Manchester City: Džeko's Aerial Prowess Can Ensure Victory Over Liverpool
Manchester City take on Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday knowing that they cannot afford to lose further ground on neighbours Manchester United at the top of the Barclays Premier League table. A midweek stalemate away to bottom side Queens Park Rangers was disappointing so a win at home to Brendan Rodgers’ side is a must.
The transfer window ‘slammed shut’, the use a well-worn phrase, on Thursday night and City failed to bolster their ranks as Mario Balotelli departed for AC Milan. It leaves Roberto Mancini quite light up front with Sergio Agüero having had his injury problems and youngster John Guidetti still some way off full match fitness.
The fact that Liverpool’s defence has struggled against big strikers this season means that Edin Džeko must start up front for City. Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City) and Matt Smith (Oldham Athletic) have all proved recently that the Reds’ centre backs are vulnerable when faced with a more physical proposition.
Džeko has been in good form, having scored four goals in four league outings prior to the QPR game, but he was relegated to the substitutes’ bench for that one and failed to make an impact when introduced in the second half.
He wasn’t the only one to suffer, with Carlos Tevez off the pace and Samir Nasri once again doing nothing to endear himself to the City faithful. Nasri has been a problem all season, and hasn’t helped fill the void left by Yaya Touré who is currently at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nasri's red card against Norwich City, while harsh, meant he missed three games and his lacklustre showing on return midweek saw him hauled off before the hour mark.
At the moment, it’s very much a case of “Stop David Silva, stop Manchester City”. Fulham, for example, couldn’t handle the Spaniard and he ran the show in the recent game at the Etihad. QPR, however, set themselves up to combat such an attacking threat by employing natural full back Fabio as a right winger to help Nedum Onuoha with his workload. Silva was often double-marked, something which should have given the likes of Nasri more space to play in.
The news that Vincent Kompany could miss up to three more weeks of action is another big blow with Kolo Touré on international duty and Micah Richards still training on his own. Javi García filled in at centre half against QPR and was arguably City’s best player on the night; one crucial tackle on Adel Taarabt was amongst his best contributions.
Youngster Matija Nastasić, who at 19 hasn’t looked out of place in the Premier League, may be an option to partner Joleon Lescott, though Roberto Mancini has in the past shown a reluctance to partner two left footed central defenders.
City have kept a clean sheet in their last six games despite changing both personnel and formation but whichever combination takes the field on Sunday will need to be on form to contain the threat posed by Luis Suárez. While former City man Daniel Sturridge has enjoyed a solid start to his Liverpool career, he is still a long way off being in the same class as Suárez and you feel that if Mancini’s side can keep him under wraps for 90 minutes they will win the game.
New signing Philippe Coutinho won’t be available to Brendan Rodgers, meaning Stewart Downing should keep his place in the side with Raheem Sterling used as an impact substitute. Steven Gerrard, whose importance was hammered home by Rodgers during the week, will be expected to drive the team forward from midfield and the back four will need to be on its toes having leaked two goals in as many minutes to squander a lead against Arsenal on Wednesday.
Manchester City will go into the game as favourites, with nothing less than a win acceptable for supporters at this stage of the season, and a repeat of last season’s 3-0 scoreline would do very nicely.