Liverpool begin life after Philippe Coutinho with the toughest test in European football as they host runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City at Anfield today.
The Reds will be seeking to exact revenge for the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in September and are arguably the best equipped side to end City’s 30-match league unbeaten run.
Here, we compare the sides through their key assets.
Mohamed Salah v Raheem Sterling
Chances created: 35-32
Successful take-ons: 52-38
Wingers by trade but both possess the tools of forwards. The twin S’s have been their side’s Supermen this season with Salah and Sterling’s contributions in front of goal spearheading the league’s two best attacking outfits.
Salah naturally has commanded plenty of attention for his outstanding displays but Sterling, too, has emerged as City’s chief source of goals.
They differ slightly in their approach in that Salah’s position is much narrower as he operates purely as a forward to utilise the space left behind a free-moving Roberto Firmino.
Sterling, however, is tasked with stretching the pitch out and so his starting position is much wider. Both have excellent timing of runs into the penalty area, though, with Salah the first point of the attack and the England international second.
Their speed and manipulation of space will be key area of contention at Anfield.
Adam Lallana v Kevin De Bruyne
Chances created: 7-68
Successful take-ons: 3-34
Statistically it’s quite obviously unfair to compare the two with Lallana only just returning from a long-term injury but with Coutinho’s exit, the England international will be expected to shoulder the creative burden.
That’s an expectation which De Bruyne has not just accepted but embraced as the Belgian has arguably been the league’s best player this season.
De Bruyne has carved up more defences than Christmas dinners with his otherworldly passing ability laying on gift after gift with City’s forward line.
He has nine assists in the league this season but his quality and impact stretches beyond numbers.
De Bruyne is the master of the pass before the pass and his ability to find teammates is superior to any GPS system.
Lallana conversely will be tasked with replacing Coutinho in Klopp’s midfield three and he is one of the few players to fill that offensive No8 position.
Beating a man and releasing a quick ball isn’t his style but Lallana’s creation lies in the unpredictable.
The two creators will be tasked with conducting a victory for either side.
Virgil van Dijk v John Stones
Pass success rate: 85.8%-96.5%
A Dutch tower of strength versus the elegant English passing machine. You would assume the nationalities for these attributes would be reversed but regardless Van Dijk and Stones represent the two best young centre-backs in Europe.
Stones has been the most eye-catching element of Pep Guardiola’s City revolution and the progression under the Catalan this season has been like having a new signing.
A new man is precisely what Liverpool needed to reinforce a rear without guard and Van Dijk passed his debut against Everton in the FA Cup with flying colours.
He’s already their best defender and it wasn’t just his ability and command in the air which impressed most with his penchant for passing out of the back putting Liverpool on the front foot.
That’s the quality Stones brings to City but he will be under a pressing siege from the host’s frontmen.
Likewise, Van Dijk will need to employ complete concentration as City’s hypnotic passing has brought out errors in some of the game’s best defenders this season.
Zinedine Zidane lamented a “f**** up” situation for Real Madrid after the reigning Spanish and European champions stumbled to a shock defeat to Villarreal.
Real fell 19 points behind leaders Barcelona and will be closer to the relegation than they are top spot should the Catalan giants beat Real Sociedad after Pablo Fornals’ classy 87th minute winner at the Bernabeu.
Los Blancos are down to fourth – Saturday’s visitors now just a point behind in fifth – and Zidane’s side have just one win in their past five games.
“It’s very difficult for the confidence,” said head coach Zidane, who guided Madrid to UEFA Super Cup, Supercopa de Espana and Club World Cup glory earlier in the season.
“We had chances to score but in the end… we couldn’t avoid the counter and… it’s just very f****** up for all the players.
“What we have to do is keep working, because there will come a time and we have to be there.
“Within all the negative things that are happening to us, we are going to look for something positive.”
Madrid have a quick turnaround with a midweek first leg Copa del Rey quarter-final tie against Leganes before returning to league action next weekend against Deportivo La Coruna.
“We have to get a win from somewhere,” the under-fire Frenchman added.
“We know the situation and every day it gets more complicated, so we are not even thinking about the League, just about the next match.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been offered no assurances over his long-term Manchester United future by Jose Mourinho.
The Armenian was one of Mourinho’s first signings in the summer of 2016 but inconsistency has blighted the playmaker since he joined from Borussia Dortmund for £26.3million.
Mkhitaryan started just one Premier League game in the first four months of last season owing to a thigh injury and his manager’s belief he needed time to adapt – and was taken off at half-time in the game he began.
He seemed to have turned the corner in December, though, and ended the campaign with 11 goals, including his improvised scorpion-kick strike against Sunderland and the second in United’s Europa League final win over Ajax.
The 29-year-old began this campaign with five assists in the first three top-flight fixtures but his form tailed off again and having been substituted at half-time against Derby in their most recent game – a move Mourinho later apologised for – his name has been littered in gossip columns regarding a potential exit this month.
“My approach to players is that every player has a price,” Mourinho said when asked directly about whether Mkhitaryan would stay.
“It doesn’t matter who he is. It doesn’t matter the level. It doesn’t matter the prestige, the status. I think every player has a price.
“And I am not the kind of blind manager…blind in the sense of, this player is untouchable, can never be sold. I think every player has a price.
“So when the transfer window is open, it’s also open for any club that is interested in our players. Then it’s up to us to make the decision: yes or no. It’s up to us to decide what we think is the right price.
“But Mkhitaryan played the last match in the FA Cup and probably will play the next one (against Stoke). He’s a little bit the same in relation to other players that are involved in this gossip of the transfer market.
“He is our player and a very good player. So Saturday (he is) training, then Sunday (he is) selected and Monday (he will) play.”
One rumour is that Mkhitaryan could be used as a potential makeweight in a deal for Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, a player Mourinho called “phenomenal” on Friday.
Even if the United boss makes a rare foray into the mid-season market, he does not believe any incomings will determine whether or not current Premier League leaders Manchester City can be overhauled.
City face Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday and victory for Pep Guardiola’s side would lift them 18 points clear of United.
“It’s a very important difference of points, I was there before,” Mourinho added.
“It gives a lot of tranquillity and takes away any kind of pressure from the guy that comes behind you.
“I think it’s a very comfortable advantage and they sit on that. I don’t think it’s about the transfer window for us or the other teams close to us – Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham.
“I don’t think it’s about transfers. It’s about continuing to win, getting the maximum possible points and seeing what happens.”
Provided by Press Association Sport