If Manchester City were to take a look at the home league table from last season, you might forgive them for thinking that a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool is not quite as daunting a task as it used to be.
That might be stating the obvious, but all the evidence makes grim reading for the Merseysiders: just six league wins on home soil last season was Liverpool’s worst return since 1953/54 and as the Reds limped in with a paltry 24 home goals under Kenny Dalglish, those with a season ticket in the Kop were tearing their hair out.
On the face of it, last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at West Brom suggests another season of toil and new boss Brendan Rodgers has warned Reds fans that there will be more days like the one at the Hawthorns last week.
Rodgers is probably right, too. Liverpool are heading into the autumn with a thin squad that lacks quality and sufficient cover in certain areas and it will almost certainly undermine their hopes, if indeed they do harbour genuine ones, of securing a top-four finish.
But look closely among the wreckage of the West Brom defeat and it’s possible to see that things were not quite as bad as they appeared (Liverpool controlled large swathes of the game 11 v 11) and the Reds will have their good days this season to go with their bad ones. But unlike last season, I think that those good days are going to come on home soil.
And against all odds, I like the 39/20 that Sunday will bring about one of those days that Rodgers will savour. I’m tempted by that price on a Liverpool win, as opposed to the draw at 12/5 and the 13/10 on City, because there is enough evidence to suggest that it could be a value punt.
Rodgers has made a huge play on Liverpool’s home form and how vital it will be to his ambitions, and has done everything he can to talk up the Anfield experience.
As well as stating he wants to give opponents ‘the hardest 90 minutes of their life’, he has put up the original ‘This is Anfield’ sign in the tunnel and changed the colour of the goal nets from white to red: little, insignificant things on paper, but it shows how much stock the ex-Swansea boss is putting on home form and early impressions are promising.
The Reds have played two home matches under Rodgers, a pre-season friendly against Bayer Leverkusen and a Europa League qualifier against Gomel. Please don’t think that I am comparing the visit from the champions of England to a match against European minnows or a summer outing against a team looking for fitness, but both matches were won by scoring three goals and there were clear indications of how Liverpool will attack games in front of their home fans.
And attack is the word, with a high-tempo, pressing style being imposed and this approach could put City on the back foot.
There is no doubting that City are the better team, but going to Anfield for Rodgers’ first match is not ideal for Roberto Mancini and there are enough chinks in their armour to give a pumped up Liverpool, who can still raise their game against the better sides, hope of victory.
Defensively, the Citizens have not looked secure, conceding four goals in two matches so far, and their away form against the top half of the division was below par last season. Mancini’s men posted a 3-3-3 record and of the 17 goals they scored, six came in that incredible match against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
City haven’t won at Anfield since 2003, a run of ten matches, and though the visitors will obviously threaten, Liverpool were tight at the back at home last year, letting in just 16 goals (a record only City themselves could better), and there is no reason to suggest that will change either.
In short, I am of the opinion that Liverpool’s home form last term was an anomaly in what is otherwise a traditionally strong record (the previous five seasons saw the Reds win 12, 13, 13, 12 and 14 home games) and Rodgers can get Liverpool firing once more at Anfield by stunning the champions.
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