teenager is capable of shacking the Uruguayan.
Pablo Zabaleta is probably the leading candidate for City’s Player of the Year at present and his full back partner, Gael Clichy has been in superb form. The under-utilised Joleon Lescott, has performed stoically since incurring Mancini’s wrath for a poor performance in the Amsterdam ArenA, while Javi Garcia has acquitted himself admirably as a stand-in centre back.
They’ll be wary of ex-City Academy graduate, Daniel Sturridge, who will be looking to massage his disproportionately overblown ego against his former employers. He’s made a good start to his Liverpool career and is a real threat.
Rodger’s team has scored in their last 11 league matches, whereas City haven’t conceded in any competition since Boxing Day. As trends go, Liverpool have failed to win any of the eight games when they’ve fallen behind. City haven’t lost any of the 13 when they’ve scored first – 12 wins and one draw.
Drawing, let alone losing is not an option thanks to Shrek and Manure’s antics at Craven Cottage. City are now 10 points behind and there is no leeway for any repeat of the disappointment of dropped points at QPR.
With four wins and a draw since Yaya Toure departed for the African Cup of Nations, it could be argued City are not missing the Ivorian colossus, but his influence on this game could have been immense.
Liverpool’s midfield of Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas would not have held a candle to his power and domination. City will probably deploy Barry and Milner alongside Garcia if Nastasic passes a fitness test.
Should City fall into the trap of playing too narrow and Zaba and Clichy fail to penetrate down the flanks it could be a long and frustrating afternoon. Mancini needs to find some variety in attack – sadly lacking at QPR.
As one who still believes Mancini can deliver a delicious league and cup double this season, even this scribe would be hard pressed to ooze optimism if City fail to take three points.
If Rodger’s can spring a surprise it’ll have the Kopites thinking this is the beginning of the way back. If City fall short it could be the beginning of the end of retaining the title.
Until 18.00hrs Sunday it remains Forza Mancini, with a Manchester City XI more than capable of getting the win, remaining on the radar and tracking their bitter red foe all the way.