x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Dalglish and Mancini have tried to mirror playing styles from the dugout

It will be a meeting of cavalier minds when Liverpool entertain Manchester City in the Premier League tonight.

Kenny Dalglish, right, is aiming to guide his Liverpool side to European football next season, although unlike Manchester City, today's opponents at Anfield, the Europa League and not the Champions League is their only realistic target.
Kenny Dalglish, right, is aiming to guide his Liverpool side to European football next season, although unlike Manchester City, today's opponents at Anfield, the Europa League and not the Champions League is their only realistic target.

Of the 20 men who manage Premier League clubs, Kenny Dalglish and Roberto Mancini stand apart from the rest.

These were the two greatest talents in their playing days, the finest footballers now occupying the dugouts of the top flight. There is a case for arguing that, though Dalglish has won four league titles and Mancini three in their respective coaching careers, each accomplished more while the legs were still willing.

These are men with enviable gifts as a player who do not always assume others are equally able, the pure talents with a pragmatic streak. That, at least, is one interpretation of their tactics. One conclusion is that their younger incarnations would be more likely to form the focal point of a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti or Harry Redknapp. They have the reputations as the adventurers and the aesthetes.

Yet caution is not a constant for either Dalglish or Mancini.

Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, sensed an opportunity the last time Manchester opposition visited Anfield, adopted a policy of all-out attack and was rewarded with a comprehensive victory over United.

Mancini, his Manchester City counterpart, displayed his daring side when unleashing Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson and David Silva last Sunday against Sunderland. This was a bold blueprint that produced five goals which suggested that rather than surrendering their top-four position, City can aim higher.

Nevertheless, a meeting with Liverpool puts Mancini under the microscope again. Four away games against their immediate challengers have brought a solitary goal, Silva's unwitting equaliser in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, and the accusation is that their positivity has been reserved for lesser occasions.

Yet a season's solidity has given City a platform to defend whereas Liverpool, 11 points behind them, need a remarkable finish to the season to displace Mancini's men from the Champions League positions.

If the likelihood that one of the fearsome foursome who scythed Sunderland apart will make way for Gareth Barry, it is understandable. There is a logic to reinforcing the midfield, not least because it would enable City to replicate the approach that enabled them to demolish Liverpool in August.

Indeed that 3-0 victory, with Barry breaking the deadlock against the club who courted him in 2008, was City's most emphatic win against elite opposition this season. Hindsight suggests it was a match that may have revealed more about Roy Hodgson's regime than Mancini's men.

If Liverpool's unloved former manager remains a reference point at Anfield it is because, even after his exit, he has served to stymie their ambitions. Last week's loss to Hodgson's new employers, West Bromwich Albion, suggested sixth place, which would not entail European football, is likely to be their lot. Even then, Everton covet that.

If it means one eye is already on next season, this is another chance to assess Liverpool's progress. Dalglish's new-look team is taking shape, even if, with the captain out for the season, there is a Steven Gerrard-sized hole in the midfield. Yet the longer Andy Carroll's wait for a first goal continues, another can dominate the attention.

While Luis Suarez has been an irrepressible presence alongside him, the £35 million (Dh210m) man has been striving for sharpness as well as some sort of validation. The burden of becoming the eighth most expensive player of all time might not faze Carroll, but the price tag remains unavoidable.

Dalglish's dilemma is the right sort: how to integrate his potential match winners? In one sense, it has become harder. His flagship wins, against Chelsea and United, came in games Carroll did not start. Even with Gerrard absent, he still requires a system and a style to accommodate Carroll, Suarez, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool's indispensable industrialist.

Yet, Dalglish being Dalglish, it will not come at the expense of sturdiness. For all his tactical flexibility, a solid base to the midfield has been a regular part of his thinking. While the identity of the individuals has changed, Lucas Leiva invariably has company when shielding the back four. An approving nod may be cast from Manchester to Merseyside: Mancini and Dalglish is a clash of wonderful footballers and, in some respects, a meeting of minds.


The match-up

Key Battle

Luis Suarez v Vincent Kompany

Saurez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker, has brilliant dribbling ability and can beat defenders at will, but he is up against probably City’s player of the season – the rarely flustered Kompany.

Previous meetings

City’s 3-0 win at Eastlands in August was their first over Liverpool in 12 games.


Liverpool (4-4-2) Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Wilson; Lucas, Meireles, Kuyt, Spearing; Carroll, Suarez.

Man City (4-5-1) Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov; Barry, De Jong, Toure, Silva, Milner; Tevez

11pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 5