(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.
Liverpool already knew they would be without the services of long-time captain Steven Gerrard, but defender Jon Flanagan picked up a slight hamstring problem in Saturday’s victory over Cardiff and is doubtful for the Boxing Day trip to Manchester City. That’s difficult news for Liverpool supporters because their squad is not very deep and Flanagan had been playing well in recent weeks.
Thus far, the most impressive thing about Liverpool has been the way the club has responded to the loss of key components. Liverpool has seen Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Jose Enrique all sidelined with injuries. There was a real concern that Liverpool wasn’t going to be able to adjust to the loss of this key personnel; the biggest worry was that their attack would suffer. But Luis Suarez has elevated his game to an entirely different level and has inspired his teammates to reach new heights as well.
The Uruguayan striker has been nothing short of amazing while scoring 19 goals in 12 BPL matches. Suarez already has 10 goals in December and no other player in the history of the Premier League has scored more than eight goals during a single month of league action. And Suarez isn’t only scoring goals, he has chipped in with five assists; while his relentless activity in and around the box occupies opposing defenses and allows his teammates more space to operate.
Right now, Suarez is hands down the Player of the Year in England and is finally being focused on for his footballing alone.
What a difference a year makes.
So this is it. Boxing Day’s final match will see the Premier League’s top two scoring teams in a heavyweight showdown: Manchester City (51 goals) and Liverpool (42 goals). It is also a matchup of clubs who are only separated by one point in the league table. Liverpool has an opportunity to maintain their position on the Premier League’s summit and silence the critics who question their title credentials. While Manchester City will look to continue with their torrid home form and catapult themselves over Liverpool into the league’s top spot (depending on Arsenal’s earlier result).
Liverpool has a player in Luis Suarez who is now being mentioned in the same breath with Ronaldo, Messi, and Ibrahimovic. He has been given the team armband in the absence of Steven Gerrard and has done an incredible job in leading his club forward.
Manchester City have a roster littered with attacking options and have shown a ravenous hunger for goals when playing at home.
Up until this point in the season, neither club has shown a desire to play a ‘defensive’ style; or “negative” football. That should be good news for the neutral viewers. It might not be such good news for both set of supporters, as this contest may not be decided until the final whistle…or perhaps the final attack.