Focus: Why Coutinho's clash with Fernandinho could decide Man City-Liverpool

The two Brazilians will have important roles to play in a tight match between two sides who have been lacking key players recently, says Alex Keble...

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In time, Coutinho's cuts inside and intricate dribbling in central areas will be vital to the success of the Klopp system

Although this fixture presents an opportunity for Manchester City to make a statement of intent to their rivals and for Liverpool’s Klopp revolution to ignite, expect a congested, claustrophobic match between two high-tempo teams desperate to avoid defeat on Saturday evening.

Man City’s depleted attack failed to break down Aston Villa a fortnight ago, and the tentative nature of their creative play could lead to Liverpool’s frantic press further disrupting their flow. If it does, then Philippe Coutinho’s battle for space with Fernandinho will be crucial in the Etihad Stadium showdown.

Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Wilfried Bony, Jordon Ibe, and Daniel Sturridge could all play a part, but their lack of fitness means appearances from the substitutes' bench are more likely.

Liverpool, then, will rely on Coutinho and Adam Lallana for inspiration - Klopp has deployed these two playmakers either side of a striker since arriving at Anfield, and while Lallana hit the ground running, Coutinho only took off after his brace at Chelsea. He amassed six take-ons, four chances created and a goal against Palace. In time, his cuts inside and intricate dribbling in central areas will be vital to the success of the Klopp system (narrow attacking lines for quick interchanges when possession is regained upfield).

His direct opponent this weekend will be Fernandinho. His fellow Brazilian defends predominantly from the right side of centre midfield, and although asked to press higher this season by manager Manuel Pellegrini, the majority of his defensive work still takes place in precisely the zone that Coutinho likes to lurk in.

SZ Fernandinho Coutinho

Fernandinho’s defensive dashboard vs Man United (left) and Coutinho’s attacking dashboard vs Palace (right)

As weary legs and high profile substitutions make this tight tussle open up in the final half hour, it could be Samba pair Coutinho and Fernandinho who ultimately decide the outcome.

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