OpinionJohn Aldridge

Pressure's all on City

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Pressure's all on City

It’s make or break for one of the teams in today’s massive Premier League battle at Anfield – and I think it is Manchester City that need to push for a win against Liverpool.

On the back of such a woeful week for these two teams, and the Premier League in general as so many English sides faltered horribly in European competitions, Liverpool and City will play out the fixture that was hailed by many – incorrectly as it turned out sadly from my perspective – to be a title decider last April.

A little under a year on and City are clinging on to Chelsea’s coattails in the Premier League title race and Liverpool are scrambling to get back into the top four after their horrible start to the season, but this game is more important to Manuel Pellegrini’s side than the home team.

If Liverpool lose today they still have every chance of getting into the mix for a top-four finish as they have Manchester United still to come to Anfield and a game against Arsenal also on their agenda, but the title race will be over if City come out second best at Anfield.

In that scenario, Chelsea would be presented a chance to open up an eight-point gap and it will be game over for the defending champions with just 12 games left to play. Blues boss Jose Mourinho would never allow such a lead to slip.

This is why I expect City to have a right go at getting the three points and you could argue that they are getting Liverpool at the right time after their pretty awful performance as they went out of the Europa League against Besiktas on Thursday night.

Reds manager Brendan Rodgers said his team played well in Istanbul, but I thought they were crap after a decent first half – and you could not argue that the game deserved to go to penalties. 

Liverpool were a big letdown in that competition because I felt they should have a right go at winning it.

While the mood may be a little down in the Liverpool dressing room today, I’d imagine it will probably be even more depressed across the Anfield corridor among Pellegrini’s players, who were battered and hammered once again by Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

Pellegrini got his tactics horribly wrong against Barca as fighting fire with fire against that lot is a recipe for disaster – and so it proved. You can’t go out and play 4-4-2 against Barcelona and expect to come out on top. What on earth was the City manager thinking?

Maybe he got carried away by his side’s two decent performances in the Premier League leading up to the Barcelona game, but the evidence of this week suggests the football we watch every week in England may not be quite as good as we like to think it is.

You could watch City hammering Newcastle 5-0 last weekend and be forgiven for thinking you were witnessing a very special performance from a world-class team. A few nights later and our perception of the same City side was dramatically altered as Barcelona tore them to shreds.

When you throw in Arsenal’s horrible performance in losing to Monaco in the Champions League and Tottenham’s exit from the 

Europa League against Fiorentina, you have a pattern that suggests the Premier League teams are not up to scratch against Europe’s top sides.  

That is surprising when you see the talented players we have in the Premier League and the eagerness of millions upon millions of people around the world to watch the 

English teams in action every week, but being popular doesn’t always mean you are good.

Are we sacrificing the quality of our teams  for entertainment in the Premier League? Maybe.

But I wouldn’t want the product we watch every week to change into a more cautious tactical approach.

So maybe we will have to accept that this is the price we have to pay against European teams that look to nullify the attacking intent of English sides

Those European woes will be quickly pushed to the back of the players’ minds for Liverpool and City this afternoon, as their respective and contrasting ambitions are put on the line in what should be a fine spectacle at Anfield.

This has been a weird campaign with so many unpredictable results, but we are edging towards crunch time, with the decisive moments now upon us.

Despite two indifferent performances from Liverpool in the last week, I still think they are sitting pretty to get back into the Champions League by securing a top-four finish.

The uncertain performances of Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs of late have cemented that belief.

While there will be a few tired legs in the Liverpool camp heading into today’s game after the efforts in Istanbul, I look at the squad Rodgers is working with now and there should be enough fresh legs to pick from to get through to the end of the season without fatigue affecting them.

Plenty of players were rested or only played a small role in the Besiktas tie on Thursday, so Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana should all be fine to play a part against City and skipper Steven Gerrard will be back for his final few months as a Liverpool player shortly.

Jordon Ibe has been a great addition to the first team in recent weeks and Lazar Markovic is also in the mix, so there are plenty of options for Rodgers to look at as he prepares for a final dozen games that could end up with unexpected success after what has been a very difficult season.

I reckon the game between Liverpool and City will be a draw and that will suit the home side far more than it does the needy champions who cannot afford to drop any more points.