50-50 Challenge: Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Last season's top two face each other in a friendly in New York this week -- Steven Kelly (Liverpool) and Simon Curtis (Manchester City) discuss the match and whether we will see any clues regarding the season ahead.
How would you assess your pre-season so far?
Simon Curtis: While any pre-season that includes a defeat to Dundee and a thrashing of Sporting Kansas City may tick many of the necessary boxes, it will leave only the giddiest of supporters thinking there is any deeper relevance to the upcoming season bar the gaining of fitness and playing time.
What these games do not tell us much about is precisely what to expect for the new season. That is the nature of pre-season and some take it a little too seriously these days. A match against Liverpool, however, is not one you wish to lose just before the season starts and with a strong line-up expected, more will be gleaned from this one that what has gone before.
Steven Kelly: Simon, you'll probably remember a City player called Paul Stewart from the 80's. Well, after seeing him sign for Liverpool in 1992 from Tottenham and resemble a world-beater in a 7-1 win during pre-season I've learned the hard way not to take any of this stuff seriously because he was pretty poor when the proper football began.
Despite the reluctance to get carried away, Liverpool fans are already excited about Lazar Markovic and complaining about Glen Johnson.
SC: I remember Stewart well. A top striker at Maine Road, chairman Peter Swales swore he would never be sold, only to promptly offload him to Spurs for 1.7 million pounds. By the time he showed up at Anfield, he had been turned into an incredibly slow midfielder. There's a pre-season message in there for all of us!
What have you made of your opponents' summer in the transfer market?
SC: Very interesting on all fronts. What may well be a deciding factor in the end is not who has been bought, but rather who has departed. Liverpool without Luis Suarez cannot be seen as the same prospect as last season, despite a heavy spending spree on players of a reasonable quality.
Whether Liverpool, with Champions League football and without their one player of world class repute, can reproduce the magnificent effort of last season's challenge is open to serious question.
SK: From the outside it seems quiet and relaxed, almost apologetically so since City got that spanking from UEFA over financial fair play. The vast amounts expended in recent years were clearly just a fast-track to the top. Now they're there, the mega-wallet will only re-emerge when true quality is available. Despite pushing City to the wire in May, Liverpool are further behind in their development.
I liked the look of Fernando at Porto, so City getting him is a shame because he was certainly in Liverpool's price range.
What do you hope to learn from this match?
SC: I would hope to see the beginnings of a plan for the season, rather than a collection of players attempting to gain full fitness. It is often stated that players will not reach the required levels of fitness until a month or so into the season proper, but a match against a fellow title rival so near to the beginning of the Premier League is not one that either manager will want to cede.
SK: That's certainly true from a red perspective. With spending still to do, especially after the collapse of the Loic Remy deal, I imagine there still won't be many clues as to how Liverpool approach the new season. I'm hoping to see very little, other than the reds can hold their own and Louis van Gaal proved right about these tours being commercial exercises and little else.
I'm intrigued by the difficult nature of all Liverpool's opponents. It's like everyone's been thrown in at the deep end hoping players will be properly psyched once the season begins. That could rebound on the Reds mentally if there are any humiliating defeats. Of course if Liverpool should win on Wednesday night it will suddenly become the greatest idea anyone's ever had.
Do you expect Liverpool and City to battle it out for the title again?
SC: I expect Liverpool to struggle to match what they achieved last season, which was phenomenal by any standards. That it was them and not United or Chelsea or Arsenal that took City to the very last day, was not only a surprise to all but a clear sign of the talent of the management team and the squad of players at Anfield.
I expect the title race to end up being between City, Chelsea and Arsenal, with United and Liverpool battling for 4th.
SK: I'm not sure City should get cocky either, Simon. The defence of their previous title was sub-standard and being champions carries extra responsibility -- heavy lies the crown, and all that. I must concur about Liverpool's chances and it's not just the usual precautionary scepticism either. Given such rare forays into title contention since 1990 there have not been many league seasons where Liverpool actually reached or exceeded 80 points and never twice in a row even during the bountiful times. That even applies to the Bob Paisley giants of 1978-1979; the Reds' best ever side.
The loss of Suarez, a stream of additions and the Champions League will make it doubly difficult for the reds to back up last season's excellent form.
What do you need to improve on in the coming weeks to be 100 percent ready for the new season?
SC: These are very early days and until we see the real City in action, we cannot really say too much. One of the stumbling blocks of the past two seasons has been a slightly leaky defence and despite winning the league last season, City have moved to sort out this problem with the recruitment of Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero, Eliaquim Mangala and indeed, in his role protecting the defence, Fernando too.
As Mangala's transfer is taking an inordinate amount of time to be concretised and he, therefore, has not yet been seen in a sky blue shirt, merely witnessing the new look defence in action together would be a fine thing for some of us.
SK: It's still a frustratingly incomplete picture at the moment, though Dejan Lovren has been added at long last. Some were hoping for a big marquee signing that would at least partially replace Suarez and fight Daniel Sturridge for the number one striker's spot. It now appears Remy was expected to be number two with Rickie Lambert used only sparingly.
It would be very risky to spend so much of the projected windfall just for the sake of it but even this late in the day somebody else's superstar could be filled with wanderlust. A genuinely exciting replacement for the goofy Uruguayan might still arrive yet.