Liverpool taking on Man City
With Mario Balotelli out of his neck, Roberto Mancini can now concentrate fully on how to bridge the gap between his team and neighbours, Manchester United, as City welcome Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium
No doubt the highlight of this weekend’s fixture in the Premier League is the visit of Liverpool to the Etihad on the back of a difficult week for both teams.
With Liverpool trying to muscle their way into a place in Europe next season, Manchester City, now without the gifted but controversial Mario Balotelli, are trying to figure out how to close the gap on Manchester United at the top of the table. The two sides played out an intriguing 2-2 draw at Anfield early in the season.
Dropped points against bottom side QPR in the week didn’t help Mancini’s title defence. That was a missed opportunity as they had cut United’s lead to five points a couple of weekends ago, but couldn’t sustain their pressure.
A disappointing 0-0 at Loftus Road really threw a spanner in their works. So now the saga of Mario Balotelli is over, can City get themselves focused?
There is every chance of them responding with a win because they have been strong at home this season. Despite not playing anywhere near their best this season, City have taken nine wins, two draws and just one defeat on home soil this term and head into Sunday’s clash on the back of three straight wins, all with a clean sheet as well.
City perhaps haven’t been as potent in front of goal as they would have liked this term, they are indeed 18 goals short of their tally at this stage last season, but they are averaging two and a quarter goals per game at the Etihad.
But their defence has been superb, conceding at a rate of just 0.75 goals per home game. City have kept clean sheets in 50 per cent of their home games this season and have actually kept six clean sheets in a row now in all competitions heading into the game.
So that is something which should see them get at least a point. The Citizens are on a small trend at home against Liverpool, having won the last two Premier League meetings by a 3-0 scoreline.
They have also prevented Liverpool from scoring on their last three Premier League visits. City have won just two of the last eight Premier League meetings against Liverpool though, losing just one.
They have won 26 and lost just one of their last 41 on home soil in league matches now. Having scored two goals or more in four of their last five Premier League fixtures now and having kept four clean sheets on the bounce does put the home side in ascendancy.
Liverpool on the other hand have yet to win a match against one of the top sides in the league this season and were dealt a massive blow at Arsenal in the week after they blew a two goal lead at the Emirates. That was on the back of being dumped out of the FA Cup by Oldham.
It is that inconsistency which keeps hampering the Reds, especially away from home. They have won just one of their last four on the road now and are just struggling for conviction. Defensively Liverpool are a little shaky, but the addition of Daniel Sturridge up front with Luis Suarez looks as if it could be quite profitable, and they have the speed to cause defences problems.
With a goal against Arsenal, Suarez took his run to nine goals in nine games. However, Liverpool need to snap a trend as they haven’t scored in any of their last three matches at Manchester City.
The Reds blew the lead twice when they hosted the Citizens earlier in the season at Anfield, a game in which four goals was scored from just six on target in the whole game. Liverpool are the most accurate long passing team in the league, and they are good at taking the lion’s share of possession.
They played some open, fluid football at Arsenal, but their defence looked a bit comical at times, nowhere near as strong as that of City’s at the moment.
With the Reds having taken just one win in the last eight Premier League matches against City, and with their shaky away form and with the strengths of City, this may be a tough match for Liverpool to get anything out of.
A draw wouldn’t be a bad result for them, but as they have proven against the top sides this year, they just aren’t close enough to compete consistently.
Another interesting fixture in this weekend premiership encounter is the visit of Chelsea to St James’ Park, where Demba Ba will be facing his old team.
Chelsea are now 13 points behind leaders Manchester United after their 2-2 draw with Reading on Wednesday, in which substitute Adam Le Fondre’s brace eroded a 2-0 Chelsea lead in the last few minutes.
It is always an intimidating atmosphere travelling to the far north-east of England in front of a packed Newcastle faithful and Chelsea will be looking to overcome recent poor results against Reading, Southampton and Queens Park Rangers.
Newcastle have endured their own run of poor form this term - Alan Pardew’s team have lost 10 of their last 14 league encounters and have duly been sucked into the relegation dogfight.
A 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Tuesday will leave Pardew hoping the poor results are behind them as he attempts to integrate his five new French signings into the squad.
The last contest between the two sides saw Chelsea, led by Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard, win 2-0 against Newcastle at Stamford Bridge in late August.
A poor run of form for Newcastle this season coincided with a lack of goal-scoring support for Demba Ba, with situation becoming worse when the Senegalese striker moved at the start of the transfer window to Chelsea.
Papiss Cisse hit 13 goals in 14 appearances last campaign after Pardew poached him in January, but he has struggled to recreate that form this season, only finding the net five times in 22 games - although he did score against Villa in mid-week.
Chelsea have had an unsettled campaign and are yet to decide whether Ba or Torres is their leading man, with Benitez intent on rotating the two strikers.
The evergreen Frank Lampard again found the net against Reading, a goal which drew him level as Chelsea’s top league scorer this season with Juan Mata on eight goals.
A big blow for Benitez is the absence of creative winger Eden Hazard, who will be serving the second match of his three-game ban for interfering with a ball-boy and his replacement against Reading, Ryan Bertrand, is likely to continue.
Newcastle will be without Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor, but have started to play some of their French signings with Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa all making their debut against Villa, while Mathieu Debuchy will be making his fourth appearance in defence.
Chelsea have a good record at St James’ Park, having not lost their past six matches at the venue, with their last defeat a 1-0 reverse back in 2006.