When Liverpool take to the field at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City on Thursday evening, the Reds will have already been handed two huge advantages.
With the current chasm between the two teams currently reading 23 points, there would be an assumption that Jurgen Klopp and his Premier League winners will face the recently dethroned champions as overwhelming favourites.
However, Pep Guardiola and City cannot be underestimated even though they are at a disadvantage following last weeks events.
It may have been Willian’s goal that will go down in the history books as the moment the title was won for Liverpool following City’s defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week yet it was one of City’s own players whose actions could cost them when they welcome the champions to Manchester on Thursday night.
Indeed, Manchester City midfielder and defender Fernandinho will be unavailable for the top of the table clash following his sending off in the capital after the Brazilian denied Tammy Abraham by deliberately clawing the ball off the line.
It shouldn’t be underestimated just how important Fernandinho has been to his team this season and just how detrimental an effect it can have on City when they line up to face Europe’s most potent attacking trio.
Since being reinstated in central defence following the Citizens’ catastrophic 3-2 defeat to bottom of the table Norwich City in September, Fernandinho has started all but two fixtures (West Ham and Arsenal) in an unfamiliar position for Guardiola yet he has taken to the roll like a duck to water.
City have yet to face an opponent of the calibre of Liverpool without the former Shaktar Donetsk midfielder and it could severely hurt the team with Klopp’s Premier League champions in town.
Even with star defender Aymeric Laporte back, City have been made to look vulnerable. They have lost eight matches this season – as many as Arsenal – and were made to pay for their mistakes even with the Frenchman in the team against Chelsea.
Indeed, City can still hurt and even beat Liverpool with such brilliance at their disposal but the difference between both of the teams’ defensive quartets is worryingly stark.
It’s likely that either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi will be used as cover for Fernandinho but neither player has earnt the trust of his manager to showcase that City do not require further additions at the back come the summer window.
Also, with Sergio Aguero missing, City will have to cope the loss of their finest attacker and most consistent defender this season all at once.
For Liverpool, they enter the match full strength and as runaway champions. Klopp’s team have surrendered just seven points all season and are closing in on City’s record points haul of 100.
There may be little to play for in terms of result, but one thing is for certain come kick-off, Liverpool will not be taking their peddle off the gas following their Premier League coronation.