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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Manchester City will cast an envious eye Liverpool's way when teams meet at Etihad Stadium

Jurgen Klopp's side secured transfer of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal before the close of the transfer window while City missed out on No 1 target Alexis Sanchez

Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain, right, seen here in action for England during their recent 2018 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia. The midfielder is in line to make his Liverpool debut against Manchester City. Neil Hall / EPA
Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain, right, seen here in action for England during their recent 2018 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia. The midfielder is in line to make his Liverpool debut against Manchester City. Neil Hall / EPA

Pep Guardiola could be forgiven for casting an envious eye over the team sheets ahead of Manchester City's home fixture against Liverpool this weekend. Where City failed to lure their No 1 target - Alexis Sanchez - away from Arsenal before the close of last week's transfer window, his opposite number, Jurgen Klopp, successfully persuaded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to choose Anfield as his new home ahead of Stamford Bridge.

Despite spending over £200 million (Dh957m) on new recruits this summer - with more than £125m of that on full-backs - the one player City coveted above all will not be wearing blue at the Etihad but instead be some 260 kilometres south in London attempting to diffuse the frisson from his protracted and ultimately doomed move to Manchester.

The consensus among the Arsenal squad was that Sanchez had become a divisive figure, a player put on too high a pedestal by both manager Arsene Wenger and fans while largely overlooking that his heart was clearly elsewhere. What some saw as warrior spirit in the Chilean's performances and reactions to setbacks, teammates viewed as petulance and an unwillingness to dig the side out of a hole he had helped create. The message from the squad was clear: Sanchez had to go.

In the end, neither clubs or player got what they wanted. Arsenal refused to sanction Sanchez's move without having a viable replacement lined up. Negotiations for the player earmarked to replace him, Thomas Lemar, happened too late in the day, with the Frenchman on international duty last Thursday as the window slammed shut.

Liverpool, by contrast, sensed a reluctance in Oxlade-Chamberlain to move to Chelsea where playing in his favoured centre midfield position came with no guarantees. In Arsenal's first three Premier League games, the 24-year-old England international had played both wing-back positions and right midfield, despite the underwhelming performances of others in the middle of the park. A victim of his own versatility at Arsenal, he could be offered a new lease of life at Liverpool.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was never on Guardiola's radar but the move has a symbolic resonance. A player coveted by the champions of England saw his long-term future under the guidance of Klopp. And while City's failure to land Sanchez was down to Arsenal's reticence to strengthen another Premier League rival in the same transfer window, it marks a shift in how players are increasingly hypnotised by Klopp's brand of attacking football.

Liverpool start games at breakneck speed while City have looked far more convincing on the road so far. In his four games in charge against City Klopp has been the winning manager on three occasions while the other ended in a draw. Given the arduous international journeys undertaken by players in both squads over the past two weeks, expect plenty of rotation on Saturday.

Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho - a man who can sympathise with City's plight in failing to land their man after Liverpool refused to bow to Barcelona's repeated offers for the talented playmaker over the summer - were both in South America with Brazil alongside Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus from City, while Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero were part of an Argentina squad struggling to secure automatic qualification for next year's World Cup.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were on duty with Senegal and Egypt respectively. It should never be overstated the toll pitches in Africa, well below standards of most European leagues, can take on a player's body. The two speedsters alongside Firmino are crucial to Klopp's high pressing game and interchange that has yielded seven goals in three games but their physical condition will be a concern for Klopp.

With Oxlade-Chamberlain representing England in their recent wins over Malta and Slovakia, he is likely to feature off the bench against City. Some with a twisted sense of humour on Twitter have suggested he may occupy the right-back berth following the news of Nathaniel Clyne's long-term injury. There would be a few chuckles at Stamford Bridge if that were the case.

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