Preview: Manchester City v Liverpool

Is the visit of Liverpool our biggest league game of the season so far? With City failing to pick up three points at Stoke, our grip on fourth place looks fragile. Victory over Liverpool would be a huge boost for Roberto Mancini as City seek to get back on track.

Recent performances have been unconvincing with the manager coming under scrutiny for his tactics and team selections. The report of a “bust-up” with Craig Bellamy is the last thing Mancini needed, even if he was able to smooth things over when speaking to the press.

Doubts over the wisdom of signing Patrick Vieira continue to mount following the Frenchman’s three match ban for a needless piece of retaliation. So much for experience and winning mentalities.

Elsewhere Tevez is still in Argentina, while Petrov has been ruled out for a month with knee trouble. Hardly the best preparation for a huge fixture.

Yet there is room for hope. We still have enough fit and available players to put out a strong starting eleven. City have raised their game when playing the big clubs this season and our home form is excellent.

In defence we have plenty of options, assuming Wayne Bridge is fit to return after being rested on Tuesday. Micah Richards should retain the right-back slot, while Kompany may challenge Toure and Lescott for a place if he’s fit.

Kolo should be happier against Liverpool than the aerial bombardment of Stoke. His pace would be better suited to keeping Ngog quiet. There’s a case for saving Kompany for the Cup replay, and letting Kolo skip that one.

With Vieira out, de Jong and Barry should be certain starters and will have to keep a close eye on Gerrard. Hopefully we’ll see two wide players enabling us to get at the Liverpool full-backs Carragher and Insua.

Personally I’d like to see Craig Bellamy given a run alongside Adebayor, where his pace could stretch the Liverpool back-line. Liverpool defenders would be more comfortable with the less mobile pairing of Adebayor and Santa Cruz.

If the Welshman’s fit Mancini may well start him on his usual left flank, though it would be good to Johnson given a run on his preferred wing with Wright-Phillips on the right. If Johnson is played in a floating role behind the strikers, then he could be crowded out by Mascherano and Lucas.

If Mancini wants to persist with a third central midfielder, then Ireland could play. Hopefully this wouldn’t be at the expense of width. Benitez is likely to have Liverpool set up in determined fashion and the game could easily degenerate into a war of attrition.

Rafa Benitez:

“They are an attacking team and we will have to attack too, so I think it will be open.” – Who are you tring to kid Rafa!

The ability of our wide players to get round the back of Liverpool, and for Adebayor to get on the end of some crosses could make the difference. With Kyrgiakos suspended, Carragher a doubt and Glen Johnson missing, putting pressure on the Liverpool back-line could prove fruitful. Mancini needs to do more than contain the opposition.

Nigel de Jong:

“It won’t make any difference who goes into the game above the other because Liverpool is always going to be a huge game and a match we will be giving our all to win.

“They are a huge club, one of the Premier Leagues ‘big four’, and as a player, these are the games you want to be involved in.

“We also have the added incentive of knowing a win will dent one of our main rivals for a Champions League spot. We have to prepare as we always do for our home games and aim to take all three points.”

In my previous article I described just how important a win could be if we’re to beat Liverpool to fourth place. It’s to be hoped everyone recognises this and we raise our game in a similar way to the home victories over Arsenal and Chelsea.

Blue Days line-up: Given, Richards, Toure, Lescott, Bridge, de Jong, Barry, Johnson, Wright-Phillips, Bellamy, Adebayor.

Prediction: 2-0 to City.

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