Naby Keita

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Projected lineups: Liverpool v. Man City

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Unbeaten Liverpool host Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a huge clash at Anfield.

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This is the biggest game of the season so far, and it may end up being the most important 90 minutes of the entire 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool sit top of the table with a six-point lead over second place Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola‘s men know this is a game they simply cannot lose as they aim to hunt Liverpool down in search of a third-straight Premier League title.

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Below is a look at the projected lineups for both teams, with some analysis and a look at the team news.


Liverpool

—– Alisson —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Lovren — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Henderson — Fabinho —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Salah —- Firmino — Mane —-

Analysis: The only real issue heading into this game for Liverpool is who joins Virgil Van Dijk at the heart of their defense. With Joel Matip out injured both Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have been given opportunities to step up and fill the void. Lovren is likely to get the nod this weekend but it is still a problem area for Klopp to sort out. Elsewhere, the front three and full backs pick themselves and the only other dilemma is how Klopp sets up his midfield three. James Milner‘s big game experience may come in handy, but both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson are likely starters. So it’s a case of who starts between Georginio Wijnaldum, Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and it seems like Wijnaldum will get the nod, even though Keita and the Ox are more attacking options.


Man City

—– Ederson —–

—- Walker —- Stones —- Fernandinho —- Mendy —-

—- David Silva —- Gundogan —-

—- Sterling —- De Bruyne —- Bernardo Silva —-

—– Aguero —–

Analysis: My goodness, where do we start with this Man City team news? Ederson suffered a slight tweak of his thigh in the 1-1 draw with Atalanta on Wednesday and had to come off at half time but he’s expected to be fit for Sunday’s game. If he isn’t, Claudio Bravo will come in for his first PL start since May 2018. No pressure, Claudio… In front of the goalkeeper it seems like Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will play at right back and left back respectively, while Fernandinho will start in central defense. John Stones should get the nod alongside him given Nicolas Otamendi’s erratic form, while Rodri may be an option as he’s worked his way back to fitness quicker than expected. This game may come too soon for the Spaniard with Gundogan likely to start in central midfield but David Silva is nursing a knock after coming off against Southampton. The front four is pretty set with Sergio Aguero leading the line and Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva supporting him. Plenty of selection headaches for Pep Guardiola to sort out in defense and midfield.

How should Man City and Liverpool rotate their squads?

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With Liverpool and Manchester City set for a heavyweight clash this weekend, the teams must still navigate the midweek Champions League bouts, and decisions remain for both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp on how to both allow players to compete for places and rest those who require some time on the bench.

For Liverpool, the easiest decision Klopp will make as Liverpool gets set to take on Genk on Tuesday is to sit Mohamed Salah who has dealt with an ankle problem over the past month and with international duty coming up needs all the time to rest he possibly can muster. However, there are a few decisions the German must make that require a bit more thought.

With Joel Matip out for three weeks with a knee injury suffered against Sheffield United, Dejan Lovren has been deputizing at center-back alongside Virgil Van Dijk. Klopp must decide whether to allow Lovern to continue in that role and develop a consistent and critical partnership with his new center-back pairing or allow Joe Gomez a chance to prove himself in that slot. Consistency is often a valuable component of a center-back partnership, but offering Gomez an opportunity to snatch the position for himself could also potentially be beneficial down the road.

There are also questions about how to proceed in midfield as the Reds have some players clamoring for playing time. Fabinho was benched against Aston Villa as the Brazilian sits on a yellow card, ensuring his availability for the Man City game, but he could be afforded a run out against Genk. Still, playing Fabinho midweek has its risks, and both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita could both be given the spot instead. Adam Lallana started in Fabinho’s place against Villa and could be an option, although he doesn’t seem to be a first-choice player for Klopp at this point, while James Milner is also a do-it-all piece who could be utilized if need be.

The key for Liverpool is they cannot completely look past Genk, for a slip could see them fall out of a qualifying position in Group E altogether. For Manchester City, who travels to Italy for a match with Atalanta on Wednesday, they remain in a position of strength, topping Group C by a significant margin and afforded the opportunity to take chances with the squad.

City is already missing the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, and Oleksandr Zinchenko for various long-term reasons, and they have a few more injury concerns this week that thins the squad further. David Silva pulled up just before halftime this weekend against Southampton and is likely out until after the international break, while Rodri also likely remains sidelined with a hamstring problem.

That leaves questions all over the squad. Fernandinho continues to deputize at center-back, preferred over Nicolas Otamendi, but the latter could enter for Champions League play to keep Fernandinho healthy for the weekend’s big game. Angelino suffered cramps against Southampton, and the Atalanta game could be another chance for Benjamin Mendy to earn favor going forward.

In midfield, Phil Foden is a likely replacement for David Silva, a chance for the 19-year-old to earn a first-team place and potentially start over the weekend as well, while Riyad Mahrez could play with Guardiola potentially spelling either Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling for a rest. Kevin De Bruyne is always an injury concern for Man City, having missed a host of games over the past two years with various problems, so he also presents a decision for Guardiola should the Spaniard wish to mitigate risk, but the David Silva injury will not allow him to do that without making concessions elsewhere.

Chopping and changing is part of the game, but too much can bring a halt to a squad’s togetherness and momentum. Consistency is a key factor for many top managers, and both head men will have big decisions to make with such a massive game on the horizon.

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. Liverpool

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  • Liverpool lead title race by 6 points
  • Villa sit 15th in PL table, on 11 points
  • LFC won 6-0 last trip to Villa Park, in 2016

Liverpool’s 100-percent Premier League record may have ended two weeks ago with a 1-1 draw away to rivals Manchester United, but the Reds continue to pace the PL title race ahead of Saturday’s trip to Villa Park to take on Aston Villa (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold).

In theory, facing a recently promoted side like Villa should be the most straightforward challenge in a week that saw Liverpool take on, and beat, both north London sides — first, Tottenham Hotspur in PL action on Sunday, followed by Arsenal in a 5-5 thriller in the EFL Cup on Wednesday. It’s been a taxing period for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, though, as they came back from 1-0 down to Tottenham inside the game’s first minute and erased a pair of two-goal deficits to the Gunners before triumphing in a penalty shootout. Coincidentally, Liverpool and Villa were then drawn against one another in the quarterfinals of the EFL Cup, tentatively scheduled to be played in mid-December. Before that was a trip to Belgium in the Champions League and another fight-back from a goal down against Man United.

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The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Virgil Van Dijk were all spared from further action midweek, their first period of inaction in over a month, including the recent international break. Klopp is plenty wary about the demands of the modern game. The EFL Cup presents the ideal opportunity to rest first-team stars, but he needs them to return at the peak of their abilities once it’s back to PL action if Liverpool are to hold of Manchester City and win their first English league title since 1990.

Villa won’t be a pushover, however, as Dean Smith‘s side has won three of its last four games in all competitions, including back-to-back games against fellow relegation battlers in PL action and an EFL Cup round of 16 triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The lone blemish came in last weekend’s 3-0 defeat away to Man City, a game they kept scoreless for the entire first half before Raheem Sterling opened the floodgates in the first minute of the second half.

Injuries/suspensions

Aston Villa: OUT – Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Grealish (calf)

Liverpool: OUT – Joel Matip (knee), Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Naby Keita (groin), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)


Projected lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett – Nakamba – Trezeguet, McGinn, Luiz, Grealish – Wesley

Liverpool: Alisson – Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson – Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum – Salah, Firmino, Mane


What they’re saying

Bjorn Engels, on bragging rights: “My girlfriend is from Liverpool. Her whole family is. And they are all Reds, too. We have been joking about things in the build-up. I think Aston Villa is the only team who can beat Liverpool and they won’t be too upset. If we win, I think there will be no problem. They love Liverpool. Of course, when you are born with a team, that is who you support. But I think they will be happy for me if we get a good result.”

Klopp, on Georginio Wijnaldum’s importance: “Gini speaks on the pitch for the way he plays. It’s just so obvious his importance. And it is in both directions — in attack and defence, small spaces, big spaces, it is hard challenges, fine football, pretty much all of that. Is he the perfect midfielder? Yes, from the skill set, 100 percent. He has all that you need.”


Prediction

Liverpool haven’t been at their very best in recent weeks, but they’ve managed to pick up positive results against some tough sides. Having the luxury of resting the big names this week should do them a world of good and bring about a swift response, at Villa’s expense. Aston Villa 0-3 Liverpool.

Little trouble for Liverpool in blowout of Genk

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice as Liverpool outlasted a strong effort from their Belgian hosts in a 4-1 win over Genk in UEFA Champions League play on Wednesday.

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Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored late goals to finish off the Belgians, though Stephen Odey scored an 88th minute goal after the Reds had rounded out their 4-star day.

Liverpool’s six points are one behind Napoli and three ahead of Red Bull Salzburg at the midway point of Group E play.


Three things

1. “New signing” shines: Remember when Jurgen Klopp loudly proclaimed that a healthy Oxlade-Chamberlain sufficed as a new summer signing? The playmaker was fantastic in just his third start of the season. In addition to two well-taken goals, “The Ox” completed 89 percent of his passes and was credited with 79 touches, two tackles, and two dribbles.

2. “Offensive” banner brings abrupt response: Liverpool striker Divock Origi began his youth career with Genk well before he became a Champions League winner, and a banner hung in the crowd caused both clubs to issue strong statements about its being “deeply offensive.” Liverpool said the banner, which depicted Origi’s face photoshopped on a naked body next to the UCL trophy, “perpetuated a racist stereotype.”

3. Reds defense falls asleep late:  It wasn’t a great evening for center back Dejan Lovren, who was stripped of the ball in a sleepy move on the touch line, but about six teammates could’ve done something as Genk toyed with the Reds in the box to get a late concession. Not a big deal, no, but a small on-field blemish on an otherwise wonderful afternoon.

Man of the Match: Oxlade-Chamberlain


The “Ox” put the Reds on top with a nice low drive through traffic, but the first half was not without its dodgy moments.

Case in point: Naby Keita tried a poor back pass that required timely help from Virgil Van Dijk to avoid an equalizer.

Indeed, Genk thought it had an equalizer before halftime, but VAR revealed a narrow offside in the build-up. Warning sign seen by the Reds?

Mane scored before setting up Salah for 4-0, the Egyptian doing a load of work to snub several defenders.

Player ratings from Manchester United-Liverpool

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Manchester United’s late letdown denied Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a statement victory against Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool, as both managers had their moments at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool ]

The players, too, were a mixed bag, as Liverpool missed Mohamed Salah in a big way in a game that also cried out for Paul Pogba.

Manchester United

David De Gea — 6 — Not a ton to do, and would’ve had to have been a super hero to deny the goal.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka — 7 — Was very good for most of the match, though either Andreas Pereira or him failed to bother Andy Robertson‘s cross for the equalizer.

Marcos Rojo — 5 — A solid step-in performance right up until he committed to block Robertson’s cross and missed it, allowing Lallana a tap-in.

Victor Lindelof — 6 — Got away with a foul on Origi in the build-up to United’s goal, but otherwise well within himself.

Harry Maguire — 7 — Marshaled a surprising back three very well.

Ashley Young — 6 — All over the place, sometimes in the good way and sometimes in the bad.

Fred — 5 — Like watching a whirlwind, it’s difficult to tell whether his activity is influential in a positive light or just making up for lack of positional awareness.

Scott McTominay — 7 — He’s a big, strong, heady youngster, and did well in a midfield match-up which was considering to be a lopsided disadvantage.

Andreas Pereira (Off 90′) — 5 — Ran his shorts off, but so many needless fancy first half touches. Imagine Pogba in his place executing this game plan, and it may’ve been 3-1 at the break.

Daniel James — 7 — Took a beating and contributed plenty at the back end, and that’s without mentioning his cross for Rashford’s goal.

Marcus Rashford (Off 84′) — 7 — A slow start gave way to a star turn, with his goal the highlight but his industry what made him a MOTM candidate.

Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — 8 — Would’ve liked to see Martial or Mata for Pereira earlier, but the back three was as gutsy and proper trap for Klopp, one that clearly upset the Liverpool boss. With Mohamed Salah out, the move blossomed further.

Subs:
Anthony Martial (On 84′) — N/A
Brandon Williams (On 90′) — N/A

Liverpool

Alisson Becker — 6 — One save and one clearance in a non-descript match.

Andrew Robertson — 7 — Relentless as usual and got his assist through traffic to keep the undefeated record in play. Caught out of the camera on United’s goal, but that’s a symptom of the system.

Virgil Van Dijk — 6 — Fine. Would’ve liked him to do something instead of playing a mile off of James’ run, but expecting heroism in every game is a lot for a center back.

Joel Matip — 5 — A step back for the newly-resigned center back, as he couldn’t cut out James’ cross on the goal.

Trent Alexander-Arnold — 5 — Ten crosses. One on the mark. A decent-enough day in his own end, but far from his standard without Mohamed Salah.

Fabinho — 6 — Hard-edged when the Reds were sleeping.

Jordan Henderson (Off 71′) — 4 — Sloppy and grew more so after the break, clearly frustrated by the atmosphere. Took a decent chance to trouble De Gea and sliced it into outer space.

Georginio Wijnaldum (Off 82′)  — 7 — A curious sub, as the Dutch international looked one of the few players capable of supplying something special.

Sadio Mane — 6 — Has a goal in a world without silly handball rules. Otherwise not really in the fray.

Divock Origi (Off 60′) — 4 — On his horse early, his influence waned to the point he was a spectator when Jurgen Klopp replaced him.

Roberto Firmino — 5 — A rare off day for one of the best center forwards in the business.

Manager: Jurgen Klopp — 7 — It took him a while to figure out United’s back three, but all three of his subs were influential in the point.

Subs:
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (On 60′) — 8 — The original AOC changed the game.
Adam Lallana (On 71′) — 8 — That’s a great way to end a goal drought
Naby Keita (On 82′) — 7 — Got the defense moving, setting up space for Robertson assist.