With Champions League quarter-finalists Tottenham Hotspur securing an important win against a resilient Stoke City side in the Premier League at the weekend, the pressure is now on Liverpool to pick up three points against Manchester City tonight in order to keep their slim hopes of a top-five finish alive. Fifth-placed Spurs are a massive eight points ahead of Liverpool in the table and both sides have just seven games to go this season. Therefore, the Reds simply have to beat Roberto Mancini’s richly-assembled outfit to stand a realistic chance of participating in Europe next season.
Bad news hit Liverpool this week after captain Steven Gerrard was ruled out for the remainder of the season following an operation on a groin injury. More worryingly, bitter local rivals Everton are sneaking up behind them in the table. David Moyes’ boys are just a point behind the Reds, albeit with the Toffees having played a game more. Nonetheless, Liverpool fans will be eager for their side to finish ahead of the injury-plagued Goodison Park outfit come the end of the season, meaning Kenny Dalglish is now under slight pressure to deliver.
With City set to play Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend, one might expect them to have their minds elsewhere at Anfield tonight. However, Italian manager Mancini has made it clear his side must concentrate on securing a top-four finish, thus qualifying for next season’s Champions League. Liverpool should not expect an easy ride, and given their injury problems in defence, the Reds could be vulnerable against the wealth of attacking options Mancini has at his disposal.
Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli are difficult to contain at the best of times, and given Liverpool are currently without Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Fabio Aurelio and Martin Kelly the job will be more difficult for those defenders fit and available for selection. In the recent defeat against West Brom, the Merseysiders finished with four centre-backs playing across the back line. Jamie Carragher shifted to right-back, Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos played at the heart of the defence, while rookie Scot Danny Wilson looked nervy at left-back. Dalglish may opt to start with that back four, but he could well call upon some new faces tonight.
Young full-backs Jack Robinson and John Flanagan could be thrown into the mix and it will be interesting to see how they adapt if given the chance to face such highly-talented opposition. Robinson already has Premier League experience under his belt, albeit very little, while Flanagan has only impressed at reserve level so far. Selecting either would be a risk, however Dalglish has already seen Martin Kelly cope extraordinarily well against quality opponents and will be hoping that Robinson and Flanagan can make a similar impact if called upon.
Manchester City could prove to be a tough nut to crack and Liverpool have already tasted defeat against the Citizens, losing 3-0 at Eastlands under Roy Hodgson. However, the Reds are an improved side under Dalglish and may just pull a good result out of the bag to keep their faint chances of a top-five finish alive.