After a two-week hiatus, the Premier League returns this weekend. Saturday’s early kickoff is a mouthwatering affair between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad. Both clubs are going well in the league so far, occupying fourth and second place in the table respectively. Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp know each other well from their time managing in the Bundesliga, contesting several memorable affairs. They now manage two of the Premier League’s best attacking sides, capable of scoring at will. With the added motivation of a chance to go top of the league, if only temporarily, the match-up is full of potential.
It may not be full of acrimony, but the rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp is one of the league’s most entertaining, following both to England from Germany. It is strictly an on-field rivalry, with both managers full of praise for the other’s ability. In their 11 previous meetings, comprising of league, cup, and Super Cup matches, the German leads the series 5-4 with one draw. While a lone early goal settled last season’s Anfield match, the fixture at the Etihad, though short on goals, featured plenty of incidents and attacking intent. The 1-1 scoreline belied a plethora of chances for both sides, and anyone who loves what is best about the league will hope for similarly positive play this weekend.
For all their quality going forward, both teams exhibited notable defensive frailty last season. Despite making a priority of adding to their defenses in the summer, neither club managed to address their issues particularly successfully. Central defense remains a problem, with no one added by either club to fill that position. Liverpool failed to land long-standing target Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, and City seem content to rely on the injury-plagued Vincent Kompany. Both sides feature mistake-prone goalkeepers as well, adding another possible source of drama at the back. The signings of four attacking full-backs between them, and bolstering their already formidable midfields, suggests attacking play will be the order of the day. Suspect defense and attacking prowess may be the recipe for a classic shootout.
Leaders in the clubhouse
The winner at the Etihad would go top of the league, if only for a few hours. Leaders Manchester United face Stoke City later in the day, a club they have defeated only twice in the last three years. Regardless of United’s result, the encouragement a win could provide should not be underestimated. City and Liverpool also face their first matches of the Champions League group stage on Wednesday, against Feyenoord and Sevilla. City, disappointed after carrying a two goal advantage into the second leg to go out to Monaco in the Round of 16 last season, will want to start this UCL campaign on the right foot. Liverpool missed out on European play entirely a year ago, and the five-time winners of the competition will be keen to announce their return with a win. Three points on Saturday would no doubt boost confidence ahead of the midweek matches.