All to play for as Manchester City and Liverpool seek continue scoring streak
It’s Sky Blue against Red in the Premier League with the last 10 meetings between the pair averaging 3.5 goals per game
Chelsea look secure with a 10-point lead in the English Premier League, Sunderland appear ever more doomed at the bottom and are now six points from safety, while a few teams in the middle seem to be in no man’s land.
Otherwise there is everything to play for, with seven points separating second from sixth in the race for Champions League places and five points covering the five teams from 15th to 19th in the relegation battle.
The big match at the top end is Manchester City against Liverpool on Monday morning (Hong Kong time) as third plays fourth.
These teams have had some belters in recent years, with nine of the last 10 meetings having over 2.5 goals at an average 3.5 goals per game, and this promises to be another.
Liverpool’s matches rank second for goal average at 3.39 per game and City’s are sixth at 3.04, and both are also in the top six for matches with over 2.5 goals.
The one exception to that general rule was this season’s reverse fixture at Anfield, where Liverpool won 1-0, but City are in much better form now even with the disappointment of their midweek exit from the Champions League.
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In 2017, Manchester City rank alongside Chelsea on Premier League form with only Tottenham Hotspur and Everton better than them, while that is the period in which the season has gone badly wrong for Liverpool with just three wins out of nine plus their exits from the FA Cup and League Cup.
Liverpool, however, have the best record in matches between the big six teams this season, with five wins and four draws from nine matches.
Even in this recent difficult period, Liverpool have achieved good results in that category, with a 1-1 draw against Chelsea and victories over Tottenham and Arsenal, all at Anfield, and another 1-1 draw away to Manchester United.
Those results fuel the view that Juergen Klopp’s high-pressing tactics are best suited to opponents that try to play out from the back and attack in numbers - that is, the better teams - but that Liverpool do not possess a consistently effective strategy against sides that concede more possession and sit back.
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Manchester City are something of the opposite, as they have a strong record against the lesser teams but have won only two out of six against the elite sides.
In several cases they have played well in those matches and lost - as in the 3-1 home defeat by Chelsea in December - but that only serves to underline their defensive deficiencies.
Those problems were exposed again by Monaco in the Champions League when Manchester City became the first team to score six goals in a two-legged tie and still be knocked out. In Premier League matches against big-six teams, Pep Guardiola’s side have yet to keep a clean sheet.
Liverpool have been shut out only once in their nine matches against the big six in a goalless draw at home to a Manchester United side set up to defend by Jose Mourinho, and rate the handicap pick.
It is also worth noting that they have lost only three of the 24 league matches when Sadio Mane has started and he will be a big threat to Manchester City’s left flank.
Three of the teams in serious relegation danger face sides that could still be dragged into the fight, with Crystal Palace (17th) at home to Watford (13th), Sunderland (20th) at home to Burnley (12th) and Swansea City (16th) away to Bournemouth (14th).
Palace have the best win chance according to the odds, but that depends on whether their improvement in defence, which has led to back-to-back wins to zero, is going to be long-lasting.
The outcome of Saturday’s game also hinges on whether Watford, whose form has been erratic, can match Palace’s commitment.
On balance Palace seem likely to win, but a better bet at bigger odds is Swansea, who have won four out of five against teams outside the big six since Paul Clement took charge.
The exception was last week’s 2-1 defeat at Hull City, on the same day Bournemouth finally got back to winning ways with a 3-2 home victory over West Ham United, but the longer-term trends are favourable for Swansea.
Bournemouth have not kept a clean sheet in nine matches - going back to the 3-0 win at Swansea on December 31 that immediately preceded Clement’s appointment - and their leaky defence may keep them worried about relegation for several more weeks.
Swansea have their own defensive issues and Saturday’s match, like Manchester City against Liverpool, could well be on the high-scoring side.
Swansea, Cardiff, Schalke.
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