This weekend’s Super Sunday clash is Liverpool’s big moment of truth. After over two decades of continual underachievement in the Premier League, this face-off could well be the one that finally confirms they are worthy of Britain’s main football honour. Standing in their way will be England’s nouveau riche, Manchester City, a side that cruelly robbed the title from Manchester United back in 2011 and have made life all the more difficult for the Merseysiders to dominate the top four since they came into financial prominence. A win at Anfield will not guarantee Brendan Rodgers’ men the trophy they have longed for, but it will certainly serve to dispel any doubts that the neutrals might have of their title credentials; they’ve been the nearly-men for so long. So, it’s natural that many are sceptical of their frame of mind. However, in their last five league matches the Reds have netted 17 times, while City fared slightly worse with a total of 15 goals. And while that statistic isn’t the most revealing, it is interesting to note that in those last five games, City were flummoxed but once by a seemingly resurgent Arsenal and found it difficult to find a way past a deep-sitting defence that persisted in dropping off. Arsenal’s ensuing implosion against Everton, however, revealed that City were poorer that day than many had first suspected. All of this bodes well for Liverpool, who have yet to stumble in the second half of the campaign, as their blatant attack-driven tactics have been all they’ve needed against pretty much any side since the start of the New Year; they haven’t lost since their 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on 29 December. And while some pointed to their 2-1 victory over West Ham as undeniable proof that they were finally ready to throw down the gauntlet, the task of winning that match at Boleyn Park pales in comparison to what they have to achieve on Sunday. As long as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge persist in their offensive dominance, aided and abetted by the talented Raheem Sterling, it’s very difficult to see just how they won’t win with the Kop end cheering them on, even against a defence that have conceded just two goals in their last six.
Pundits and analysts with even a passing interest in the Premier League will already have an opinion on who will take home the title. Fans, naturally, will be backing their team to the hilt, and the relevant data they dig up is sure to be analysed over and over again in the lead up to the big game. But perhaps more importantly than all of that will be the notion that it is Liverpool and not City who have the title in the palm of their hands. The five-time European Cup winners may well be sitting atop the pile of would-be conquerors, but it’s the Sky Blues who will be feeling the heat more. After all, they are the ones who are chasing down the top two and it is they who have more matches left to play. Having finished last season in seventh position, Steven Gerrard and company have already surpassed all expectations and have very little to prove. As of now, they are merely the surprise package who have forced their way into the reckoning; they are still pretenders. Often, the idea of having a game in hand is seen as an obvious advantage, but with the pressures and strains of playing catch-up, it may well turn out to be a major handicap for Manuel Pellegrini’s players; their yielding at the hands of the Gunners suggests as much. Don’t be surprised to see the blue half of Manchester do exactly that once more this weekend. Holding all the chips, if Liverpool can procure a win on Sunday with City still reeling from their Emirates draw, a win against Jose Mourinho’s Blues later in the month, combined with another three victories, would gift them the title. Back in 2009 under the guidance of Rafael Benitez, they came ever so close to snatching the crown but finished a disappointing second behind United. And it’s because of that runners-up finish that many will continue to remain unconvinced about their mentality to win. But with City coming to Liverpool’s backyard, they will be presented with a rare opportunity to take the title under their own initiative – an opening they will be sure to capitalise on fully.
Moral support aside, the positives from playing this match at home are beyond huge. With the added emotion of the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, the players, just as much as the thousands of fans, will be more riled up than ever to get the win – there’s an element of fate about it all. Looking back at the reverse meeting between the two sides reveals a narrow 2-1 victory for Sunday’s visitors. Spectators at The Etihad that day won’t need reminding just how close the Merseysiders came to snatching victory in December – even then they looked like they had matured into a results-grabbing, title-chasing machine. Perhaps fittingly, their Merseyside neighbours, Everton recently showcased the importance of home form with their latest win over Arsenal at Goodison Park which has shunted them into a Champions League spot, indicating how this is a season in which anything can happen. Granted, the likes of Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero are unlikely to feel too intimidated by the atmosphere emanating from the stands on Sunday but it’s a poorly-kept secret that City have fared much worse away from home. A stat that divulges yet more about the likelihood of a Liverpool win on Sunday is that City haven’t won a league match at Anfield since May 2003 when a Nicolas Anelka brace undid a 59th-minute Milan Baros effort. Over the course of the season, the Citizens have scored just 38 per cent of their total strikes on away days, with just 32 of their 84 goals coming outside of the Eithad. Meanwhile, Liverpool have conceded just 13 of their 40 at home. All of that points to a Liverpool win – a win that could see them equal or better City’s 93-goal season in 2011. This fixture will be as closely contested as many think, but Liverpool should just shade it.
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