It’s first vs second in the Premier League in Saturday’s early kick-off and ahead of the game, we’ve analysed six key elements to the match for you to keep an eye on.
For the fourth time in the Premier League era, Manchester City and Liverpool do battle while occupying positions one and two in the table. This has been the league’s best rivalry for years, and this season, these two might just bring us another titanic battle at the top (though Arsenal an An Other might try and weigh in on that fight).
Saturday’s meeting isn’t quite a title-race six-pointer, but it could still have a big say in how the rest of the season pans out, even if it is just either team making a statement with a big result.
So, how will this match go? We’ve crunched the numbers to try and work it out, focusing on six key areas that could have an impact on the outcome.
The Perils of the Saturday Early Kick-Off
Jürgen Klopp isn’t happy – again – about Liverpool facing another early kick-off.
“[After the international break] we can train once [all together] before playing Manchester City. How can you put a game like this on Saturday at 12.30pm? Honestly, the people making these decisions, they cannot feel football, it is just not possible. These two teams could have, all together, about 30 international players.”
This Saturday’s lunchtime game will be the third time Liverpool have played in that slot this season – the joint most alongside Tottenham. But all three of Liverpool’s early games in 2023-24 have come directly after an international break, while none of Spurs’ have. When you have as many internationals – and as many South Americans in particular – as Liverpool, that can put extra strain on players who have to travel long distances and deal with changing time zones quickly before being back out on the pitch.
It has been a long-running gripe of Klopp’s, largely because the early lunchtime slot has been a fixture that has caused Liverpool some real problems in recent years. Going into this weekend, Klopp has led Liverpool in 37 Premier League games played at 12.30pm on a Saturday, but has won only 18 of them. His win percentage (48.6%) and points-per-game average (1.78) in this slot are way, way down on what he has managed at other times in Premier League games (64.6% and 2.15 ppg).
Is this just because they are being given difficult fixtures at this time, I hear you ask? The short answer is no. Here is a list of just some of the teams Liverpool have dropped points to in the Saturday early kick-off under Klopp: Swansea, Watford, Everton (several times), West Brom, Stoke City, Newcastle (before they were good), Leicester (after they were good), Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth.
Critics might wonder if Klopp has trouble getting his team ready or motivating the players for an early game, and results historically certainly suggest that may have been the case. Results have improved more recently, though, as Liverpool are so far two from two in Saturday early kick-offs this season, having beaten Wolves and Everton.
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, has a very, very good record in the weekend’s early game. He has 25 wins from 33 games (75.8% win rate), earning 2.39 points per game. Both rates are up slightly from Guardiola’s record in other Premier League games (73.9% and 2.34 ppg), suggesting he has no problems getting his team ready for such fixtures.
However, the list of the eight teams that Pep has dropped points to suggests his side might be susceptible to an upset in the Saturday lunchtime game. Chelsea, Burnley, Wolves, Newcastle (before they were good), West Ham, Leeds, Brentford and Manchester United have all taken points off City under Pep in a 12.30pm kick-off. The two most recent of those came last season in a mid-term blip when they temporarily fell away in the title race, losing at home to Brentford and away to United. City have won their last two lunchtime kick-offs since that Old Trafford defeat, though, the most recent of which was April’s 4-1 home win over… yep, Liverpool.
Home Advantage and Liverpool’s Poor Away Form
Let’s be frank: City are big favourites to win this weekend. They have had their problems this season, namely when Rodri was suspended and they lost three games in a row, but all of those games were played away from home. Back on home soil, they have made the Etihad Stadium a fortress.
So far this season, they have seven wins from seven at home in all competitions, winning those games by an aggregate score of 22-4. In fact, they have won all 23 of their home games in 2023, last failing to win at home against Everton on New Year’s Eve last year.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have been equally as unstoppable at home, but they have had a lot of problems on the road. They have dropped points in four of their six away Premier League games, and also lost at Toulouse last time out in the Europa League.
Home advantage is a massive factor in the outcome of this weekend’s game, and something drastic will need to change – on both sides – for Liverpool to overcome that disadvantage and come away with a result.
The High Press
Only three teams have taken points off City this season. Wolves beat them by sitting back and hitting their opponents on the break, but Chelsea and Arsenal had success by going toe-to-toe with the champions and pressing them aggressively high up the pitch. Disrupting City’s build-up play proved a fruitful method of frustrating them. Knowing Liverpool, they are more likely to approach the game like Chelsea and Arsenal.
In Arsenal’s 1-0 win over City in October, an effective press forced City into more 16 sequences of three or fewer passes that ended inside their own half – more than any other team has managed in a Premier League game this season. They also forced City to start their attacks closer to their own goal line (39.7m) than any other team has done. Chelsea, meanwhile, restricted City to fewer open-play passing sequences of 10 or more passes (12) than they have had in any other league game in 2023-24.
After the game at Stamford Bridge, Rodri praised Chelsea for how they made the tie into a game of transitions – something that suited Chelsea far more than it did City, and would certainly suit Liverpool, too. Klopp’s men have reached the final third of the pitch on transition more times (209) this season than any other Premier League team, while only Man Utd (61) have had more shots on transition than them (60).
Taking their pressing game to the Etihad could well give Liverpool their best chance of success.
Stopping Haaland and Salah as They Aim For Milestones
Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah will be the key men on Saturday, or more accurately, stopping them will be key to their opponents’ chances of winning.
They occupy positions one and two in the Premier League’s top scorers’ list for 2023-24, on 13 and 10 goals, respectively, with Haaland having scored nine goals in his last six City appearances in all competitions. His early withdrawal from Norway’s 2-0 win over Faroe Islands with an ankle knock will have temporarily given Liverpool some extra hope… but it now appears likely the striker will be fit to play on Saturday. Liverpool are, however, one of only two teams Haaland has faced in a City shirt in the league and failed to score against, alongside Brentford, though he did find the net against them in the EFL Cup quarter-final last season.
Salah, meanwhile, bounced back from the most minor drop-off in form last week, scoring twice against Brentford and then four times for Egypt against Djibouti following a run of three (THREE) appearances without a single goal (or even an assist for that matter)!
Both players are approaching goalscoring milestones, so have added motivation to score again this weekend. Haaland is one goal away from becoming the fastest player to reach 50 Premier League goals, currently on 49 in 47 games. Andy Cole holds the record for now, having reached his half-century in 65 games.
Salah, meanwhile, is one Premier League goal away from 150 – and a place in the all-time top 10 scorers in the competition – and two goals away from 200 overall for Liverpool.
Given the rate both players score at, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they reached those landmarks this weekend. Particularly because this game has history of producing lots of goals.
Goals and Few Cards
The rivalry between Manchester City and Liverpool over the past half-decade or so has been rather different to the classic rivalries of times gone by. There isn’t the same hatred as Manchester United vs Arsenal, or the hostility of José Mourinho vs Arsène Wenger, and that is in no small part because the players and managers respect the quality of their opponents. This is the highest-quality rivalry the Premier League has ever seen.
The speed at which games between these teams are played is like little we have ever seen before, and the brilliant players on show reliably produce moments of magic. The last 11 competitive meetings between the teams have produced 43 goals – an astonishing rate of 3.9 goals per game, a number that is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that in that run of 11 games there was a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 win for Liverpool. When this game catches alight, it explodes.
But the respect between the teams means that these games rarely boil over like games between more bitter rivals might. Those 11 games have seen fewer cards dished out (41) – all of them yellow – than goals scored.
In fact, it has been 18 meetings between the sides since a player received a red card, and that was given to Sadio Mané for a reckless and clumsy (though still fully deserving of a red card) rather than malicious high boot on City goalkeeper Ederson.
It’s a game that produces plenty of drama and the result will almost certainly have a big say on how the season pans out from here, but it isn’t a game that tends to bring ill-discipline from the players involved. That might be because the players know how costly a red card could be against such high quality opposition; Liverpool went on to lose 5-0 back in September 2017 after Mané’s dismissal.
That said, the two teams have received six red cards between them in Premier League games this season, with Liverpool responsible for a league-high four, so maybe this is the game that breaks tradition and the challenges get a bit tasty.
Absentees may be a key factor, with a few huge names missing. John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne are absent for City, while Liverpool will again be without Andy Robertson and Thiago Alcântara, while the game may come too soon for Curtis Jones. There are also fitness questions around Haaland, Mateo Kovacic, Matheus Nunes and Ederson, all of whom withdrew from international duty last week, as well as Ryan Gravenberch, Ibrahima Konaté and Joe Gomez on the Liverpool side.
Although City showed earlier in the season that they can survive without Stones and De Bruyne, they did start to look that bit more fluent when Stones made his comeback from injury last month. They won all four games he started, scoring 17 goals and most notably blowing rivals United away in the derby win at Old Trafford. Then, in their first full game without him, they dropped points at Chelsea.
His absence could provide a little more hope for the away side this weekend, who don’t have anyone quite so integral missing (though some would argue they are a better team with Jones in the side). Then again, City have played most of the season without Stones and are top of the Premier League, so they aren’t exactly lost without him.