Liverpool vs Man City: Pep Guardiola's selection and tactical dilemmas

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Pep Guardiola speaks during a Champions League press conference

Manchester City face Liverpool on Sunday in a clash that may decide the outcome of the Premier League and the champions head into the game with big calls to make in both personnel and formation.

Pep Guardiola's side have several injury worries to contend with as they look to close the six-point gap on the unbeaten league leaders, while just what shape the visitors adopt at Anfield could also play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the match.

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With the City manager having made a Premier League-high 29 team alterations already this season, expect more changes to his line-up this weekend.

So, with the help of former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham, we examine the various choices facing Guardiola ahead of his teams trip to Merseyside.

Jeepers keepers

Ederson has proved a safe pair of hands for Manchester City
Image: Ederson will miss Sunday's trip to Liverpool

Guardiola has confirmed that Brazil goalkeeper Ederson will miss the clash after being forced off at half-time against Atalanta on Wednesday with a muscular injury.

Claudio Bravo

As a result, Claudio Bravo, 36, is set to deputise on Sunday. However, the Chilean looked low on confidence in his second-half display in San Siro - there was understandable rustiness given he's only played two Premier League games in the last two years.

If Guardiola wanted to look elsewhere, he has former England 'keeper Scott Carson at his disposal. The 34-year-old is on loan from Derby and would no doubt relish the opportunity of playing against Liverpool. He was on the bench for them in Istanbul during the 2005 Champions League final.

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Academy graduate Daniel Grimshaw, 22, would be a third option.

Left-back problems

Mendy played 15 games for City in all competitions last season
Image: Will Mendy get the nod at left back on Sunday?

In the absence of first-choice Oleksandr Zinchenko with injury, Guardiola has three options to fill the Ukrainian's void at left back: Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy or Angelino.

Mendy started on the left side of defence in the Champions League in midweek - with Cancelo on the opposite flank - while young Spaniard Angelino got the nod in their most recent league outing against Southampton.

However, do not be surprised to see the versatile Cancelo switched to left-back on Sunday, with the pacy Kyle Walker returning to his usual right-back berth.

Central concerns

Pep Guardiola gives instructions to Fernandinho during the Premier League match vs Wolves
Image: Could Guardiola start with Fernandinho in defence against Liverpool?

The one area of real concern as far as Guardiola is concerned, especially for a daunting trip to Anfield, is the heart of his defence.

With regular centre-back Aymeric Laporte sidelined until next year with a knee injury, the City boss must choose from Fernandinho, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi to be his central defensive pair.

In City's last two matches, Guardiola has opted for Fernandinho - now back from suspension in the league - as a makeshift centre back alongside Stones against Southampton, then Otamendi at San Siro on Wednesday.

So, judging from those recent games, it looks like it will be Fernandinho with either Stones or Otamendi, most likely the former given he was rested against Atalanta in midweek.

Fernandinho: Positions for Man City in all competitions (2018/19)

  • Defensive midfield: 40
  • Centre back: 2

Fernandinho: Positions for Man City in all competitions (2019/20)

  • Centre back: 10

The expert's view: "There could be problems for City if Fernandinho is unable to play in his favoured midfield role as he wants to move forward from that position in defence and win the ball. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you do it against a team like Liverpool, it can become a huge problem.

"Because if Fernandinho drops deep to mark Roberto Firmino, it is the perfect scenario for Liverpool as they have separated the back four and dragged the centre back out, leaving space for runners to come into."

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher look ahead to the massive Super Sunday clash between Liverpool and Manchester City

Three at the back?

Unless, that is, Pep takes a leaf out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's book and employs a three-man defence at Anfield, as the Manchester United boss also did with great effect in his side's 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford in October.

Guardiola is not averse to using such a formation, which would mean starts for Fernandinho, Otamendi and Stones on Sunday - and if ever there was a match to try it, then it is this one.

The expert's view: "The position of Fernandinho on Sunday will go a long way in deciding the game. It is a huge moment for an individual player who has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League in recent times.

"Fernandinho was outstanding in both games against Liverpool last season, particularly the one at the Etihad, in the positions he takes and protecting his back four and helping his centre backs out."

No Silva lining

Phil Foden and David Silva
Image: What chance Foden replacing the injured David Silva at Anfield?

Not only are the champions hamstrung at the back, but they will also be without experienced playmaker David Silva and influential defensive midfielder Rodri with injury on Sunday.

Both players would certainly have started this clash had they been fit, especially given regular holding midfielder Fernandinho is likely to be deployed as a makeshift centre-back, meaning that role putting out fires in front of his back four will now need filling.

Ilkay Gundogan is currently the only fit defensive midfielder left at Guardiola's disposal, while despite starting in midweek, Kevin De Bruyne is certain to play on the righthand side of a midfield three.

However, there is also the intriguing prospect of Phil Foden coming in as a like-for-like replacement for Silva - but would Guardiola trust the England U21 international in such a pivotal contest?

If not, the City manager may decide to start Fernandinho in his favoured holding role, with De Bruyne and either Gundogan or Bernardo Silva - dropping back into midfield - completing his trio in midfield.

Pep's striking options

Gabriel Jesus celebrates stretching Manchester City's lead at Preston
Image: Jesus will be hoping to force his way into Guardiola's plans for Sunday

Guardiola's first-choice front three is Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva either side of Sergio Aguero, although the Catalan is known to like springing a surprise or two for big games like these.

That could mean the visitors starting with two up front on Sunday in the form of Aguero and the equally prolific Gabriel Jesus, perhaps even as split strikers as Solskjaer recently did to unsettle Liverpool's defence with great success.

One other intriguing decision the City boss must make is whether to go with Riyad Mahrez, who missed a crucial late penalty in last season's meeting at Anfield, as part of his three-man attack.

However, selecting the revitalised Algerian forward would most likely mean Bernardo Silva having to drop back into a very attack-minded midfield, or potentially not even featuring at all.

Pick your Man City XI vs Liverpool

How to watch Liverpool vs Man City

Watch Liverpool vs Man City live on Super Sunday from 4pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event; Kick-off 4.30pm.

Non-subscribers can watch the game through NOW TV - get a Sky Sports Day Pass for a one-off payment of £9.99.

Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.

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