The title fight: The key issues that should decide Liverpool and Manchester City's Anfield encounter

 

Will Rodgers play Coutinho?

Depending on the opposition, Brendan Rodgers has switched formations regularly. At Cardiff, where the home side was expected to sit deep, he chose Philippe Coutinho at the head of a midfield diamond because of the Brazilian's ability to pick holes in tight defences. At Old Trafford, knowing Manchester United would come on to Liverpool, he chose the quicker, more direct, Raheem Sterling. Manchester City are an attacking side, but they are away from home and know a point would leave them in control of the title race. They will not want to enable Liverpool's preference for counter-attacking – the Reds have spent the same amount of time in the opposition half (27 per cent) as Newcastle and Hull. This suggests Coutinho, but Sterling has been in better form and City's central defence has looked vulnerable when opponents run at it.

Which manager will gamble?

Attacking full-backs play an important role for both teams, especially City's Pablo Zabaleta and Glen Johnson (Liverpool attack down the right a third more often than down the left). But attacking full-backs leave space in behind. Rodgers exploited that against Arsenal, asking Luis Suarez to play wide right and target Nacho Monreal. Much may depend on the identity of the flank players. Jon Flanagan would be wise not to leave Jesus Navas alone, while if Sterling is on Liverpool's left, how far will Zabaleta dare venture forward? Johnson versus either Samir Nasri or David Silva could be pivotal. Neither City player is diligent tracking back, which means Johnson, if he gambles, could be a real threat; but as Arsenal found recently, give Silva space and he will punish you, as can the in-form Nasri.

Set-plays are crucial

For all the attacking talent, it could come down to a set-play. Even without including penalties, Liverpool (21) and City (18) have scored more goals from set-pieces than any other teams. Given the dead-ball prowess of Yaya Touré and Luis Suarez, and the aerial power of Edin Dzeko and Martin Skrtel, both teams will seek to avoid conceding free-kicks and corners.

Will Pellegrini mark Gerrard?

Steven Gerrard has been controlling games for Liverpool, dictating play from a deep-lying midfield role while the young men ahead of him run the opposition ragged. Such is the quality and range of his passing that Gerrard has been operating like a quarterback. The best way to curtail his influence is to deny him time and space. This means detailing a forward to drop back and mark him, or a midfielder to push on. It is a role that requires discipline, strength and energy, so probably not one for the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri or Sergio Aguero. Yaya Touré is the man for the job; not only would he cramp Gerrard's creativity but be a goal threat himself in such an advanced position. However, it would mean Javi Garcia filling the Ivorian's customary, deeper role. Given Touré's value in that position, will Manuel Pellegrini take the risk?

Is Sergio Aguero really fit?

It is never easy to assess when a player has fully recovered from a muscular injury, as has been shown by Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa all being subbed in the Champions' League this month after aggravating problems. Ordinarily Pellegrini would like to ease Aguero back into action after a month out with a hamstring injury, but such is the importance of today's game it seems he will take the risk and play the striker. But every time the Argentine starts a sprint his manager will be nervous.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Buddy DeFranco
people
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones