Weblog: The football punter
Man City to dish out first loss of term to Liverpool
Sky Sports Premier League/Main Event, 8pm Thursday
Nobody does self-promotion quite like the Premier League but the excitable hype is justified for a match that, just three days into 2019, could turn out to be the most important of the entire year.
Few could have predicted back in the summer when the fixture list came out that Liverpool would head to the Etihad with a six-point lead at the summit and a seven-point advantage over odds-on ante-post title favourites Manchester City.
That, however, is the landscape with 18 matches remaining and Liverpool make their way to Manchester as 8-13 favourites for a first championship since 1990. Champions City are out to 15-8 to retain their title.
The importance of the clash can be highlighted by one bookmaker's potential title odds depending on the result. A home win would see City into roughly 5-4 with Liverpool 4-5 while if the away team triumph it is estimated that the Reds would be cut to 1-7. The leaders would be around 1-3 shots for the league if it ends all-square at the Etihad.
From a neutral point of view it's set up perfectly and City can get themselves back on track at a tempting odds-against for a game they have to win if they are to put Liverpool under genuine pressure.
City are ten matches without a clean sheet but, as Pep Guardiola mentioned in his pre-match press conference, this recent wobble has been mainly due to rotten luck.
"We are the second in Europe with the chances we create so we are not precise enough," said Guardiola. "We concede few chances. The boxes are the important thing. The last games we concede more goals than usual but the chances we concede they are not too much."
Stunning shots from Andros Townsend and Ricardo Pereira proved to be City's downfall in their surprise losses to Crystal Palace and Leicester. In both of those fixtures, as well as the defeat to Chelsea, the opposition scored with their first shot.
These things happen from time to time but City are still the same side who were crowned champions with 100 points last season, smashing several Premier League records along the way.
For many, the Citizens are the best team in Europe, especially with Kevin De Bruyne returning to the fold, and now is the time to prove it. They showed their defensive resilience in the 0-0 draw at Anfield in October when Riyad Mahrez's wayward penalty cost them victory.
Liverpool's famed front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were blunted on that occasion although it's fair to say all are in better nick as they head into this crunch clash.
However, Jurgen Klopp's counter-attacking machines failed to fully fire in their two biggest away matches of the season, the Champions League defeats to Paris St-Germain and Napoli.
Liverpool had just one shot on target across the 180 minutes in those games – a James Milner penalty – and, with City fancied to come good, this season's topsy-turvy title race could swing back to almost a 50-50 battle.