Football

City-Liverpool clash will be decided in defence

Ince says City have the edge while Lescott rates Liverpool's backline higher

MAN CITY LIVERPOOL

Liverpool could hardly be in higher spirits as they set out on the short trip to Manchester City tomorrow hoping to make a strong case for their Premier League title prospects.

Pep Guardiola's City and neighbours Manchester United, together with champions Chelsea, have already been installed as the trio most likely to contest the title, but optimism is surging on Merseyside after a free-scoring August.

But, while Liverpool and City will parade some of the finest attacking players in the EPL at the Etihad Stadium, many football pundits believe that it is in defence where the game will be won or lost.

Both team's defences have been widely criticised, despite an encouraging start to a campaign that has seen them claim seven points from their first three matches.

Former Liverpool midfielder Paul Ince couldn't see the fragile Liverpool defence standing up to the test, despite the Reds rearguard notching a clean sheet in their last league outing - a 4-0 win over Arsenal.

Predicting a 3-2 win for City, Ince told the Express: "What a way to kick off the weekend.

"There's one thing you can be sure of in this game, and that's goals.

"I think City, especially at home, will have the ever-so-slight edge over Liverpool though.

"Their defence isn't 100 per cent, so they'll definitely concede, but I just reckon they have a little too much."

Ex-City defender Joleon Lescott, however, begged to differ.

He feels that Juergen Klopp's men have the edge, by virtue of having a more settled backline.

He said: "That's no disrespect to the defenders on show.

"I just think the attacking prowess they've got in both teams enhances the fact it will be a test for both defences.

"But there's no weak defence out of those two, I would say.

"At this moment in time, probably Liverpool (have the better defence) because they've played with each other a lot longer than Man City.

"As time will progress, I'm sure the likes of Vinny (Vincent Kompany) staying fit throughout the season, they should show that overall they have one of the best defences in the league."

Liverpool's title prospects have also been enhanced by their shrewd transfer dealing during the summer.

Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah have taken to his Liverpool role like duck to water after moving from AS Roma.

Add to that the deadline-day signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal, and the club's refusal to take the £140-million (S$246.3m) bait by Barcelona to sell Philippe Coutinho, and the Reds appear to have quietly stolen an advantage over their rivals.

Man United great Ryan Giggs said this week: "I didn't fancy Liverpool before the season started, but they've made some decent buys and kept Coutinho which is a boost for them.

"After the business they've done, I've probably changed my mind and they will be in the mix."

Oxlade-Chamberlain, who may make his debut for the Merseyside club, will come under immediate scrutiny.

Klopp has insisted that the 24-year-old has what it takes to become a Liverpool great, and it turned out that the respect is mutual.

Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted that the opportunity to work under Klopp was one he simply could not pass up on.

He told the Liverpool website: "First of all, what he's achieved, you respect that straight away and how much he knows about the game, and then all his extra attributes - his relationships with the players and how he pushes you, encourages you and what he demands from you - that's like a bonus.

"That's what makes him special in my eyes."

Liverpool also received a boost ahead of the game, with Coutinho back in contention.

The Brazilian returned to Melwood yesterday for full training for the first time since asking to leave for Barcelona.

He has yet to play this season, citing a back problem which coincided with him handing in a transfer request. - WIRE SERVICES

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