MAN CITY vs LIVERPOOL, Sunday April 10th, 4:30pm
‘Start the Hype Machines, please!’ football broadcasters announce collectively in the stentorian style of former Crystal Maze host Richard O’Brien.
A familiar, seismic buzz duly emanates from open-plan editorial desks:
Can we get the thoughts of Noel Gallagher on the game?! Was anyone able to extract a comment from Georgi Kinkladze?! Which players made Abel Xavier’s combined XI?! What was the final score prediction from @AnfieldTrevor on Twitter?! And were we able to confirm if it really was too dangerous to re-animate the corpse of Paul The Octopus?!!!
Obviously the existence of a genuine title race at this stage of the season is very good for business. And for the two teams contesting that race to be facing each other in the final game of the weekend is a further welcome boon. It will be difficult, even for sober neutrals, not to be rendered a little intoxicated by the relentless crashing waves of sporting hysteria…
The knot of cancelled games over the Christmas period has finally become untangled – the stagger has eventually unwound – to reveal that Manchester City weren’t quite as far ahead of Liverpool as many of us had previously thought. It has also become very clear that both sides are much, much better than all the other teams contesting the Premier League this season.
There may not be a lot in it, but I believe Liverpool approach this key fixture with a soupçon more momentum than Manchester City. They have won every Premier League game since the 2nd of January. Their existing forward talents are all still contributing goals. And fresh, auxiliary attacker, Luis Diaz, has tessellated instantly with his colleagues since his recent arrival from Portugal.
In fact, no player has made such a seamless transition into a tight, dynamic Merseyside outfit since Ringo Starr left the Hurricanes to join The Beatles back in 1962.
This impetus is key because the onus is very much on Liverpool to win. Anything other than a victory for the team in red leaves Manchester City right back in the driving seat.
Because, from where I sit anyway, their run-in – Brighton, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham, Aston Villa, Wolves – is much more benign than Liverpool’s – Manchester Utd, Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Aston Villa, Southampton, Wolves.
Manchester City, therefore, may well be content to play for a bore-draw. Or, at best, eke-out a scrappy, narrow 1-0 win. Which they are very capable of doing, given their ability to hold onto the ball; but represents an outcome that is unlikely to justify the lashings of prior hype.
So if a ‘Frankensteined’ Paul the Octopus goes off-script, jumps out of its tank, and wraps its radioactive tentacles tightly around Gary Neville’s neck during the pre-match studio ‘banter’, don’t get too ecstatic/distraught (delete as applicable) because the game itself might also end-up being a bit of a damp squid.
Not that Pep Guardiola will care if that is how events ultimately transpire – glory is much more important than hype at this stage of a campaign. Plus, a significant concern for the Manchester City manager is the likely absence, due to injury, of backline bulwark Rúben Dias. So if the Sky Blues can successfully withstand the league’s top scoring side with a weakened centre-back pairing, Pep will make the absolute most of any glory as he can get his hands on.
So to paraphrase hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy: be fastidiously circumspect of the hype. By all means note it, carefully observe its movements, perhaps even dip an exposed toe beneath its attractive surface; but do not cannonball your whole body deep into it from a great height.
And if Liverpool do happen to win – teeing-up several weeks of more title race delirium – and the game turns out to be an absolute banger…then fine, be my guest, go absolutely crazy…I just didn’t want you to see you getting hurt, that’s all…
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