By Neil Leverett and Niall Clarke
- We begin 2019 with a bang in Gameweek 21, as leaders Liverpool travel to champions Manchester City on January 3rd
- Tottenham Hotspur will look to bounce back from defeat to Wolves, with a tricky looking trip to Cardiff
- Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer look to make it four wins in row away to Newcastle United
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – As the calendar flips to 2019, Gameweek 21 sees a potential title decider at the Etihad, as Manchester City host seven-point leaders Liverpool in Game of the Week.
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Game of the Week: Manchester City vs. Liverpool (Thursday January 3, 20:00)
Niall: The start of the New Year brings us perhaps the biggest match of the season as Manchester City host Liverpool in a top-of-the-table clash. As of now, the Reds are seven points clear of the hosts after a string of bad results left the Citizens trailing. However, they returned to the win column on Sunday against Southampton and go into this match knowing anything but a win will not do.
A Liverpool victory will put them 10 points clear of City and will surely be a big enough gap for them to see it through, but there is still a long way to go yet and we know anything can happen in the Premier League. That said, Jurgen Klopp’s men look like the most unbeatable side in the division and are only improving as the season progresses.
City did thrash a 10-man Liverpool in this fixture last year, but since then the Reds have defeated them three times and drew the other game 0-0. Last season the high press was a nightmare for City to deal with, but in the reverse fixture this season both teams showed each other a lot of respect and it was the Champions that were closest to getting the result.
If Liverpool show that kind of respect to their opponents again, then they could see their lead drop to four points. The key to beating Manchester City is to be fearless like Liverpool were last year and go at them, and although Klopp recognises that, this match may have a lot of caution as both teams could be afraid of defeat.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-1 Liverpool
Neil: This was always going to be one of the big games of the season, but for Liverpool, Thursday night in Manchester could be a season-defining moment for the Reds’ long wait for Premier League crown.
As Niall states, a win for the visitors will see a double-figure lead which will take more than a Steven Gerrard slip at Anfield to throw away, but City’s away win at the Saints last time out saw the hosts back to their flowing best.
The return of Fernandinho is immeasurable in terms of importance to the Citizens’ machine, and with the Brazilian marshaling the midfield Pep Guardiola’s men will have more control of the midfield – which will be vital in controlling Liverpool’s rampant counter-attack.
The visitors overran Arsenal again at Anfield last weekend, but here they will have to be more patient and pick their moments, as the hosts will likely have the greater possession. But it is the threat and pace on the break that could decide this one.
When the two met earlier this season at Anfield, the footballing world were left disappointed in a stalemate. I think that is a real possibility again, but there must surely be more emphasis on offense for the home team. Whatever the case, I feel a draw is inevitable.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-1 Liverpool
Neil’s One to Watch: Cardiff City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (New Year’s Day, 17:30)
This is a particularly intriguing clash in the Welsh valleys, with two sides having contrasting fortunes last weekend. Whilst the hosts picked up a surprise win at Leicester, Spurs were stunned by a valiant second half showing from Wolves, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men derailed the Lilywhites latest surge to the top three in the table.
The Bluebirds form at home before defeat to a newly-inspired Manchester United on before Christmas has been impressive, and that will be a test for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men still reeling from a weekend defeat.
Neil Warnock has to take huge credit for leading the Welsh side away from immediate danger, from what was predicted to be the inevitable and immediate drop back down the Championship, but both he and his team know the hard work now begins in 2019.
It could really be an open affair at the Cardiff City Stadium on New Year’s Day, with both sides tending to emphasise attack over defence. Harry Kane is back to his best right now for the north Londoners, and I believe that he will be the difference here, but the hosts will make it a very uncomfortable evening for Spurs.
Prediction: Cardiff City 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Niall’s One to Watch: Newcastle United vs. Manchester United (Wednesday January 3, 20:00)
It is fair to say, at least based off the last three matches, that Manchester United are uplifted since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and they will look to make it four straight against Newcastle on Wednesday, in a classic top-flight fixture.
Gone is the defensive-minded football that quite frankly did not suit the personnel at Manchester United, and instead the Red Devils are now entertaining to watch. Paul Pogba has been unleashed and that has resulted in goals galore at Old Trafford, with United hitting 12 in their last three games.
Next up are relegation-fighting Newcastle who are only three points above the drop zone as we enter the New Year. Rafael Benitez continues to keep them a-float despite his limitations and it will be interesting to see what tactics he comes up with to counter a rampant Red Devils.
United’s top four ambition has been re-ignited but as of now they stand eight points behind Chelsea. They will need to continue this form if they are to have a remote chance of catching the Blues and given Newcastle’s struggles it is difficult not to back them to get the three points here.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-3 Manchester United
Premier League Gameweek 21 Game of the Week sees Manchester City and Liverpool clash at the Etihad Stadium, on Thursday January 3rd.
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