Wednesday, May 25, 2022

With Dias injured Guardiola has lost his Van Dijk… and that gives Liverpool the edge over Man City

PEP GUARDIOLA has a cast of stars to make every manager in football green with envy — and Jurgen Klopp isn’t far behind him.

We’ll see the vast majority of them at the Etihad this afternoon when Manchester City and Liverpool go toe to toe.

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Pep Guardiola could really miss his integral defender Ruben Dias against LiverpoolCredit: Getty

But it’s so close to call that, ironically, I think the deciding factor could actually be the one man who WON’T be out there for a game many are calling the title decider.

Barring a miracle — or unless Pep is pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes — Ruben Dias will again be missing because of his hamstring injury.

And he makes such a huge difference to the City defence, I have a sneaking feeling that without him Liverpool will nick it.

Although I don’t go along with those who say the Premier League will definitely be heading to Anfield if they do, by the way.

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If City win and the gap stretches to four, I think it’d be too much for Liverpool to make up. But if — as I suspect — it goes the other way, it will still be so tight nothing is decided.

Both of them will go for the win — they never do anything else — but for Pep it is a case of stick or twist?

Going into it with a one-point lead means it’s almost like winning the first leg away from home and knowing you don’t have to go for it.

City don’t play that way, I know, but in the back of their mind will be the thought a draw isn’t a bad result. Liverpool, on the other hand, don’t have an option.

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They’re so marvellous — ten league wins on the run, going back to that draw with Chelsea at the start of January — and a forward line that’s been absolutely fantastic.

I imagine Pep will go with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones in the middle and the movement of those guys up front is so difficult to stop when they’re buzzing about.

When Liverpool were without Virgil van Dijk for so long, they were a different side. Dias has the same influence at City.

He’s the leader of that defence, the one who organises and I can see Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota causing all sorts of problems on the counter.

They’re all so sharp, they can pop up anywhere and you always think City — without Dias — give you the odd chance. You can’t afford to do that with Liverpool.

Like I said, though, if they end the day two points clear at the top, then nothing is decided.

With seven games left, it only takes one slip and it’s different again. We saw when Crystal Palace beat Arsenal how easily things can change.

This one is the be all and end all for both managers. It is the only thing that matters.

Harry Redknapp

When you look at their run-ins, you’d say City have the easier of the two. Liverpool have United and the Merseyside derby next and while they’re better than both, you can’t take anything for granted.

Spurs have to go to Anfield, too, and the way Antonio Conte has them playing these days makes them very dangerous opponents.

And don’t be thinking this game will have a big bearing on next week’s FA Cup semi-final, when City and Liverpool are at it again.

This one is the be all and end all for both managers. It is the only thing that matters. There’s not a chance Guardiola or Klopp will do anything but play their strongest sides today.

There’s no doubt you’re talking about the best two sides in Europe — by some distance. What a Champions League final that would be.

Having said that, City won’t have it all their own way against Atletico Madrid in Spain for their second leg next week.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone will believe they can overturn that one-goal defeat at home.

You saw in the first leg how they were kicking the likes of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden. It will all be going off in Madrid.

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Simeone will have them really fired up and City are in for a real scrap. I just hope they come through to face Real or Chelsea in the semis — and I think they probably will.

As for this afternoon, well that’s another story. But if you’re thinking of trying to get hold of me, don’t bother — I won’t be budging from in front of my telly.

Liverpool have an embarrassment of attacking riches ready to cause havoc at the Etihad

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Liverpool have an embarrassment of attacking riches ready to cause havoc at the EtihadCredit: Getty
Virgil van Dijk is Liverpool's leader on the pitch and sets the tone for the team

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Virgil van Dijk is Liverpool’s leader on the pitch and sets the tone for the teamCredit: AFP

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