Prior to Liverpool’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City this Sunday, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Robbie Earle about the makeup of each side.
Q: How would you compare Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s goalkeeping situations?
Robbie Earle: It’s probably an area where I think both teams could and should do better and probably need to strengthen. If you look at City, it’s Claudio Bravo or more likely [Willy] Caballero will start, but it seems like City are starting their second-string goalkeeper. There was the high-profile exit of Joe Hart out of the club and then they bring in Claudio Bravo who is having a tough time with things. Then you have to go to the second string, but I think Caballero has provided a little bit of stability back there.
For Liverpool obviously we have the high-profile omission of [Simon] Mignolet and [Loris] Karius got in. Then Karius dropped and Mignolet regained the spot. In an ideal world I’d say for both clubs to be as successful as they want to be, they might need to upgrade in both those departments. It’s almost a draw in the goalkeeping departments.
Q: What are your thoughts on the backlines of the two clubs?
RE: The two clubs in some ways are very similar and I think the high-profile managers are both better attacking than defending in the way they play. You know on any given good day they can tear anyone apart in the Premier League, but it’s that consistency in defending. Again you look at City, there have been so many changes with a back four, back three, different partnerships. I feel a bit sorry for John Stones. He made a big-money move to Man City, there’s a lot expected and he’s had so many partners: [Pablo] Zabaleta, [Bacary] Sagna, [Aleksandar] Kolarov, [Nicolas] Otamendi, Fernandinho’s played there. You know the one guy they probably wanted to get him next to in terms of learning and where they saw their first choice center backs would have been Vincent Kompany. He’s spent very little time on the pitch so I feel a little bit sorry for John Stones. He’s had to grow up really quickly and become at times the focal point of a defense where he’s still at the stage of his career when he is learning the game and understanding about his decision-making. City, I think over the next 18 months, will see a few big changes in their defensive setup and personnel.
Liverpool are similar. No disrespect to James Milner but they’ve gotten away with playing a midfield player at left back. [Joel] Matip is the John Stones of Liverpool in that he hasn’t had a regular partner. It’s been a very changeable thing that back four and it’s an area of the pitch I think that’s very important. I’m still not sure Liverpool have got it quite right in terms of the personnel. I still feel that they’re going to need to go spend and buy a top draw center back and left back. We’re at the stage where Lucas Leiva, a player that probably couldn’t get into Liverpool’s midfield, is playing in the back four. That tells you where they are really.
Q: How do you think the midfields of Man City and Liverpool match up?
I’d say Liverpool are probably a little more athletic, certainly if [Jordan] Henderson is playing. It looks like [Emre] Can might play against Man City, but when you think of [Georginio] Wijnaldum and [Adam] Lallana both have started to show that they can score goals and have more productivity. Lallana has dropped off a bit, he was on a really hot run a few weeks ago, but they come with an energy and a vibrancy that if you don’t match it, if you’re not prepared to go toe-to-toe, they run all over teams from that area of the pitch. I think you have to at least match that.
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City will try to do that more with technique and ability. It’ll probably be Fernandinho holding. At the moment it looks like they’ve played Yaya [Toure] next to him or [Kevin] De Bruyne and David Silva slightly advanced of the holding midfielder playing. De Bruyne and Silva both are great technicians, will keep the ball and that’s where they can keep it away from Liverpool. Liverpool’s midfield are all better with the ball than they are without it, but you can probably say the same thing about Man City, so possession and who has control of the game in that central area is probably going to be the key to the game.
Q: Which group of forwards do you trust more?
RE: You’d probably say as we are talking now, City are more in form with [Sergio] Aguero who’s a proven master marksman in the Premier League. His goal record stands for itself. And then in the wide areas [Leroy] Sane is getting better and better. We did a little piece on him a couple of weeks ago in terms of his positioning, his ability to create goals, to score goals from the left hand side. Then you have Raheem Sterling on the other side. Those three probably right now are in slightly better form than [Roberto] Firmino, [Philippe] Coutinho and [Sadio] Mane who are very different in the way they play.
It’s more about movement, it’s about clever, front-foot play between those three, but what I would say with those three is generally on the big days, their record against the top six is five wins and four draws. Those front three have come good on those days when they’ve needed them to. The front three are excellent in creating chances for each other and lots of interchanging. Mane will come from the wide positions, Firmino drops deep and Coutinho finds those seams inside. Their movement and intelligence is what will threaten the defense and it could be a game where, although both teams’ defenses are the weaker part of their game, who defends better on the day will win.
Q: Do you have a preference between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola?
RE: They are very different. Klopp is much more open, in your face, heart on his sleeve, emotional on the sideline. He’s the driving force at Liverpool. I think he’s the most important member of the Liverpool squad. If Liverpool are going to finish in the top four, Jurgen Klopp is going to have to be outstanding in his coaching.
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Pep Guardiola has to get a better understanding of the Premier League and what it requires week in and week out and I think it’s coming. It’s not just the big games which you know they are probably up for, but days when they play Burnley and Bournemouth and those places that sometimes they can have a banana skin. He’s a lot more considerate in the way he behaves and acts on the training field. In terms of who’d you have, it’s a difficult one. Pep’s a little bit more on the intellect and intelligence but I like Klopp. If I was a player, I’d have to say Klopp.
Q: Who wins this weekend’s match?
RE: It’s a tough one. For no other reason than form and their record against the top six teams, I just don’t think Liverpool will get beat. I think at worst Liverpool come with a draw. They’re good against the best teams and they’ll have a week of preparation whereas City have played in the Champions League. I just think Liverpool will at least get a draw, if not a win. So, I’ll slightly favor Liverpool, but with no real certainty. City could end up winning three-nil and I wouldn’t be surprised.