Manchester City-Liverpool Preview
Liverpool are finding out the hard way there is a price for success.
Having already made a world-record outlay for defender Virgil van Dijk and then losing playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in a seismic January transfer window, the Reds now attempt to take down the Manchester City juggernaut as the two sides meet at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool (12-8-2), who are unbeaten in 17 matches (12-5-0) across all competition since a 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on Oct. 22 and fourth in the table 18 points adrift of City, drew first blood among the Big Six in the Premier League in the January transfer window when they agreed to a £74 million transfer for van Dijk, the Southampton defender who had been rumoured for a move to Anfield for almost a year.
The Netherlands international already is in the good graces of the Kop after he headed home the winner on 83 minutes in Liverpool's 2-1 Merseyside derby victory over Everton in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday. James Milner had staked the Reds to a 1-0 lead from the spot in the first half before Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled the Toffees level in the second.
"If you wait for an easy game you will never have one," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. "If you are always ready to work really hard then maybe there's one or two in your whole career. We didn't wait for an easy game, we were ready for a hard game - and that's why we won."
Coutinho did not play in that victory, and the writing was on the wall for his eventual move to Barcelona when he did not accompany the team to Dubai for warm-weather training. Shortly after the win, the La Liga giants announced they had agreed to an eye-watering £142 million transfer deal for Coutinho, who had 12 goals and eight assists in 20 matches across all competitions for this season.
"It is with great reluctance that we - as a team and a club - prepare to say farewell to a good friend, a wonderful person and a fantastic player in Philippe Coutinho," Klopp said in a statement released by the club. "It is no secret that Philippe has wanted this move to happen since July, when Barcelona first made their interest known.
"Despite that, we managed to keep the player here beyond the summer window, hoping that we would be able to persuade him to stay and be part of what we are looking to do. I can tell the Liverpool supporters that we, as a club, have done everything within our means to convince Philippe that remaining part of LFC was as attractive as moving to Spain … Philippe has made a fantastic contribution to the club over his five years of service and as disappointed as we are he doesn't want to extend that, the relationship we have for him means with a heavy heart we wish him well."
It is the second time in less than four years Barcelona have poached a top scorer from Liverpool, having broken up the "SAS" pairing of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge before the 2014-15 season by signing the Uruguay international on a £65 million transfer that was one of the most expensive moves at the time of the signing.
Speaking of Sturridge, who has made just five starts this season due to injuries and falling behind Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah in the pecking order of forwards, Liverpool have reportedly put a £30 million price tag on the England international, who is in search of more playing time ahead of the World Cup this summer.
While there is no denying there is a huge hole in Liverpool's midfield and attack, Klopp does have players who can pick up the slack. It starts with Salah, who is second to Tottenham's Harry Kane in the Premier League with 17 goals, including 12 in the last 11 league matches. Firmino has scored nine of his 16 goals in league play, four coming in the last five contests.
This also puts more pressure on van Dijk to marshal a back line that has been inconsistent, and at times, porous. Liverpool's 25 goals shipped are second-worst in the top six to Arsenal's 28, but at the same time, they have often excelled at Anfield, outscoring opponents 21-4 while posting seven clean sheets and going 6-5-0 in league play.
And all the while, Manchester City (20-2-0) roll on. Their quest to win all four trophies took steps forward on two fronts as they overwhelmed Burnley 4-1 in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday before posting a 2-1 victory over Championship side Bristol City in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal Tuesday.
Kevin De Bruyne pulled City level on 55 minutes after working a 1-2 with another former Liverpool player, Raheem Sterling, before Sergio Aguero stole it late by heading home a cross from Bernado Silva in second-half stoppage time. The Sky Blues will carry a slim advantage to Ashton Gate in a fortnight, knowing full well they likely will need at least one goal there to avoid a shock upset.
"Semifinals are always tough. So complicated. At 1-0, it was all about how we reacted," City manager Pep Guardiola told the team's official website. "Every game they play they give absolutely everything they have. Without that spirit, you can't win trophies in any competitions in the world. It's easy in good moments to handle situations. In bad moments, it's about how you react, and I could not ask more of my players."
Though it may be asked just how much more Guardiola can ask of Aguero, who came on as a substitute Tuesday and bagged his 19th goal in 25 matches across all competitions. The Argentina international is currently City's only fully healthy striker as Gabriel Jesus is sidelined with a sprained knee. Sterling, though, could slot behind Aguero and in front of De Bruyne and David Silva, as a midfield glittering with high-calibre players from both sides likely will determine a victor in this match.
For all of Manchester City's success that has coincided with Sheikh Mansour buying the team in 2009, Anfield has lived up to its reputation as a cauldron and house of horrors when facing Liverpool that even predates his purchase of the club.
City have lost four on the bounce at Liverpool and are winless in their last 15 (0-5-10) in all competitions at Anfield since a 2-1 victory May 3, 2003. They have not scored in 245 minutes there since Edin Dzeko netted in the 25th minute of a 2-1 loss March 1, 2015, in which Sterling assisted on both Liverpool goals.
The reverse fixture this term, however, was a Manchester City onslaught as they ran rampant in a 5-0 hiding at the Etihad on Sept. 9.
Sadio Mane did Liverpool no favours when he was given a straight red card for a challenge that knocked out City goalkeeper Ederson with the game still in doubt at 1-0 in the 37th minute, but the first of two goals by Jesus coming in first-half stoppage time broke the will of Klopp's men.
Jesus added a second shortly after the interval before giving way to Leroy Sane, who had a brace of his own in the final quarter-hour.
Updated January 11, 2018