5 Things I Want from the Biggest Game in World Football
By David Rice
The biggest game in world football awaits on Sunday. There are no two better sides on the planet at present than Liverpool and Manchester City. It has all the makings of a super showdown, a battle of elites that could have major implications for who holds up the crown in May.
This season has already been packed with what you want from a campaign. Comebacks, late winners, world class goals, unlikely heroes. How it all comes together in this match is on the mind of every Red from here to Jakarta.
What we all want is an entertaining match and three points for the men in Red, allowing them to take a nine point lead in the standings into late November. However we arrive at that, I’m sure we’d all take it, but here are five things I’d like to see along the way.
1. No VAR Drama
Honestly, I could just do without it for a bit. I know, some of you will die on that VAR hill and still believe that it is the answer to football’s officiating woes. But we didn’t talk about the refs as much before VAR as we are now. The decisions are becoming more contentious, the rules more convoluted and the game disjointed as we wait for someone in London to make up their mind about what is happening somewhere else.
This game is about these two sides, two teams that play at a tactical level few can achieve and with a level of skill that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. The loss at City last season was played at such a level that I still remember the finer points of that game and the way it felt when we lost it by all of 11 millimeters. It was a moment that was crucial in the title race and showed just how fine the margins between these two sides are.
To have those margins further manipulated by a flawed VAR system that is the center of so much controversy doesn’t do this fixture justice. For one game, I just want VAR to be irrelevant. But given how fine the margins are, I may be asking a lot.
2. Solid Performance from Michael Oliver
The reason we have to deal with VAR is the typically poor performance of officials in the league.
Referees before VAR got around 82% of calls correct. The goal for VAR was to raise that number to 87%. This is according to Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the body responsible for professional match officials in England. This weekend, we need the best on offer.
You’ve got refs that aren’t in good enough shape to follow the game at its breakneck pace, you’ve got refs that routinely don’t get themselves into the right positions and whose egos interfere with the quality of the match.
In search of one referee that can handle a match like Liverpool v Man City, we are left with only one option, Michael Oliver. The Northumberland man is by far and away the league’s best ref. Infallible by no means, but a far cry better than some of the hacks and frauds that make a living on Premier League pitches, men whose names you usually mash up with vulgarities.
Luckily, this weekend, the best game on offer in the country will see the best referee the English game has to offer take charge of it. No Martin Atkinson, no Jon Moss. Not even in the VAR booth. All I want from this weekend’s officiating crew is a solid performance that doesn’t leave either side feeling robbed.
3. An Undeniable PK for Sadio Mane
Pep Guardiola is as obsessed with Liverpool’s title challenge as we are, given that it is the only force that can stop him from racking up a third consecutive Premier League crown. It has been on full display in his recent press conferences, particularly the one where the manager of some of the league’s most flamboyant dive artists singled out Sadio Mane for going down too easily at times.
Just to stick it to our hypocritical jardigan wearing nemesis here, I would fall off my bar stool laughing if Mane earns an undeniable penalty from one of City’s crap defenders. Fernandinho would be a nice touch, but I’d quite enjoy Otamendi for the theatrics of it all. In any case, Milner slotting one past their keeper to seal the victory would pretty much ensure a fantastic weekend. I’ll have that, please.
4. Pep Meltdowns
Speaking of Pep, I do enjoy his meltdowns, be it on the sideline or in a press conference. If you watched the Amazon Prime documentary about City’s 100-point season, you know he’s good for an outburst and occasionally sounding like a tit.
Personally, I hope he has an outburst in the tunnel over a non-call, and then accuses the FA and the referees of wanting Liverpool to win the title in his post match. He should then proceed into the locker room and take the piss out of his players, which proves to be a moment the team never recovers from for the rest of the season as it sows a bit of discord into their team chemistry. City’s demise will be completely down to them, they’re too strong for anyone but themselves to actually undo them. But if Jurgen, these Reds and Anfield can do their part to inch them toward the self-destruct button, that would be fantastic.
5. Attacking Play
The last time these two met at Anfield was a remarkable occasion for a different reason than we expected. It marked a rare departure for Guardiola from City’s usual relentless attacking. Instead, he sent his team out to make the pitch as big as possible, with defenders often receiving back passes from their goalkeeper to stretch Liverpool’s press all the way to the end line.
Both teams played out of the back, moving the ball around their own 18-yard box like it was the center circle. What should have been a balls to the wall affair was far more slow and calculated than anyone imagined. Riyad Mahrez missed a PK and it finished 0–0, a scoreline that left us all a bit stunned.
This time, I’d like to see a complete departure from that and I think we might just get it. City’s biggest weakness in the absence of Aymeric Laporte is their defense. They’ll come in thinking they need at least one goal to take something from the game, so I expect to see the vast array of their attacking options on full display.
While they are certainly dangerous and our defense hasn’t been up to last season’s standards, I like the Reds chances in a shootout given the form of Mane, the full backs and Oxlade Chamberlain off the bench. A statement against City is just what Mo Salah needs to get back on form and Bobby…. well, Bobby does love a big performance against City. With that in mind, how’s another 4–3 sound?