The latest instalment of the Manchester City-Liverpool battle for supremacy takes place at the Etihad on Thursday evening, as the English powerhouses lock horns in the fourth round of the EFL Cup.
Pep Guardiola’s charges dumped Chelsea out of the tournament to advance to the fourth round, while the Reds needed penalties to see off Derby County in round three.
The EFL Cup has been something of a customary prize for Guardiola since the Catalan coach touched down in Manchester, but the English champions have bigger fish to fry as they endeavour to dethrone surprise package Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
The City boss surely feels a slight sense of pride at watching his former protege Mikel Arteta dominate the Premier League landscape in the past few months, as Man City resume domestic duties sat five points behind Arsenal in the standings following their dramatic late loss to Brentford.
Only three days had passed between their 2-0 EFL Cup third-round success over Chelsea and the Ivan Toney-inflicted nightmare at the Etihad, and Guardiola’s depleted side have only tested their mettle in one winter friendly – beating Girona 2-0 thanks to goals from Erling Braut Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.
Haaland and De Bruyne are once again set to be the standout names in a largely unrecognisable Man City squad, with Guardiola claiming that his side can only call upon “four or five” senior players as their World Cup contingent return in dribs and drabs.
Winners of the EFL Cup four years in a row between 2018 and 2021, Man City were memorably dumped out of the tournament on penalties by West Ham United in the fourth round last year, and their Merseyside opponents have already proven their penalty-kick prowess in this year’s edition.
Klopp will certainly not be losing sleep over those failures, as Liverpool aim to avoid just a second fourth-round exit in the EFL Cup since the turn of the millennium, having most recently been overcome at this point by Arsenal – coincidentally on penalties – in the 2020-21 edition.
An inspired Liverpool put an early dent in Man City’s title hopes with a fiery 1-0 win at Anfield in the Premier League two months ago, although that Reds success was marred by unsavoury scenes in the crowd and on the sidelines, with Klopp giving a linesman an earful while Guardiola alleged to have been targeted by some inaccurate coin throwers, although an investigation ultimately found no conclusive evidence into his claims.
The Man City doctors have enjoyed a rare period of respite, with none of Guardiola’s players currently out injured, and Germany’s Ilkay Gundogan returned in time to start against Girona alongside the integral Haaland and De Bruyne.
Only Julian Alvarez got further than the quarter-finals in Qatar and is still basking in the glory of becoming world champion with Argentina, but Rodri, Aymeric Laporte, Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake – who went out in the last 16 – could return soon.
The likes of Kyle Walker, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, John Stones, Kalvin Phillips, Ederson, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo may be spared for City’s Premier League trip to Leeds United on December 28, allowing academy graduates such as Rico Lewis and Carlos Borges the chance to strut their stuff.
In contrast, a couple of beds are still taken up in Liverpool’s injury room by Diogo Jota, Arthur and Luis Diaz, the latter of whom suffered an upsetting setback in his recovery from a knee injury and needed to undergo surgery.
Liverpool do not have any World Cup 2022 winners in their ranks, but Ibrahima Konate will return with a runners-up medal, and Klopp has played down the possibility of Virgil van Dijk returning for this contest.
However, Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson have been put through their paces in training and could be involved in some capacity, but it would be a surprise to see any member of the quartet begin the match.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ortega; Lewis, Katongo, Charles, S. Gomez; Palmer, Gundogan, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Haaland, Borges
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Kelleher; Ramsay, J. Gomez, Phillips, Tsimikas; Elliott, Bajcetic, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Firmino, Carvalho