(For US Viewers – Manchester City v. Liverpool will be shown LIVE on Thursday December 26th at 12:30ppm EST on NBC Sports Network)
Boxing Day’s final match features two teams in brilliant form: league leading Liverpool and third place Manchester City. Liverpool have scored seventeen times in their last four Premier League matches as the club has rocketed past league rivals to the league’s summit. While Manchester City are undefeated at Etihad Stadium and have relentlessly swept aside their previous league challengers by a combined score of 35-5 at home.
Neutral fans, as well as supporters of Liverpool and Manchester City, could not ask for a more ideal matchup at a better time. They are two attacking clubs who don’t know how to take their foot off of the accelerator. This match could quite possibly end up as the highest scoring contest of the season; if not in league history.
Both clubs’ offensive arsenals are well-documented, but what will be key to this encounter is how well each club defends the other’s attack.
Manchester City’s weaknesses this season have been its inconsistent road form and their defensive frailty. It was hoped that once captain Vincent Kompany returned from injury that the club’s defense would be solidified, but that has yet to happen.
Pablo Zabaleta, Micah Richards and Matija Nastasic are all suffering from hamstring injuries, so City’s back four will continue to be vulnerable. Gael Clichy filled in for Zabaleta at right-back on Sunday against Fulham, but he looked like a player playing out of position. While defender Martin Demichelis has had difficulty adjusting from his La Liga ‘style’ defending to the kind required to be productive in England’s top flight.
This means Manuel Pellegrini will more than likely call on midfielders Yaya Toure and Fernandinho to put in extra shifts while assisting the club’s muddled back four.
For the most part, Manchester City don’t appear too concerned about the goals they’ve been conceding because their attack has been out of this world. The club has scored 51 times in 17 BPL matches this season. The loss of Sergio Aguero has not slowed down City’s attack. It appears that the club has plenty of attacking options in reserve: Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jesus Navas and Fernandinho have all hit the score sheet in recent matches.
Negredo may well be the most imposing striker in the Premier League. His strength, speed and skill are a nightmare for Premier League defenders. He has also proven a provider for his teammates. Negredo has wasted no time adjusting to the rigors of the Premier League.
Liverpool will have their hands full with Manchester City’s scintillating attacking efficiency. But this is the moment the North West club and its supporters have been waiting for all season; a chance to prove themselves against a preseason title favorite.
Cynics have been saying all year that Liverpool will show they aren’t ready for a title challenge once they face-off against a “legitimate” contender. The Reds will be looking to improve on their earlier top of the table encounter against Arsenal which saw them drop a 2-0 decision at the Emirates. It was after that match when the critics held their fingers up to say, “I told you Liverpool weren’t ready for a title challenge.” But if Liverpool can get a result, or all three points at the Etihad, it would quiet the criticism and prove they have enough quality to compete for the league’s top spot this season.