Normally as the inevitable boredom of the international break comes to an end, I look forward with anticipation to the next Manchester City fixture, happy in the knowledge that I have my fix back and I don’t have to force myself to sit through the tedium of international football as an England fan. However, when the next fixture is Liverpool,that light at the end of the tunnel is a high speed train and all I feel is dread and the anticipation of the return of the Kippax twitch, that well-known tick that many of us grizzled, time-served Blues suffer from as a result of what we have seen over the years.
I dread the Liverpool games. Always have. In my childhood and youth, two maulings a year at the hands of the scousers were as inevitable as Christmas and my inability to pass a science exam. Keegan, Rush, Dalglish, Fairclough. Ugh, my MCFC-related PTSD bears down on me at the very thought. 0-4, 0-5 results, and those were just the home games as that great Liverpool team steamrollered us with nary a look in the rearview mirror on their stylishly permed and ‘tached way to yet another inevitable title. I can recall us beating them 3-1 in 1977 at Maine Road. I was in the Platt Lane that day on those old wooden benches and recall Brian Kidd Joe Royle and Mike Channon scoring, the latter wheeling away with his trademark windmill arm celebration. That was quite a City team that year under Tony Book. I was also at Anfield that Boxing Day in 1981 when we won 3-1 under Johnnie Bond’s well coiffed leadership. Not only did Asa Hartford score a rare goal that day but he also had one disallowed while Bruce Grobbelaar had one of those days in goal that really made you wonder if he was on the take. I remember trying to suppress my pure ecstasy at the time as I put on a broad scouse accent while running from the away end in Anfield Road to the car in Stanley Park, then letting out a massive whoop when it seemed safe to do so without getting a fist to the face.
Yet in between such rare moments of joy were defeat after defeat. Played 206.Won 53 Drawn 52 Lost 101. Even since Sheik Mansour rolled up in East Manchester waving wads of cash in 2008 (May all his teas be chippy teas) the record is still less than stellar. At least this weekend , we are at home, where we have only lost one of the last eight vs the reds (yet I still dread the fixture) but Anfield away is the one nut we are yet to crack. Old Trafford away is one of our happier away days after a 30 something year hoodoo and we’ve even picked up a few points at Arsenal.
Bring it up to date, Grandad.
Enough of my bleating on about the old City and how we’d always lose these games. This is a meeting between, arguably, the two best footballing sides in the Premier League and a battle of wits between two of the most likable bosses in the league.It can only be hoped that Jon Moss (the referee, not the former Culture Club drummer) does not complete the hat-trick of daft red cards for the Blues after the Walker and Sterling dismissals so far.
You could argue that neither Guardiola nor Klopp strengthened the areas they needed to in the summer. Certainly many City supporters wanted a new centre back added to the squad, although when it became apparent that Pep wanted Johnny fkin Evans at a ridiculous cost, most of us decided we’d grin and bear it with Eliaquim (Bambi on ice) Mangala as the fall-back (or over) option. Naturally, Vincent Kompany returned from Belgium duty with a calf strain. In other news water is still wet and bears to apparently crap in the woods.
Liverpool fans, meanwhile, wanted Virgil Van Dijk from their feeder club,Southampton. Last season it became clear that the reds needed a top class centre back, but as the price rose from 40 to 50 to 70 million pounds, it seems like Klopp and co decided he wasn’t full value for it. At least he filled the problem left back slot with the excellent Andrew Robertson from Hull City. So James Milner can’t even get a game at left back now eh…shame.
Both teams are stacked with attacking talent. Sadio Mane running at Nicolas Otamendi doesn’t make me think of unicorns and rainbows, and the new guy, Saleh, has hit the ground running- another top player that Maureen let go from Chelsea perhaps (cough, KDB, cough).Centrally, Firmino has looked good again this season and it can only be hoped that our tormentor in chief, Coutinho, remains frozen out having failed to force his desired move to Barcelona.
Meanwhile, City need to send a statement in this match having failed to impress in top four clashes for the past couple of seasons. With Kompany likely out, I can see City reverting to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 rather than the 3-5-2 we have seen so far this term. He could go with that but that implies a back three of Stones, Otamendi and Mangala. Nuff said, right? I expect a back 4 of Walker, Stones, Otamendi and Mendy in front of Ederson. I would start Fernandinho and Yaya as the deep-lying two, with de Bruyne, Spanish Dave and our new Portugese Irishman Bernard O’Silva as the three, with Sergio up top, who has an excellent scoring record in this fixture.
If you want an in depth preview, you’re on the wrong website, this is a good read instead. One thing is for sure and that is that come 7.30am Toronto time tomorrow, I will push the couch out from the wall, crawl behind it, watch through my hands and hope the Kippax twitch stays under control.
photo c/o independent.co.uk