Tonight’s game pits the champions against the runners-up, the petro-dollar parvenus against the old aristocracy, fallen on hard times but with recent signs of a new fire in the belly. What would normally be a spectacular clash feels somewhat muted by its timing; a premature climax made all the more disappointing by a lack of league form foreplay. Nevertheless, the fixture still offers high rewards. A win for Liverpool tonight would see them taking 6 points from fixtures which left them none last season, and prep them well for a tricky trip to a revived Tottenham, whilst Manchester City would take great heart from beating their closest rivals from last season at the earliest opportunity. Even a draw would suit the Reds quite well, but in order to achieve this goal – or better it – there needs to be improvement in the heart of a midfield which was bested repeatedly against Southampton.

The terrible two – Lucas and Gerrard.

The surprise many felt at the inclusion of Lucas on the team sheet for the first game of the season was borne out by a lacklustre performance, both from the Brazilian and his defensive midfield partner, Gerrard. As the ‘2’ in a 4-2-3-1, the pairing lacks mobility and, more worryingly, the coherence which was the highlight of many performances by the Reds last year. The double pivot left Liverpool inviting pressure from Southampton and gave Wanyama and Schneidlerlin a far easier task in marking Coutinho out of the game. Likewise, Henderson’s relegation to the right flank meant the team lost a lot of the energy and drive in the middle which characterised the best showings of the previous campaign. Happily, it seems that Rodgers has finally decided to not use the double pivot again, explaining, “Ideally, my teams don’t play with two defensive midfield players, it was just for that game. Each game I look at differently.” Given the improvement in performance which marked the introduction of Joe Allen, it would be wise to look at the match against City differently.

The Allen key – the importance of Joe.

Joe Allen gradually fought his way back into the first team at the end of last year, providing useful cover for Henderson and Coutinho in the central midfield areas. With Suarez gone and Coutinho playing a more advanced position, nominally on the left of the attack, Allen’s aggression and ability to keep the ball are highly desirable traits against a team with the explosive power of City. Disruption of the Fernandinho-Touré-Silva axis is key to stopping the champions’ impressive attack, and Allen has all the tools necessary to achieve such a task. Deceptively strong on the ball, with quick feet and an eye for a pass, Allen can provide a hard-working foil for Henderson and Gerrard which should see the Liverpool midfield in far better shape than in the season opener. A 4-3-3 with Allen and Henderson ahead of Gerrard should also give the skipper room to spread the play from deep, with a mobile and quick front three testing the somewhat erratic City defence. If Rodgers is looking for more power in the middle, he may be tempted to go with Emre Can, but Allen would – perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively – be the better option. He is accustomed to the pace of the league, has played against (and bettered) the likes of Touré before and more importantly has a good understanding of the role Rodgers needs him to play in the side.

Discussing the diamond.

Liverpool’s winning goal against Southampton came as a result of a late switch to the diamond formation that yielded an impressive number of wins last season. Initially a move of convenience designed to fit both Sturridge and Suarez in the team, the gung-ho nature of the formation suited the exciting attacking play shown by the team. Unlikely to make an appearance against City (until late in the day, at least) the acquisition of Balotelli and, crucially, the two Spanish full-backs indicate that Rodgers is prepared to light up the league again with attacking flair.

Conclusion.

Any match against City at the Etihad is likely to be a tricky proposition, and today’s game is no exception, no matter how early in the season it is. Liverpool fans will be looking for a win, but a good performance will go some way to salving the impact of any lost points. Most interesting however, will be the manner in which Rodgers sets up his team to face the champions, and what lessons can be taken to indicate how the season will progress. The midfield – and Allen in particular – could well prove vital.

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About The Author

Toby Podmore

is a Liverpool-supporting cuckoo from a rugby-mad South African nest in north London, Toby Podmore was brought to Liverpool football club through a soft spot for Michael Owen. With that well and truly gone, his love for the club has remained with him from France to the UK and back again. He now spends his time reading, writing and watching the club from Belfast.

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