Liverpools trip to Manchester City pitches the team with the most goals from counterattacks against the side who top the list for possession and passes. It has the feel of a pivotal moment
Enough of the false starts, the window-wangling, the angsty autumn qualifiers. After an early season spent crunching around in the high gears, followed by a 13-day Premier League hiatus just as things were starting to get interesting, Saturday lunchtime at the Etihad Stadium really cannot come quickly enough. Time for some ignition.
The Premier League is no stranger to showdowns and face-offs, not to mention Judgment Days, Super Saturdays and all the rest. This is a sporting theatre where the needle only ever goes up to 11 and the product is never knowingly under-oversold. And yet there are still times when the storylines converge, the gears click together and the fixture list throws up a match that really does feel like a jumping-off point.
Liverpools trip to Manchester City on Saturday is an intriguing prospect whatever the surrounding weather. Chuck in the sense of squads and systems being whittled into shape and two teams who look well-matched not just on the pitch but in their wider trajectory under second- and third-season super-coaches and this has the feel of a pivotal moment. Chelseas defeat of Spurs in August may have been the first meeting of last seasons incumbent top four but this looks the more intriguing match-up, a game to break the season open.
Having provided the fanfare it would be in keeping with footballs refusenik sense of humour if the Etihad were to dish up a deathly nil-nil but reason suggests otherwise, as does the wider history of encounters between the systems-based teams of Jrgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. On a basic level there is something nicely poised about a meeting of the Premier Leagues second- and fourth-placed teams. Nobody has had more possession or made more passes than City this season. Nobody has scored more goals from counterattacks than Liverpool.
This is the way it has tended to go when these two profoundly stylised managers meet. Klopp has the better of things overall with five wins to four across Bundesliga and Premier League. More notable is the way those matches have tended to play out. Klopps best results have tended to come when his teams sit deep. Last season Liverpool conceded the bulk of possession but gummed Citys movements, fought for every pocket of space and won 1-0 at Anfield with a headed goal by Georginio Wijnaldum.
If that game was not exactly a thriller, it still carried some familiar detailing from meetings between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the shared Pep-Klopp era. Sitting deep and springing forward has been the best method of attack against Guardiola teams. In April 2014 Dortmund beat Bayern who were already champions 3-0 at the Allianz Arena playing almost entirely on the break, taking 29% possession and scoring goals from lightning, mob-handed breaks on the flanks. Guardiolas first game in charge of Bayern was a riotously open 4-2 defeat in Dortmund, in which Klopps team scored twice from crosses and twice from quick turnovers.
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