Liverpool’s showdown with Manchester City on Saturday at Anfield is the highlight of what’s set to be a fascinating Week 19 in the Premier League.
With league leaders Chelsea chasing a remarkable 13th win in succession, both Liverpool and City need to ensure they pick up three points in pursuit of the title. The Stamford Bridge side will be the big favourites to win at home against a struggling Stoke City side on Saturday afternoon.
Afterwards, the Blues’ two main title rivals will meet in what could be one of the most entertaining matches of the campaign. The winner will feel capable of pushing for the top spot in the second half of 2016-17, while the loser will look upwards with hope more than genuine expectation of glory.
Even with Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante absent for the Boxing Day fixture with Bournemouth, Chelsea were able to coast to a 3-0 victory. It was a measure of not only the depth in this Blues squad but the effectiveness of the system put in place by manager Antonio Conte.
While it has brought the best of players such as Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro, defensively the team has been formidable lately, too. Per WhoScored.com, there has been an improvement at the back this term:
Thibaut Courtois has been exemplary in goal, while protecting him has been the trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill, whose range of defensive attributes have meshed brilliantly.
For Stoke manager Mark Hughes, breaching this setup will be difficult, although after watching his team disintegrate defensively against Liverpool last time out, he has serious concerns to address at both ends of the field.
Indeed, having taken a shock lead at Anfield, Stoke gifted the hosts a route back into the contest and went on to lose 4-1; three of the four goals conceded were thanks to defensive howlers from the Potters, who undid their strong early work in spectacular style.
Per OptaJoe, Stoke haven’t been helping themselves this term:
It is difficult to see how they can take anything from this trip to the capital. Not only are Chelsea in imperious form at the moment, they will be back at full strength and determined to take advantage of two of their rivals meeting later in the day. Another long afternoon is on the cards for Hughes and his players.
Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City
Two of the game’s most renowned football ideologies go head-to-head at a raucous Anfield on Saturday evening, as Jurgen Klopp’s pugnacious Liverpool outfit take on Pep Guardiola’s early version of Manchester City.
The Reds are the favourites for this one as they seek to hunt down Chelsea. In fairness, in most seasons the Blues would find themselves out of sight at this juncture, but Liverpool have chipped away brilliantly, notching some big results and scoring plenty of goals.
Per Squawka Football, the team reached a scoring milestone under Klopp during the win over Stoke, although it’s not just goals where the Reds have improved under the German:
While Klopp’s Liverpool have manifested in full form, we are still in the nascent stages of Guardiola’s tenure in charge of City, and that has been evident during some fractured displays this season. However, the Etihad Stadium outfit come into this one of the back of consecutive wins.
They will also be boosted by the return of star striker Sergio Aguero, who has sat out the last four matches following his red card against Chelsea. Given how the Reds defence struggled early on against Stoke, the City No. 10 will fancy his chances of making a goalscoring return.
Guardiola also has a rejuvenated YayaToure at his disposal. Per Sky Sports News, he was superb in the win over Hull City:
What will the result be?
Liverpool Draw City
Neither side have been particularly proficient in defence so far this season, meaning we should see a fascinating attacking contest. The vibrant, direct attacking Reds up against the patient probing approach play of the visitors will make for an absorbing clash.
There are so many attacking stars who can make the difference on the day in this one for either side. Eventually, though, these two will cancel one another out in a breathless affair.
Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City