E-mail! “Dan. Dan? Dan!” says Ian Copestake. “I am also losing it, like Alan in that car park. But I request that you censor all emails expressing hopes of a good game/or too much hype for one to happen. This is all about the three points and who if any get them. If at any point nice footer breaks out then fine but it’s all about the result, Clive.”
hmm. When I look back at the biggest games my team played against its rivals, the ones that stand out now are the ones that were intense, er, footballistically, not just those that were important. I guess for Liverpool, it might be more about the result, though, because they need to win this title more than City do.
Ace for Liverpool, their back five is as you’d expect, the choices Klopp had to make in midfield and attack. As expected, the clues were in who missed out in Lisbon; Henderson returns for Keita, with Jota replacing Diaz. I’m a little surprised at the latter – I thought it might be Mané not starting, because Jota and Diaz are playing so stupidly well. But it’s the latter kept in reserve – I don’t imagine he’s much fun to face when you’ve been charging about for an hour – and with Firmino also on the bench, Liverpool have not only numbers but variety.
If everyone knows a false nine is a false nine, is it actually a false nine?
So back to those teams, Guardiola springs his usual surprise, inserting Gabriel Jesus. I’m not sure if he’ll play through the middle or out wide, but like most people, I expected Mahrez not him. I was surprised Jack Grealish didn’t start in midweek – Atlético seemed a perfect opponent for his touch-heavy lockpicking – but not at all surprised he’s sitting at the side today. Phil Foden, meanwhile, is in from the start and will be the man Liverpool most fear. Otherwise, Kyle Walker returns after European suspension, and Ilkay Gundogan misses out, Bernardo Silva moving back into midfield after a jaunt at false nine.
One more piece of housekeeping: Norwich currently lead Burnley 1-0; if it stays like that, I think Manchester United are relegated automatically. Follow along here, and be sure to check out Maxwell Cornet’s open-goal miss even if you’ve already seen it.
These blogs are handy for following sporting events, but they’re also handy for sharing important information, so here’s some.
1) This is a beautiful, devastating and important poem by one of Manchester’s finest. Read it, think about it, and check in on your mates – or ask them for a chat.
2) I’m lucky enough to already have a copy of this brilliant and important book. Order it now, and check the extract already on our site – I promise you, you won’t regret doing either.
3) I don’t say this lightly, but this is THE GREATEST calling a player by their fore- and surname there’s ever been.
Manchester City (to free jazz 2-8-0): Edison; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Cancelo; Rodri, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne; Sterling, Foden, Jesus. Subs: Steffen, Mahrez, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, McAtee, Lavia, Grealish, Gundogan, Ake.
Liverpool: (to thrash metal 4-3-3): Allison; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Jota. Subs: Kelleher, Jones, Tsimikas, Konate, Gomez, Milner, Keita, Firmino, Diaz.
Bias ref: Anthony TaylorWythenshawe
Expletive! This being a family newspaper, the words running through our communal mind are not words I’m at liberty to publish here, and I suppose we can all express ourselves using the various alternatives our languages make available. But sometimes – OK, almost all the time – only four letters will do so, with intense feeling and emotion, expletive underworld.
but enough about Mike Baldwin’s knicker factory – now let’s talk football. When it comes to games like this, there’s a tension between hurling ourselves into the moment to make sure we live its every facet, and making sure we step back to savor its momentousness as part of history, each aspect as moving as the other.
To do the second one first, there’s a decent chance we’re about to enjoy one of the finest games of association football ever played in England. Two great sides hitting a concurrent peak doesn’t happen often – you can just about sustain a case for Wolves-Man United in the mid-50s, Man United-Leeds in the mid-to-late 60s and Liverpool- Forest in the late 70s. The only slam-dunks, though, came in the modern era, whose stratified resources gave Arsenal-Man United 96-05 and Chelsea-Man United 06-11, which is to say that Liverpool-Man City is special.
And it might only be getting started. Though Liverpool unexpectedly hammered City in the 2018 Champions League – in retrospect, when things got going – we only knew it was a rivalry when Riyad Mahrez’s volunteered to take a dying-seconds penalty at Anfield the following season. Had he scored, City would’ve won 1-0, going three points clear at the top of the table and looked certain champions even though it was only October. But he blazed over the bar, changing the face of English football in the process: full of confidence, Liverpool won 11 and drew one of their next 12, and while City prevailed in the end, this was now a ruckus of equals.
Since then, the two have dominated, and there’s no reason to think very much is going to change anytime soon – though as Andy Roddick noted when asked about his tussles with Roger Federer, a serious set-to needs both parties winning the big pots and Liverpool remain deficient in that department. The head-to-heads, though, almost guarantee excitement, the game played at Etihad in January 2019 one of the best ever seen in England and the October encounter at Anfield not behind the door either. Yes, there are reasons for that, but these two are the most consistent league sides ever to grace the green and pleasants; what they’re doing is sensational.
So what’s going to happen today? Well, if City hit their top level, chances are they win because theirs is, for mine at least, fractionally higher than Liverpool’s. That, though, is barely a quality point and more a style point: Pep Guardiola’s football might’ve evolved since his Barcelona days but it remains, without doubt, the hardest there has ever been to beat when played well – for proof, see Spain 2008-12. For that reason, should City get the big dubya, we can expect them to take the treasure too – at this point in the season, it’s hard to see them slipping up against teams scrapping simply to get a touch of the ball.
But styles make fights, and Liverpool’s death metal football is as good an antidote to the possession carousel as exists, a brilliant team fired by focused aggression and rational entitlement; by their belief that they’re the apotheosis of Item. Or in other, simpler words, they’re managed by Jürgen Klopp. Lots has been written about pressing triggers and inverted wingers, but his ability to take very good players and charisma them into sustained, deranged world-beaters is nothing short of epochal genius. He is the reason that his team of him come into this game on an absolutely rrrrridiculous buzz – even for them.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while our society frowns on such equivocation, no one – no one – has a clue what’s going to happen. It’s the irresistible force meets the irresistible force … and it’s live! Expletive expletive!
Kickoff: 4.3opm BST
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism