There is no questioning which area of the team could make the difference between victory and defeat as Liverpool prepare for their trip to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
In such gargantuan encounters between two well-stocked English heavyweights, where a game can be won and lost so often hinges on the one particular area where titanic tussles are decided – in midfield.
There is no denying that Pep Guardiola possesses one of the best and most tightly knitted midfield systems in world football and Jurgen Klopp’s is equally as impressive.
The Reds have lost their previous three league matches at Manchester City’s home ground – including that iconic bout in January 2019 which inevitably cost Liverpool the title.
Much of this has been due to Liverpool being overwhelmed in the middle of the park and failing to lay a glove on a team that is so devastating in possession.
This is something Klopp cannot afford to let happen when the two teams meet at the weekend.
Some big calls await
The first major decision is which system does the manager employ to shift the balance in Liverpool’s favour?
There is the temptation to unleash the full attacking potential of a forward quartet that features Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, although history would suggest a three-man triumvirate is more effective.
The problem with a midfield three is that Klopp is currently down to the bare bones in terms of who is available.
The Spaniard unquestionably represents Liverpool’s best chance of matching a similar City incisiveness in midfield which is usually dictated by Kevin de Bruyne.
Only Thiago has the quality and tactical nous to effortlessly make the game bend to his will even against an opponent as formidable as Manchester City – you only have to look to his performance in the Champions League final against PSG for recent evidence.
Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum were both substituted in midweek which indicates that both are set to start come Sunday.
If Thiago is unavailable to make the cut, then there is a major call from the manager as to who gets the final slot.
Curtis Jones has started in both of Liverpool’s previous fixtures and more than impressed on each occasion. However, throwing the 19-year-old against City is another proposition entirely and would be a huge risk for a player so early in their development.
James Milner and Naby Keita both have good claims to get the nod while Xherdan Shaqiri also remains an alternate option.
Nonetheless, there is no hiding the fact that whoever Klopp goes for, they will have a huge impact on how this titanic title bout could sway.
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