Players face-off in Premiership match of the season

There is only one game in the English Premier League this weekend, truly. Two of the most delightful teams of the season in England could well decide the title when Liverpool host Manchester City tonight (8.37pm, Astro Ch. 812/832).

These two teams have played the best football in the Premier League this season, and regardless of the final outcome, are champions simply for championing attacking football.

Come what may at Anfield, hats off to Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini. Whoever each coach decides to line up on Sunday, there will be quality facing off in every position.

Simon Mignolet v Joe Hart

Brendan Rodgers made a brave but not very popular decision when he sent Pepe Reina out on loan to Italian side Napoli. He has been vindicated in his decision to trust Mignolet, with the Belgian producing consistent performances this season.

Meanwhile, Joe Hart has gone from hero to zero and back to hero after getting his head right, making him once again the outstanding and only truly world-class English goalkeeper. His slump began when it seems Hart himself started to believe in his own hype – to the point of making schoolboy errors. Expect both goalkeepers to earn their bread, with neither side specialising in stifling defence.

Jon Flanagan v Pablo Zabaleta

Good readers of the game, both fullbacks have been outstanding this season.

The talented (and young) Flanagan shows all the attributes of a young Zabaleta, bundles of energy coupled with good positioning sense as well as the odd "rash" challenge too.

Equally effective, both offensively and defensively, expect each fullback to play major parts in a matchup which could very well be decided on overlapping runners providing an extra man going forward.

Glen Johnson v Aleksandr Kolarov

The Anfield club solved their left back problem by simply switching Johnson to the left where he clones Phillip Lahm, arguably the most complete fullback (and perhaps even player, Lahm not Johnson) in the world.

Kolarov brings quality passing, aka crossing in England, while allowing Manchester City to change tactics in case plan A (give it to David Silva) is being halted. His presence often allows Samir Nasri to drift inside and onto his favoured right foot, which causes far more problems than his left. How Liverpool attempt to cover the outside-in movements of Nasri will be a tactic to watch.

Vincent Kompany v Martin Skrtel

While Kompany's pace gets him out of trouble, Skrtel thrives with his physical approach at the heart of the Liverpool defense.

Both centre-backs struggle with their positional play at times, but have had solid performances this season.

Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping both players are in good form for this one; heaven knows that both defence will be under enormous amounts of pressure.

Daniel Agger v Martin Demichelis

Difficult ones to describe really. Agger has produced some brilliant performances at the back, while Demichelis gives the impression of uncertainty at times. They can be considered the weakest links in this clash, and their inconsistencies will need to take a backseat if either side intends to walk away from Anfield with all 3 points.

Steven Gerrard v Fernandinho

The Liverpool captain used to have the exuberance of Fernandinho, roaming up and down the centre of the park, while City's Brazilian could do with a little experience and calmness in his play.

While Gerrard is an important cog in the wheel for Liverpool, Fernandinho has mastered both defensive and offensive play to be an important character on the pitch.

Brendan Rodgers has to ensure that Gerrard is not left exposed to Fernandinho’s runs down the middle, or Liverpool could be in for a very long evening.

Philipe Coutinho v David Silva

In this comparison, we can ideally bill it as "the Little Master versus the littler Master".

Coutinho should aspire to be like Silva, and there is no reason to believe that the Brazilian will not be a complete playmaker like the Spaniard as he continues to develop.

There is nothing more that needs to be said about Silva – his brilliance on the ball, quick decision making skills and incredible close control makes him one of the most dangerous playmakers in the world. How Liverpool attempt to slow him down will be interesting to watch.

Jordan Henderson v Yaya Toure

A case of the wannabe and the mould. Henderson can be termed the poor man's Yaya Toure.

Plenty of endeavour and growing tactical awareness has seen Henderson show a little more calm in his game, to the benefit of the individual.

He will pretty much be tasked with keeping Toure quiet.

And what about Yaya Toure? What more can be said about this midfield colossus? He shoots, he passes, he runs the middle of the park.

Can Henderson produce a performance big enough to challenge the Ivorian?

Raheem Sterling v Jesus Navas

There are similarities in quality here, both being master dribblers, except Sterling has more versatility to play across the pitch at the highest level. Jesus Navas has grown in stature since being given a chance to start games regularly, and his dominance in wing play provides Manchester City with strong options to go out wide.

Daniel Sturridge v Edin Dzeko

Both these strikers can be both brilliant and erratic in 90 minutes. While Sturridge sees Luis Suarez as competition, the Bosnian Dzeko is more of a team player. Match winners come Sunday? I wouldn’t put it past either of them.

Luis Suarez v Sergio Aguero

Two of the best strikers in the world without doubt. Suarez is number one in the world right now, while Aguero might need a little time after coming back from injury.

Expect firecrackers with both on the pitch, and watch as they bamboozle defenders all day long. Manchester City must shadow the Suarez’s movements into midfield, the Uruguayan adept at running with the ball from deep as well as threading the ball through a needle.

Joe Allen v Samir Nasri

The intelligence of Joe Allen would see him as one of the few players in the world who is able to walk into a Barcelona side, but being Welsh does not help - and I mean this in the best possible way.

Allen has had to work extremely hard to be recognised as one of the most influential midfielders in the game.

Credit to Brendan Rodgers for his trust and belief in Allen, for very easily the young Welshman falls into the "too small for English football" category.

Quite perhaps for the same reason, Nasri too would never have made it as a kid in England. And this season, Nasri has shown maturity on the pitch with his consistent contribution, a trait that was lacking in past years, and this makes this fantastic Frenchman so frustrating.

Whatever the end result tonight, kudos to both teams anyway for sticking by their philosophies and perfecting their own methods of play. We’re in for a cracker! – April 13, 2014.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.


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