Sunday is a massive game in terms of deciding the Premier League title. The quality of the team and squad is with Manchester City but the belief, spirit and momentum is definitely with Liverpool.
Winning your first title is like nothing else in terms of how it makes your legs feel in the run in. The Liverpool players that haven’t felt it before will definitely feel it in the next few weeks. You need a bit of luck and your mentality is critical.
Young players will get you three-quarters of the way to a title through their legs, energy and enthusiasm, they’re like pacemakers in a marathon. But you need experience to drag you over the line. That’s what a title race feels like. In the next few weeks Liverpool will need Steven Gerrard, Luis Suárez and Glen Johnson, who’s won a title before, to bring a level of normality in to the dressing room. The same goes at Manchester City, the players who were involved in the drama two years ago will try and draw on those experiences if they can.
I’ve looked at five areas of the pitch that I think will be crucial at Anfield on Sunday…
Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez’s performance levels this season have been of the highest quality. 12-18 months ago I wondered if Suárez was really top class. There is no doubt about that now. His work rate and tenacity is just incredible.
I think Sturridge and Suárez running at any defender now in world football is a penalty waiting to happen. When Sturridge is in that right channel it’s a nightmare scenario as when he cuts in he can bend it in the far corner with his favoured left foot, but if you cut that off and overcompensate he is good enough to go outside you and square it with his right foot.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that City should be looking to offload Edin Džeko in the summer. Every squad needs three or four strikers and he has provided really good performances for them this year when Sergio Agüero been injured or Álvaro Negredo has been off the boil. He gives them a real aerial and physical presence. However, there is talk of Agüero being back fit on Sunday and he is a world class player who can turn big games in an instance. Džeko is a good striker, but whoever plays at the back for Liverpool, whether it’s Martin Škrtel and Daniel Agger or Mamadou Sakho, will be a lot more comfortable against an Agüero who is not 100% fit or Džeko who isn’t at that same level.
David Silva provides real control for City. He’s the one that keeps the ball for them. He finds space and adds composure for them. When I used to play at Anfield in big games, I felt like I was in a pinball machine for the first 20 minutes. When everyone’s flying around in front of him, Silva will be the one to put his foot on the ball, find himself a yard of space and slow the game down, he won’t be phased. City will need that in the early parts of the game on Sunday.
If I was Liverpool looking at this game, looking to win their first title in 24 years, I would be concentrating a massive amount of my preparation on how to deal with Yaya Touré. If you stop Touré, with his power and force, you go a long way to stopping Manchester City. Brendan Rodgers is a real front foot manager, and I wonder last week whether bringing Lucas on with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson was to give him some time ahead of this Sunday’s game? Rodgers may want Lucas alongisde Henderson and Gerrard to stop the runs of Yaya Touré and give greater control to his midfield.
Watching Steven Gerrard over the last few weeks, the influence he’s having over Liverpool is enormous. I cannot believe that teams are not putting someone specifically on him. The pass Gerrard played last week over James Tomkins that led to the penalty was pinpoint. Gerrard is the source of a lot of what Liverpool do and City will need to cut that off.
Vincent Kompany has been one of the best defenders in the Premier League for the past two or three seasons and is now one of the best in Europe. It’s highly unlikely that he and Martín Demichelis will be able to handle Sturridge and Suárez for 90 minutes without assistance though. They’re going to need holding midfield players and their full backs to help out. Last weekend, I thought West Ham defended against Sturridge and Suárez as well as anybody I’ve seen yet Suárez still won a penalty and hit the bar twice!
I think there will be really clear, defined roles for both sets of full backs on Sunday. Liverpool have the two best strikers in the Premier League in terms of getting in the inside right and left channels and David Silva and Samir Nasri also do that effectively for City. Both sets of full backs will need to tighten up the space between themselves and the centre halves, particularly between Demichelis and Aleksander Kolarov or Gaël Clichy, who I can see being brought in for this game as he’s more adept defensively. We talk a lot nowadays about attacking full backs, but they’re going to going to have to make sure on Sunday that their primary job is to make sure their centre backs don’t get exposed by Sturridge and Suárez, or Silva and Nasri.
Hart v Mignolet
I think both Joe Hart and Simon Mignolet are excellent goalkeepers. Mignolet is currently ranked as the top ‘keeper in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index but Hart has been excellent in the past few months.
I think one of the key areas on Sunday will be set pieces, I really think they are going to be huge in this game. Both teams have had a free week and will have worked so hard on their set pieces and the ‘keepers will really need to dominate their area in set pieces.