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Title favourites face stiff test

September 9, 2017 11:31 AM
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Pep's problem is picking the right target man against a Liverpool side firing on all cylinders

Manchester City did so in a transfer market where they were the biggest English spenders, paying out more than £200 million (S$352 million) in fees. Liverpool did so on the pitch, producing arguably the outstanding performance of the season's opening month when destroying Arsenal 4-0.

And yet it is not quite as simple as suggesting that this is a meeting of the money men and those pursuing success in an entirely organic manner.

City experienced frustration on deadline day, missing out on their £60 million target Alexis Sanchez and Jonny Evans, while Liverpool fared better, buying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and keeping Philippe Coutinho.

Newcomer and comparative veteran have the same problem: how do they break into a team that performed so brilliantly?

For Coutinho, it is a dilemma for another day. Jurgen Klopp has confirmed he will not play today, though he has promised to make one change. That, however, is restoring Simon Mignolet in goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain is likelier to be a substitute.

Coutinho is part of a Brazilian contingent from both clubs who shared a private plane back from South America this week.

Friends become rivals now. Fernandinho may find himself detailed with picking up his compatriot Roberto Firmino. The false nine came of age as a Liverpool player in 2015's 4-1 thrashing of City and has arguably reached new heights in their last two games.

Hoffenheim and Arsenal both began with a back three against Liverpool's front three, both ended up changing shape and both conceded four.

There could be a lesson there for Pep Guardiola, who started the season opting for 3-5-2 but chose 4-2-3-1 at Bournemouth.

The latter system makes more sense. It also means he faces a choice between Gabriel Jesus, who equalised at the Vitality Stadium, and Sergio Aguero, who has found the net in every home league game against Liverpool.

It is remarkable to think both could have been sidelined by Sanchez, which is another way of suggesting that City did not actually need the Chilean.

As it is, and even without Sterling - suspended for a controversial second yellow card celebrating his last-gasp winner at Bournemouth - Guardiola has a host of options.

Selecting the right ones is no simple task. City have struggled against Liverpool's intensity since Klopp's appointment. The Merseysiders will play at pace, the Mancunians will have more possession.

City can choose the most expensive pair of full-backs ever, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker, for the first time, but men recruited for their athleticism cannot push too far upfield. Liverpool scored three goals by catching Arsenal on the counter-attack.

The Reds completed last season unbeaten against the best. City have secured only two wins against the big seven under Guardiola.


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