THE latest chapter in the ultra competitive rivalry between Manchester City and Liverpool was a satisfying one for the Reds.
For Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final, Pep Guardiola rested the likes of Ederson (£4.8m), Aymeric Laporte (£5.6m), Rodri (£3.6m) and Kevin De Bruyne (£7.1m) having endured a gruelling Champions League second leg against Atletico Madrid in midweek.
In contrast, Jurgen Klopp was able to rest key players against Benfica in preparation for the weekend’s highly anticipated match-up and the German tactician watched on happily as his side swarmed City in the first half at Wembley.
Ibrahima Konate’s (£4.8m) commanding header opened the floodgates before Sadio Mane (£4.4m) bagged a brace – with some generous assistance from Zack Steffen (£1.4m) – to make it 3-0 by half time.
City fought back in the second half with two goals of their own but ultimately it was the Merseysiders who secured a spot in next month’s final, when they will face Chelsea in a repeat of the entertaining Carabao Cup final.
City’s attention now reverts to the Premier League as they seek to hold off Liverpool’s challenge – they remain a point ahead with seven games to play – and the Champions League where they will meet Real Madrid in the semis.
Given the level of the defending English champions and the quadruple hopefuls, it’s hard to image either Los Blancos or Villarreal spoiling the party.
Any Dream Team gaffer worth their salt will want to back several Liverpool and City assets for the season’s climax but which team has the more favourable run-in?
- Brighton (h)
- Watford (h)
- Real Madrid (h)
- Leeds (a)
- Real Madrid (a)
- Newcastle (h)
- West Ham (a)
- Aston Villa (h)
Both teams only have three true away days left to fulfil and given that City beat Leeds 7-0 at the Etihad they’re probably not too concerned about the reverse fixture despite the Whites’ improved results under Jesse Marsch.
Brighton have upset both Arsenal and Spurs in recent weeks but a trip to City’s lair is another challenge altogether.
Guardiola will expect a comfortable win over Watford in which he may rest some key players in preparation for the European semi-final first leg.
In Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Vincius Junior, Carlo Ancelotti has players who can make a huge difference in the blink of an eye but the truth is Real Madrid as an entire unit have not been as functional as City in recent times – they were outplayed by PSG and Chelsea for long periods before capitalising on hot spells but surely City will be too strong over two legs?
West Ham away is a potential stumbling block but the Hammers’ domestic form has tailed off slightly while they’ve prioritised the Europa League.
Liverpool fans will probably see Brighton and West Ham as their best chances but wouldn’t it be romantic if Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa were to upset City at the Etihad on the last day of the league campaign?
- Manchester United (h)
- Everton (h)
- Villarreal (h)
- Newcastle (a)
- Villarreal (a)
- Tottenham (h)
- Aston Villa (a)
- Chelsea (n)
- Wolves (h)
A meeting with Man United would have been a daunting prospect in years gone by but Klopp’s men will be heavy favourites tomorrow night – a Cristiano Ronaldo (£7.1m) masterclass is seemingly the visitors’ slim hope of an unlikely victory.
It’s a similar story for the Merseyside derby that will follow.
A local clash would usually be fiercely contested regardless of the gap in quality between the two sides but a chasm separates Liverpool and Everton this season.
The Reds can expect resistance from Villarreal who have played out of their skin in Europe this term – still the Yellow Submarine’s win over Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals will have been celebrated by the Anfield faithful.
Like City, Liverpool face Newcastle and Villa during the run-in though they travel to both.
It remains to be seen how the Reds’ appointment with Chelsea at Wembley will impact their league aspirations but it’s likely some key assets will be rotated at Villa Park four days prior to some extent.
City supporters will have earmarked Spurs and Wolves as the teams most likely to take points off Liverpool in the coming weeks – both may have European places to fight for.
Harry Kane (£7.7m) and Son Heung-min’s (£5.8m) counterattacking pedigree can undo any team but the pair will have to show more than they did against Brighton at the weekend.
The reality is that Liverpool and City are so strong that it’s not unthinkable both will win all their remaining games before meeting in the Champions League final.
Dream Team bosses should probably have at least six or seven representatives from the two standout teams from Game Week 33 onward if possible.
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