Ahead of Sunday's Premier League showdown between Liverpool and Manchester City, Sports Mole selects its strongest combined XI from the two squads.

Combined XI: Liverpool vs. Manchester City

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  • 2019-11-09 01:10:09 4 months ago
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Liverpool welcome Manchester City to Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday for a clash between the two best teams in the country.

A distinctive feature of this game will be, of course, the fact that victory for Jurgen Klopp's side would take them nine points ahead of City after 12 Premier League games.

Moreover, this meeting also serves to illustrate an emphatic gap between the two sides in relation to the rest of the league, such is the pace and precision of how both teams play.

Here, Sports Mole selects its strongest combined XI from the two squads, using only players available this weekend.

Combined XI: LIV vs. MNC

The battle between Ederson and Alisson Becker for a spot in this side would have been a close one, only for Guardiola to confirm on Friday that his keeper was ruled out of the game, meaning that the Liverpool keeper takes the spot with ease.

In the right-back slot you have a battle between Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom are masters of their trade. Some might argue that Walker, as the senior of the two, should go ahead of the 21-year-old, but the latter's performances over the past two seasons set him apart from most right-backs in Europe.

Over on the other side, it is much more of a no-brainer: Benjamin Mendy is a highly exciting left-back but the Frenchman has spent the last two years mostly injured, while Andrew Robertson has played virtually every important game for Liverpool over the same period.

Should Joel Matip had been fit, there may be a case to argue that Liverpool deserve to dominate both centre-back spots, but this would perhaps come as a disservice to the quietly efficient and deeply aggressive Nicolas Otamendi, who is likely to get the nod ahead of John Stones on Sunday.

At the base of midfield, it is almost impossible to differentiate between Brazilian duo Fernandinho and Fabinho, who are both intractable forces, playing the dual role of screening the defence and setting up attacks. The former only gets ahead because of his greater level of Premier League experience compared with Fabinho, who only joined Liverpool in 2017.

While Kevin De Bruyne simply cannot be excluded from a combined XI, it becomes a trickier task when deciding who deserves the final midfield spot. Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson are all on a similar level - and so are injured duo Rodri Hernandez and David Silva - but the Liverpool captain just gets ahead of the rest due to his ability to instil discipline into those around him.

Given that Guardiola often alternates between Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo on the right hand side, it is hard to say that either deserves to come ahead of Mohamed Salah, an indispensable member of Liverpool's front three and already with eight goals to his name in all competitions this season.

While Sadio Mane has been an excellent force for Liverpool this season - arguably serving as their most potent attacker - the Senegal international does not match up the overall impact of Raheem Sterling, who now commands a senior role under both Guardiola and England manager Gareth Southgate along with claiming a remarkable tally of 13 goals since August.

Choosing between Roberto Firmino and Sergio Aguero is arguably even harder: the former has somewhat remoulded the way in which we view the number nine role, while the latter simply churns out goals as if it were nothing. In a game of fine margins and one ultimately decided by goals rather than craft, City's all-time goalscorer gets the nod ahead of the Brazilian.

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Combined XI: Liverpool vs. Manchester City

Jurgen Klopp: Liverpool, Man City rivalry "getting bigger and bigger"

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes the growing rivalry between them and Manchester City is proof his side are a genuine threat to their next opponents.

The Reds hold a six-point lead over City ahead of Sunday's visit to Anfield and, although Klopp rates Pep Guardiola as "the best manager in the world", he believes the teams are on an equal footing.

"I think it's getting bigger and bigger. I am here for four years, what can I say about traditions?" said the German, whose side lost out by a point in last season's thrilling title race.

"We live in the now and obviously Man City is a pretty good football team and that means of course there is a rivalry.

"Thank God there is a rivalry as that means we are in a not bad place as well.

"In the last nearly two years it feels like each game we played was the most decisive of the season. There is not one where anyone said 'You can lose that'.

"Nothing changes, you cannot make games bigger than they are already. It is already a very important game and you cannot make it more important."

Klopp (left) believes City boss Guardiola is the best in the business
Klopp (left) believes City boss Guardiola is the best in the business (Martin Rickett/PA)

Liverpool's advantage is such that a draw would probably suit Klopp more than Guardiola, who even when the sides were level on points for the same fixture last October adopted a more conservative approach.

However, Klopp admits if his players even begin to entertain any defensive or negative thoughts they will be punished.

"You cannot be only offensive but if you are not brave against Man City you have no chance, not even for a point," he added.

"You have to create, your positioning must be nearly perfect, protection must be perfect, (you should have) different ideas.

"You have to try to adapt to the things your opponent is doing usually and make sure they cannot do that and that can lead to other things."

The match will also mark the return to Anfield of Liverpool fan Sean Cox, who sustained life-changing injuries in an attack by Roma fans outside the ground in April 2018.

Cox, who was in a coma for a time after the assault, and his family will be hosted by the club, whose Legends side raised £640,000 for the Sean Cox Rehabilitation Trust with a match in Dublin in April.

The news has given Klopp a boost ahead of the game.

"When it happened to Sean it was probably the lowest point for me in my whole time at Liverpool because that is something that should not happen in life and it should not happen around a football game," said the manager.

"(The fact) we can give him the opportunity to come back to watch a really big game – and he wants to do that – for me, coming from a low point, is one of my highlights since I've been here.

"I am really looking forward to it. I hope we can organise for me to see him before the game for a couple of minutes – I really want to.

"We don't normally sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone', we really live that, and in this specific situation it was very important to show that.

"I really hope they (the Cox family) felt that the whole time and they will feel it in the future and we can help them in this recovery."

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Unai Emery: 'Granit Xhaka will not be in Arsenal team at Leicester'

Granit Xhaka will once again miss out for Arsenal as Unai Emery prepares his side for a “must-win” game at Leicester.

The midfielder has been absent for the last three matches after telling supporters to “f*** off” as he was jeered after being substituted during a draw against Crystal Palace last month.

He has since been stripped of the captaincy, with the club offering counselling to a player who Emery described as “devastated, sad and very down”.

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Message to the fans;

A post shared by Granit Xhaka (@granitxhaka) on

Xhaka has yet to return to the fold, with Emery confirming he will sit out the trip to the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Asked if the Switzerland international would be part of his squad at Leicester, Emery replied: “not yet.”

With Leicester in fine form and sitting two places and six points clear of Arsenal in the Premier League table, a visit to the East Midlands would be one of the last places Emery would want to visit.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are brimming with confidence, while Arsenal have won just two of their last nine league games and have allowed leads to slip in their last four matches.

Leicester have been in excellent form under Brendan Rodgers this season
Leicester have been in excellent form under Brendan Rodgers this season (John Walton/PA)

With Arsenal fifth in the table as they chase a return to the Champions League, pressure has begun to mount on Emery’s position and another poor showing at Leicester could do even more damage.

“Must-win? Yes,” he said.

“We need to win and it’s very important for us tomorrow.

“But our mentality is every time to play first, using our best structure and organisation to be strong and also our individual players to use their quality to win. But in our mind, for each match it is only to win.”

While a loss at Leicester and other results going against them could see Arsenal end the weekend ninth in the table, Emery insists he maintains the backing of the club’s hierarchy.

He added: “I know we are in one process and we are speaking with the club about the responsibility of the club, and they are supporting us, and the players are supporting me.”

Dani Ceballos is the only injured player after the Spain international suffered a hamstring injury in the Europa League draw in Vitoria, where Emery deployed a three-man defence for the first time this season.

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