Liverpool, Man City seek to maintain Premier League title challenges
Liverpool and Manchester City meet on New Year's Eve with both sides desperate to stay in touch with Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Steven Kelly (Liverpool) and David Mooney (Manchester City) preview the match.
What's at stake here?
SK: In recent games, Liverpool have looked like being on the verge of getting back into the title race. They were back to form against Middlesbrough and secured a late winner at Everton to ensure they're clinging on to their challenging position, before a comprehensive 4-1 win over Stoke.
This was meant to be a season of development, not triumph, at Anfield but by staying among the top places for as long as possible, they give themselves more confidence for the tasks further ahead.
There's plenty of room for manoeuvre for Jurgen Klopp to ultimately play the rebuilding card but, publicly, he's oozing confidence that Liverpool can challenge for a while longer. The City game will show how serious the Reds are about lasting the pace.
DM: It feels like a place in the title race is at stake for both teams in this one. For Manchester City, an uncomfortably long inconsistent patch has left them playing catch-up on a machine-like Chelsea side racking up the victories.
As Chelsea steam away at the top of the league, those trying to hang on to their coat-tails could knock themselves out of the race by taking points off each other -- City have the chance to take full control of the chasing pack, after a 2-1 win over Arsenal and with the New Year's Eve trip to Anfield. But no matter who is in charge or what players are available, City always struggle at Anfield.
Will Liverpool and City finish in the top two this season?
SK: It does feel as if there's only one of those places up for grabs, with Chelsea favourites for the other. Should they collapse and lose top spot, they could certainly be overtaken by more than one team given how close the chasing pack is.
City's depth and quality means they stand a better chance than Liverpool of a top-two finish, but the Reds do have the advantage of no European football. That said, January promises to be a hard month for Klopp's squad, while City will be able to focus on the league more than they did during the Champions League group stages.
Before deciding whether their team will finish above City, Liverpool fans will probably wait until Europe's top club competition reconvenes to look at the Premier League table.
DM: No -- but the likelihood is one of them will. Liverpool have looked more solid under Klopp than City have under Pep Guardiola, though the Anfield boss has had a year longer to work his magic.
So far, though, both of them are some distance behind Chelsea and barring a major collapse at Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte's side are surely a certainty for a place in the top two.
What will be the key battle?
SK: From a red point of view this will simply be subtitled Philippe Coutinho vs. anyone if he is fit to play because, with five goals in six games, the Brazilian's scoring record against City is very good.
Beyond that, whoever is tasked with marking Sergio Aguero on his return from suspension faces an immense battle of strength, cunning and concentration. Few defenders win it, but the City forward's long layoff may help Dejan Lovren or Joel Matip.
In truth, though, so many players drift all over the pitch that citing one particular head-to-head is difficult. Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are all capable of excellence without needing to get the better of one particular opposition player.
Perhaps the biggest battle could be between Manchester City and Anfield, for they have a truly awful record there; their last league win at Anfield came in 2003. No matter how good City are or how bad Liverpool are, both teams seem to save their respective worst and best for this fixture.
DM: There could be many across the pitch, but Sadio Mane up against Aleksandar Kolarov could be decisive. The Serbian swings wildly from playing well to being a liability at the back, so a lot of the match could come down to how the defender settles.
When Mane last played City, he bagged a hat trick in a 4-2 Southampton win last season -- Kolarov was atrocious in that display, though, to be fair to him, he wasn't alone in that regard.
Liverpool under Klopp or City under Guardiola: Who is best set for long-term success?
SK: If Klopp should ever win the league, he'd probably get a statue in his honour; it's been that long since Liverpool did so.
The German is more likely to reach his targets this season because they're a little more realistic but any thought of taking Liverpool back into the realm of the super clubs long-term has to wait until he's had some success of any kind.
As for City, what is actually deemed "success" for clubs that spend so much money? City have won the league twice since they reinvented themselves and sacked both managers who did so. Sustained dominance and success in the Champions League appear to be Guardiola's main tasks.
DM: It's going to be really interesting to watch, as both will get the time they need to transform their team into what they want. Ultimately, for the long term, City under Guardiola will probably be the better bet -- the Catalan has perhaps tried too quickly to impose his ideas on to a group of players that can't hack it, but with time to alter the squad how he sees fit, City fans should be excited.
Guardiola has a history of problem-solving and spotting weakness in opponents that others haven't. He's got the real opportunity to make life interesting for City fans after two years of Manuel Pellegrini's stagnation.
SK: 2-1. Despite the visitors' quality and manager, Anfield can resist the charms of Manchester City for a little longer.
SC: City's record at Anfield is woeful and their performances have been hit and miss recently, so the fans won't be that confident -- an unhelpful 2-2 draw.