Sunday, August 26, 2012

Liverpool vs. Manchester City preview

Liverpool suffered a horrific opening day defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns, and unfortunately there is already an unfair amount of pressure on new boss Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers style was evident to see in the first half where Liverpool were the significantly superior team but failed to capitalize on the many chances they created.

While Luis Suarez did miss some chances, the Uruguayan was simply sensational, and his movement and trickery are going to be vital in Rodgers' Anfield revolution. Joe Allen was excellent in possession, and with the newly arrived Nuri Sahin and Lucas Leiva, the trio should form the pivot on which Liverpool build possession and adhere to the philosophy of Rodgers' plan at Liverpool. 

The challenge with Rodgers style however, is that square pegs cannot fit into round holes. Rodgers will have to quickly establish the role and right position of skipper Steven Gerrard in the new system. Gerrard certainly won't fit into a deeper role with his propensity to look for hollywood balls, so a roving role further up the pitch might be the best solution. The game intelligence and link-up play of Stewart Downing is a far bigger concern however, with the left foot of Downing being the point where most of Liverpool's forward moves broke down on the opening weekend. Fabio Borini's unimpressive debut can be forgiven, as the Italian already has the experience and know-how to play under Rodgers.

Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson are both natural fits, however it will take time for Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel to adhere to the new tactics at Liverpool. The duo will certainly be the first choice partnership at the back for the whole season, but will have to get used to a more refined sense of tactical positioning in relation to the full-backs and midfield. To make matters complicated Agger is suspended for the first game at Anfield, and Rodgers will probably select Jamie Carragher, with the veteran's tendency to cede possession not ideal to the new game plan of Liverpool. Sebastian Coates will probably become the main back-up to Agger and Skrtel, but a game against the reigning champions might be a risky bet to insert the Uruguayan centre-back in the starting line-up.

Manchester City put in the kind of unpredictable performance on the opening weekend of the season, that only they are capable of. City failed to finish off the newly promoted Southampton after taking the lead, and after letting the Saints score two goals, City's fans were reminded of last season's dramatic conclusion on the way to winning the league. Thankfully for the cardiological benefit of everyone at Eastlands, City equalized and regained the lead by the 80th minute this time around.

Without doubt the biggest concern for City was the injury sustained to Sergio Aguero that's expected to keep him out for a month. City won't suffer too much in his absence, as compatriot Carlos Tevez now seems genuinely settled after the shenanigans of last season. A fully motivated Tevez makes a huge difference to City's attack with his tireless running allied with lethal finishing. Mancini could pair Tevez with either Mario Balotelli or Edin Dzeko without reducing the teams potency.

While David Silva seems a bit short of match fitness, Samir Nasri will have to carry on from his good performance on the opening weekend as the main creative force in the attacking third. Aside from the gaffe that led to Southampton's second goal, Jack Rodwell put in an assured debut and alongside the indomitable Yaya Toure ensured that City maintained control in midfield. Mancini might even opt to play Carlos Tevez alone up front, and bring in the defensive qualities of Nigel de Jong in midfield, in what is likely to be a tough assignment away at Anfield.

The champions showed in their opening game, that defensive frailties from last season still endure in Mancini's starting line-up. Outside of the excellence of Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and Gael Clichy in particular can be targeted by enterprising teams. Last season, Hart delivered a man-of-the-match performance in helping City to a draw, and his services will be called upon again this time in an equally tough encounter. Despite their horrendous start, Liverpool will be expected to come out all guns blazing for their home opener at Anfield, and Rodgers does have previous in beating City at home, when Swansea dominated the Citizens with an assured performance in midfield at the Liberty Stadium. With Tevez and Nasri likely to trouble Carragher and Skrtel, and Suarez and Gerrard equally likely to give City's back-line a tough time, an entertaining score draw should prevail.