By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
It may not be a ‘break’ in the usual sense, but the international break offers time for both Liverpool and Manchester City to recuperate before one final push towards the Premier League crown.
Liverpool have 13 players currently on international duty, with in-form striker Sadio Mané doing most of the travelling as Senegal face Madagascar and Mali.
The Citizens, on the other hand, have only 10 players away with their national teams, with key men Sergio Aguero and Aymeric Laporte not called up by Argentina and France respectively.
Here are how both sides’ run-ins compare when the league resumes after the international break, and what it could mean for both teams’ trophy hunt.
Late-March and April
Liverpool’s and City’s first Premier League fixture after the international break may hold plenty of surprises – the Sky Blues play a tricky fixture at Fulham on March 30th, a side that will be desperate to get any points in their uphill battle for survival.
They have the worst defensive record in the league but will feel they need to get a result against City if they are to have any chance of Premier League survival, and showed that they can give a big team a game by almost holding the Reds at Craven Cottage before the international break.
Liverpool will have an extra day to prepare for a tough clash against Tottenham at Anfield on the Sunday. Spurs have dropped points of late and will be looking to reclaim their top four credentials with Arsenal and Manchester United – and possibly Chelsea – chasing. Mauricio Pochettino will be watching from the stands again after his two-match touchline ban.
Moving into April is when the severity of the fixture list could have massive ramifications for both teams. City will probably be looking at eight games in April after progressing past Swansea in the FA Cup and their Premier League home game against Cardiff possibly rescheduled before their semi-final clash with Brighton on April 6th.
Liverpool won’t have to worry about FA Cup fixtures but will have a sizeable six games in April. They travel to Southampton on the 5th before their Champions League game against Porto at Anfield. Basically, City will probably have a game to play every three days while Liverpool will have an extra day to prepare for their matches.
On paper, Liverpool have easier matches in April, especially in the Premier League where Chelsea at home is arguably their toughest one. City, on the other hand, will have their squad depth and quality tested with two tricky away matches to Crystal Palace and United, the latter particularly tipped to have huge implications on the title fight.
April promises to be a tough month for Guardiola’s men and arguably less so for Klopp’s. City are likely to drop points, and hopefully Liverpool will be there to pounce.
May will have relatively little action in terms of Premier League matches as both teams will have only two remaining fixtures.
City host Leicester before going to Brighton for their last league game. The Foxes look an improved side under former-Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, and they have two consecutive wins to show for it. Brighton are also a confident side after their own two consecutive wins put them five points above the relegation zone.
Both of those games will arguably have more weight should City progress to the Champions League semi-finals – the Leicester game will be sandwiched by two European fixtures against Juventus or Ajax if City see off Spurs, giving them extra physical load.
Liverpool travel to Newcastle to face Rafael Benitez once again after beating the Spaniard’s side 4-0 on Boxing Day. Rafa’s men have somewhat favorable fixtures after facing Arsenal on April 1st and hopefully will have secured Premier League status by then, making the fixture much easier for Liverpool in my opinion.
The Reds then host Wolves at Anfield for their last game in the league. Liverpool won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Molineux and should have enough in them to beat Nuno Espírito Santo’s men.
Manchester City’s highly-congested fixture list in the coming month will put their physical and mental resolution to the test.
They are likely to drop points at least once as they face tricky fixtures against teams fighting for top four spots as well as Premier League survival.
Liverpool, on the other hand, will have a slightly less congested fixture list, and they will feel they can get maximum points from their remaining games.
If they do that, they will surely have given City a serious run for their money.