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    Manchester City vs Liverpool Match Preview

    Daniel Sturridge could make his return for Liverpool against former club Manchester City on Saturday to boost his side's chances of continuing their revival under new boss Jurgen Klopp. The England striker has only played 242 minutes since April after spending the majority of the past seven-and-a-half months on the sidelines with hip and knee injuries. Sturridge has returned to training and is closing in on a place in the team after finally being declared fit by his manager.

    After recovering from a long-term hip injury in September, Sturridge managed only three appearances before he sustained a knee problem in a training ground collision with Jordon Ibe. The injury has ruled him out of Klopp's seven games in charge and meant he has only played 45 minutes alongside Christian Benteke, the £32 million summer signing who himself has started only eight games this season in all competitions. Sturridge has been described by his manager as being 'as fit as he can be after this long break' but still 'not at 100 per cent'.

    Klopp has quickly implimented his philosophy of high-press, high-energy football after his appointment as Liverpool manager but it wasn't until the 3-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, his fifth match in charge, where his side delivered a complete performance. It was the first time that the quality and ruthlessness in the final third of the field finally matched the level of industry that had always been evident since the German introduced the 'full-throttle' approach that served his Borussia Dortmund side so successfully. With Benteke and Sturridge both absent from the starting line-up that day, Liverpool proved they could cope in their absence but their subsequent return will only make the side stronger. Klopp's dilemma has now changed to which players he should leave out after being left short in certain positions for his first month in charge.

    In the defeat to Crystal Palace at Anfield a fortnight ago, Klopp chose to name Roberto Firmino, who had played in the 'false 9' position against Chelsea, as a substitute. Sturridge's eventual return to the Liverpool line-up is likely to put Adam Lallana's position in the team under the most scrutiny, meaning £54 million pounds of talent in Firmino and Lallana could be sitting on the bench. The competition for places is a nice dilemma for Klopp as he aims to bounce back from the disappointment of losing for the first time in seven matches since he taking over from Brendan Rodgers.

    Saturday's opponents Manchester City have had a more settled season than their visitors, having remained top of the league at the end of each weekend since the start of the campaign. Strength in depth has been a key factor to the success of Manuel Pellegrini's side, with Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta all spending time on the sidelines. The club have gone about their business with as little fuss as possible and have endured none of the off-the-field distractions that had plagued previous City sides in recent years. 

    City started the season with five consecutive victories in the league before back-to-back losses to West Ham and Tottenham allowed the chasing pack to close the gap at the top of the table. The club have also progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League, the quarter-finals of the League Cup and remain top of Premier League on goal difference. It is a far cry from last season where eventual champions Chelsea were the early-season pace setters, with City exiting the League Cup in the third round and needing to win their last two group matches to avoid an embarrassing early exit in the Champions League.

    Another key factor to the club's success has been the defence, which has kept seven clean sheets from 12 matches in the Premier League. At the heart of that defence is Vincent Kompany, who has been outstanding for City this season but will be missing on Saturday with a calf injury. City have kept seven clean sheets in the eight league matches when the Belgian has played, with the solitary goal conceded coming as a result of Joe Hart's infamous howler against Norwich. The responsibility to fill his shoes will fall to Eliaquim Mangala, who has had a mixed start to his career at City but will need to be at his best to cope with all the different attacking options that Liverpool have at their disposal.

    Since City and Liverpool challenged for the Premier League title in 2014, the Sky Blues have kept hold of all their top players and added to their squad with the likes of Bacary Sagna, Wilfried Bony, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Kevin De Bruyne. Over the same period, the Reds have seen the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez leave the club. However, it is Liverpool's biggest loss that has been City's biggest gain, with record signing Raheem Sterling moving from Anfield to the Etihad for £49 million in the summer. He has taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water, scoring seven goals for club and country, and has never looked out-of-place or overawed in a star-studded line-up. Sterling should have extra motivation to perform against against his former club, with the likelihood of a chorus of boos from the travelling supporters greeting every touch.

    With Mamadou Sakho out for over a month with a knee injury, there will be a greater emphasis on Martin Skrtel to perform at the top of his game alongside Dejan Lovren. The Slovak defender has made more appearances for Liverpool than any other current player and is the second longest-serving and second oldest player at the club. With Lovren enduring a difficult 18 months since his £20 million move from Southampton, he will rely on Skrtel's experience and leadership skills to guide him through the game as he continues to rebuild his confidence. Skrtel has had a consistent start to the season, despite playing with a number of different defensive partners and formations, and he will need to be at his best to curtail a City attacking line-up that possesses pace, skill, strength and technical ability.

    If Liverpool have any realistic hopes of winning on Saturday, they may have to be economical throughout the match, spending large periods without the ball, but clinical with the few chances they create. In circumstances where the game is finely poised, set-pieces are likely to play a big part in the outcome. In Christian Benteke, Liverpool have a 'Plan B', an option they can turn to if all else fails. If 'Plan A', offered by the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana is unsuccessful, the less sophisticated and easy-on-the-eye approach may be the way to go. Benteke's aerial ability not only offers Liverpool a different option but can potentially cause nervousness among the City ranks.

    City and Liverpool could barely be more evenly matched when it comes to the head-to-head record, with both teams winning four matches apiece during the last 15 times the sides have met in all competitions, with seven draws. Each of those four City wins was followed by a victory for Liverpool, with the only away win coming in the first leg of the 2012 League Cup semi-finals. Liverpool won 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium on that occasion with a penalty from Steven Gerrard. All four times meetings over the past two seasons have been won by the home side, with City winning 3-1 in August 2014 and Liverpool recording a 2-1 victory in March 2015.

    Manchester City will be without captain Vincent Kompany (calf), Wilfried Bony (hamstring) and David Silva (ankle), while Samir Nasri is expected to miss the next three months with a hamstring injury. Sergio Aguero is expected to play after shaking off a hamstring injury, with Pablo Zabaleta (knee) and Fabian Delph (hamstring) also in with a chance of playing after returning to training.

    For Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge is in contention after recovering from a knee injury but Mamadou Sakho is expected to miss the next month after injuring his knee against Crystal Palace. Dejan Lovren should come into the side as Sakho's replacement, with James Milner and Jordon Ibe battling it out for a place after recovering from hamstring and knee injuries respectively. Kolo Toure has returned to the Liverpool squad after a hamstring injury had kept him out, but Jordan Rossiter (hamstring), Jordan Henderson (metatarsal), Jose Enrique (hamstring), Jon Flanagan, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez (all knee) remain on the sidelines.

    Score Prediction: Manchester City 2-0 Liverpool
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    Item Reviewed: Manchester City vs Liverpool Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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