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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Manchester City v Liverpool: Will the champions take their foot off the pedal?

Manchester City v Liverpool: Will the champions take their foot off the pedal?

It should have been a momentous affair but Liverpool's trip to Manchester City on Thursday is now effectively a dead rubber. But is there betting value to be found? Stephen Tudor delves into the record books to find out...

Oh to be able to go back in time, to the start of this long, extended season, and tell people about the circumstances of this Thursday's game between Manchester City and Liverpool.
Would anyone really believe that it would be so very different from the corresponding fixture back in January 2019 that felt like a title decider despite there being nearly half a season still to play?
The crowd that night were feral inside the Etihad; the atmosphere electric because it felt like everything was on the line, so in this instance - with just seven games to play and two teams locking horns who have recently come to dominate English football - surely it would be all that encounter was and substantially more? A game for the ages perhaps?
It's at that point you casually reveal that the title race is already done and dusted and just as their jaws hit the floor you hit them with a second whammy that Liverpool are on course to ultimately win it by a record margin. As for the packed out stadium, well that's where the fun stops and you make a pot of tea. Tell them to brace themselves for some rather surreal news.
That this clash, that should have been so momentous, is now an anticlimactic, glorified friendly is partly due to Liverpool's sustained brilliance and partly a result of 2020 but regardless there is at least a significant consolation to be found.
It lies in the fact that odds are typically determined by data yet here there is a sufficient number of unusual factors to make those odds somewhat skewed; just slightly but enough to find genuine value. That should get the blood pumping even in these unprecedented times.

A new narrative

It would be a very poor man in every sense who has routinely backed Liverpool's opponents this term.
Jurgen Klopp's mentality monsters have lost only once all campaign. Hell's teeth, they've only drawn three times as they have relentlessly charged to their first ever Premier League title; fired up by missing out by a whisker last time.
They have been possessed and focused; chomping up the points each and every week and woe betide anybody who got in their way. They've been driven, ruthless, and frankly incredible in their pursuit of a long-cherished dream and that has been the narrative of the Red men to date.
But they have their title now. They are champions and though it would be ludicrous to suggest that Henderson, Salah and co will suddenly play laissez faire football it still holds true that their sole purpose has been achieved.
In that sense they are in entirely new psychological territory.
Manchester City are 21/20 to dampen the celebrations and emerge with all three points.

After the Lord Mayor's Show

How many times have we witnessed the following scenario.
A team gets promoted with a game to spare. Their final fixture is at home and it's party time with the champers on ice. The team loses 0-1.
In sporting terms it's a phenomenon known as 'after the Lord Mayor's show' and though it doesn't completely transfer to Premier League champions there is enough evidence to suggest that it shouldn't be discounted.
In the last ten seasons that haven't been concluded on the final day there have been 24 games where the newly crowned champions have swaggered onto the pitch. They have won only half of them.
In 2005/06 Jose Mourinho's Chelsea won the title at a canter, brushing aside everything in their path. With three games to go they easily dismantled their closest rivals Manchester United to claim their crown. They then unexpectedly lost their remaining two commitments in meek fashion.
In 2013 Manchester United were a force of nature. Riled up after losing by a nose the previous season they decimated the field to ensure this didn't happen again. Ring any bells?
Wrapping up the title early they then struggled on their proverbial lap of honour, managing just a single win at home to a poor Swansea team. On the last day they bizarrely drew 5-5.
Also pertinent to this Thursday, in May 2007 United travelled to Stamford Bridge with their medals still glistening. Chelsea were expected to run them close but failed to do so. This was supposed to be a title decider. A drab 0-0 draw was described by the BBC as 'tame' and 'low-key'.

Professional pride

Yet don't expect Manchester City to be tame this week. Expect them to be wild.
This is a squad that accumulated 198 points across two seasons, a benchmark reached by playing some extraordinary and adventurous fare. They were getting used to being regarded and respected as the very best and now for the time being they're reduced to being day players in a drama where someone else is the main lead.
Worse still, prior to kick-off they will suffer the indignity of heralding their usurpers onto the stage - their stage - with a guard of honour.
Gary Neville once likened this custom, having been champions 12 months earlier, to 'your Mrs leaving you and being asked to hang the new bloke's clothes in your old wardrobe'. It will sting at their professional price and ignite Pep Guardiola into unchartered levels of mania in the dressing room ahead of doing so.

Sound of silence

It greatly diminishes Liverpool to over-state their reliance on high-pressing and intensity. They are more than capable of playing any team off the park with intricate possession-based football should the need arise.
Yet it's true nonetheless that so many of Klopp's successes over Guardiola - the German is ahead 5-3 in their head-to-head since both arrived in England - have come about from unleashing ferocious assaults on his counterpart's beautiful but fragile creations, spurred on for the most part by a fever-pitched crowd.
That energising encouragement will not be a factor on this occasion and it is notable too that City have emerged from lock down in fine fettle, their triangular passing patterns crisp, their movement sharp. From a motivational standpoint this is impressive given that a top four spot was pretty much already secured.
The absence of fans is also a consideration for certain players too. Raheem Sterling has consistently struggled against his former club, cowed by a cacophony of boos.
The England striker has returned razor-sharp and confident and could shine here.
Sterling is 5/1 to break the deadlock.