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.
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