MANCHESTER - Manchester City and Liverpool will renew their rivalry beneath the Etihad Stadium floodlights on Monday (Aug 25) in the first major head-to-head encounter of the fledgling Premier League season.
When the teams last met, at Anfield in April, a late Philippe Coutinho goal gave Liverpool a 3-2 victory that left them on course for a first league title since 1990. But with the finishing line in sight, Brendan Rodgers's side collapsed, allowing City to creep up on the rails and pip them to the title by two points.
Liverpool's late-season slump was particularly traumatic for captain Steven Gerrard, whose slip against Chelsea allowed Demba Ba to score a goal that allowed City back into the title race. After then crashing out of the World Cup in the group phase with England, the 34-year-old said he had been through "probably the worst three months of my life".
The meeting with City will bring memories of what happened last season into sharp focus for Gerrard and his team-mates, but the champions' manager, Manuel Pellegrini, does not think it will have any bearing on Monday's game. "I cannot know what happened inside Liverpool or if they will be affected by last season or not," said the Chilean, whose side won 2-0 at Newcastle United in the first game of their title defence. "My way of thinking is that last season is finished, for our team it is finished. I suppose that also for Liverpool it is finished."
Whereas City have enjoyed a largely settled off season, Liverpool have witnessed significant upheaval. Luis Suarez's departure for Barcelona in a £75 million (S$155 million) transfer helped fund a splurge of investment that has seen eight new players move to the club, with former City striker Mario Balotelli also poised to join them.
Balotelli will not feature against his old side as his transfer was not finalised before the weekend, but Liverpool's fans could get their first glimpses of new signings Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
"Invention and creativity"
Adam Lallana, another new recruit, is not yet ready to return as he pursues his rehabilitation following a knee problem, while left-back Jose Enrique is a doubt due to injury. Daniel Agger, Jon Flanagan and Oussama Assaidi are all definitely out. City's latest signing, centre-back Eliaquim Mangala, is unlikely to play as he is short of fitness following his £32 million switch from Porto.
Striker Alvaro Negredo remains sidelined by a foot injury, but Sergio Aguero could start after coming off the bench to score in injury time at Newcastle last weekend. Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard may also make his debut for the club, having been left out for the trip to St James' Park.
Monday's game is an early opportunity for last season's two outstanding teams to feel each other out, but Rodgers does not believe it will be a cautious encounter. Both teams broke through the 100-goal barrier in 2013 to 2014 - City scoring 102 goals to Liverpool's 101 - and the Northern Irishman thinks they will each be eager to assert themselves.
Asked if he expected the game against City to be cagey, the Liverpool manager replied: "I don't think so. If you look at both sets of players, there's lots of invention and creativity in the team. I think both will be creative and want to score goals. We know we need to be compact and solid when we haven't got the ball, and we need to be aggressive and press well. We know we have the freedom, movement and pace that can hurt teams. We understand it's early on, but it'll be a good game for sure."
Liverpool edged Southampton 2-1 last weekend, with Daniel Sturridge scoring a 79th-minute winner.