Manchester City-Liverpool Preview
It's take-two for Liverpool and Manchester City, just three days after their League Cup final penalty drama.
Willy Caballero's shootout heroics at Wembley on Sunday earned Manchester City the League Cup trophy but, with those energy-sapping 120 minutes still in their legs, the two familiar foes head to Anfield for a Premier League clash Wednesday that could prove crucial to City's title chances.
Manuel Pellegrini's Man City (14-5-7) have lost their last two league matches and go into the midweek round of fixtures 10 points off the top of the table - albeit with a game in hand.
But one advantage the visitors will have given the short turnaround from Sunday's final is squad depth, although Yaya Toure is a doubt with an ankle injury and Fabian Delph, Kevin de Bruyne and Samir Nasri remain out.
Pellegrini was coy on his selection decisions in Tuesday's pre-match press conference, but revealed former hero-turned-villain Raheem Sterling will definitely start on his first return to Anfield since last summer's controversial move.
"I don't know what will be the starting XI," the Chilean manager said. "But one player who I'm sure will start is Raheem Sterling.
"He's a young man, a young player starting his career - he knows how to deal with pressure. I am absolutely sure he can play without any problem, I don't have any worries. It is important for him to play under pressure. I have 100 percent trust in Raheem."
Sterling endured a tough afternoon on Sunday, with the Liverpool faithful riding him hard at Wembley Stadium and missing a golden chance to put his team 2-0 up in the final. He admitted there was a sour note to the celebrations.
"It's a dream come true to win the League Cup, and in the area I grew up in too," said Sterling after the game. "But it's difficult to celebrate against some of my closest friends in football."
Liverpool (10-8-8) go into the game with doubts over the fitness of Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva, Dejan Lovren and Daniel Sturridge, while Danny Ings and Joe Gomez remain long-term absentees.
The Reds may be walking wounded and low on confidence after Sunday's defeat, but they will be able to take confidence from a terrific recent record against City. They have not lost any of the last 12 at Anfield (7-5-0) across all competitions and have won three of the last four meetings between the sides - including a comprehensive 4-1 victory at the Etihad in November as Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino combined for goals nine minutes apart in the first half after an own goal by City defender Eliaquim Mangala staked Liverpool to a lead in the seventh minute.
They Merseysiders may be facing a mid-table finish given they trail fifth-placed Manchester United by six points with a match in hand, but centre-back Kolo Toure believes the squad can use the disappointment of the Wembley defeat to spark a strong finish to the season. Liverpool also begin a two-leg Europa League round of 16 tie at home versus United next week.
"It was a bad day and we all feel down because we could have won, but you only learn by losing those sorts of games," Toure said. "You have to learn to lose sometimes before you win. We learn as a team together.
"The Europa League can save the season and the Premier League is not over yet. It will be tough at Anfield but we can get three points against them (Man City). We have plenty of important games coming up."
Man City are in poor form away from the Etihad, having won just two in nine on the road (2-4-3) and managing to find the back of the net just seven times in that stretch.
Star striker Sergio Aguero will be looking to make it fourth time lucky having failed to score on any of his last three league visits to Anfield. The Argentine international, though, has scored in all four of his top-flight home matches versus Liverpool.