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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower