Last season's top two meet at Etihad tonight
25 August ~ It seems likely that fans of Manchester City and Liverpool will approach tonight's Premier League clash in stark contrast to the way they left their previous league encounter in April. A 3-2 win at Anfield left Liverpool on a high: with only four games left the elusive title was in their grasp and a sensational run of form had left their fans exuberant and full of expectation. City, meanwhile, skulked away with the resignation that it wasn't going to be their year. Neither set of fans envisaged the impending dramas to come.
It's been a turbulent summer for Liverpool. Apart from having to come to terms with the ultimate deflation of last term, the club also accepted that they had run out of excuses for the behaviour of the talismanic Luis Suárez and showed him the door. This has left a huge hole in the team, as it was Suárez's mercurial form that had transformed them from vague hopefuls into genuine title contenders. Brendan Rodgers has used the £75 million fee for Suárez — and then some — to add nine players to the squad, most of whom fit into the "promising" category, but none of them are expected to match the impact of the Uruguayan.
Rodgers has also shown that his propensity for managing volatile souls is kept active with the impending arrival of Mario Balotelli from Milan. At 24, Balotelli still displays the characteristics of his teenage years; inconsistent and often uninterested performances, a propensity for confrontation and an irresponsible attitude towards social media. Despite his obvious talent, it's unlikely that Balotelli will allay the fears of many Liverpool supporters that Steven Gerrard's infamous slip against Chelsea last season may have cost them their best chance of a title for the foreseeable future. A rather scrappy opening win this season against a decimated Southampton has done little to ease their trepidation.
City, meanwhile, have — much in the manner of manager Manuel Pellegrini — gone about their pre-season business quietly yet effectively. Four signings have bolstered an already strong squad, with early signs showing that the recruitment of defensive midfielder Fernando from Porto may be pivotal. Prudently, the club have spent rather more time in the summer tying key players to long-term contracts, with Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko all committing to the long haul. It bodes well for Pellegrini — or any future incumbent — that a solid base of proven quality performers will be at the club's disposal for the next five to six years, trying to ensure progress via evolution rather than revolution, an option not currently on the agenda for Rodgers.
City come to the game on the back of a comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle, a major plus being a sparky ten minute cameo from Agüero, now seemingly free of injury for the first time this year. It's becoming an increasingly tough ask to get a good result at the Etihad and, with a raft of newcomers needing game time to gel, it will take all of Rodgers' undoubted coaching acumen to galvanise his team into getting one this time. Tony Curran