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A case of nerves ahead of home opener

22 August 2010

City make their home debut tomorrow on Monday Night Football when Liverpool come to Eastlands. You’d be hard-pressed to find a greater contrast in clubs right now in the upper echelons of football than the two contesting this fixture. Liverpool have a history that could rival any club except perhaps Real Madrid, but find themselves in a financial and competitive crisis at the moment as a result of the debts resulting from their American owners’ leveraged buyout of the club and the seventh-place finish last season. Meanwhile, City have the wealth that eventually should secure an overflowing trophy cabinet.

At the moment, however, both club are desperate to trade up from Europa League football to Champions League football next season. City need to do so to add some much needed legitimacy to The Project and to augment the club’s revenues in advance of the forthcoming UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations. Liverpool were in bad enough shape when they had Champions League income flowing into the club, so they really can’t afford another season without that revenue stream.

As if this showdown between football’s ambitious nouveau riche and its skint bluebloods needed any additional pressure, Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson decided to chime in on City this week, claiming anything less than third place in the league would constitute failure for the Manchester club this season. Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini is attempting to play down early season expectations, citing a need for the new and returning faces to gel. Unfortunately, City’s first four league fixtures are all challenging, with three against probably competitors for a top four place.

Last season this fixture came in February, with both clubs under immense pressure to finish in the top four. The result was an insipidly boring 0-0 affair that produced a total of two efforts on goal and left everyone who watched it angry and wishing they could have back those two hours of their lives.

I just want to see City beat Liverpool. This is my fifth season following this club, during which time City are 0-5-3 against the Reds, including draws in the past three meetings. I attended this fixture back in 2007, and watched City weather a Liverpool assault to hold on for a 0-0 draw that I considered a great result. It says a lot about the changes and outlooks at both clubs that I’ll be disappointed with anything less than a City win tomorrow.

After re-watching the opener at Spurs, City actually put in a better performance than I realized while watching it live, perhaps shellshocked from that 30-minute bombardment of Joe Hart’s goal. Still, Mancini’s men will need a better performance tomorrow to grab all three points.

Liverpool will be without Joe Cole, but Fernando Torres reportedly is fit enough to play 90 minutes and Javier Mascherano is being tipped to make his season debut. The lack of an aerial threat makes me feel much better about Kolo Touré being out there, and I think he actually defends Torres pretty well.

The BBC’s Squad Selector doesn’t offer the exact formation I expect to see tonight (4-2-3-1), but this comes the closest:

With Liverpool’s defense almost certain to include the likes of the defensively suspect Glen Johson, the past-it Jamie Carragher, and the permagimpy Fabio Aurelio, I like City’s chances of scoring their first league goal. I suspect there will be a second goal in this one, and it’s just a question of which side gets it. If Mancini resists the urge to start three defensive midfielders like he did in the first two competitive matches this season and goes with Adam Johnson, David Silva, and James Milner behind Carlos Tévez, I think City will get that goal. If he goes conservative again, I think Liverpool will manage to find their feet and will end up getting a goal.

My heart says City will impress with a 2-0 win. My head says it will end 1-1, with the points being split between the two clubs yet again.

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