THE most exciting team in the Premier League face the most exciting player today, in what will surely be the defining game of the Christmas period.
Manchester City and Liverpool are the two top-scoring teams in the league, far ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea, and – excepting Everton – the two in the best recent form.
City have been compelling at the Etihad Stadium so far this season, with eight wins and 35 goals from their eight home games. They put six past Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and scored four against Manchester United and Newcastle United. Much of that, though, owed to Sergio Aguero, who will be missing today with a calf injury.
Liverpool will be armed with the one player in the league more dangerous and relentless than Aguero, who is currently sidelined with injury.
Luis Suarez has scored an astonishing 19 league goals so far this season in just 12 games – more goals, in fewer games, than 11 Premier League teams, including Tottenham.
Brendan Rodgers believes Suarez can break the Premier League record of 34 goals set by Andy Cole and then Alan Shearer in the 42-game seasons of the early 1990s.
The 38-game record of 31 goals set by Shearer and matched by Cristiano Ronaldo should be well within his reach. "He can do, because he has got that quality," Rodgers said. "He will certainly push it."
Liverpool will take confidence from their two games against City last year, when they had the better of two 2-2 draws. "We arrive there with no fear," added Rodgers. "We outplayed them last year, home and away. We had two draws and we should have won both. But we will go there with every respect for them."
The City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, insisted that Liverpool's threat extended beyond Suarez. "He is in a very good moment. He has always been a very good striker. But Liverpool is not only Suarez.
"They are a very good team, it will be a tough game and we hope we can continue winning at home. We are not playing against Liverpool thinking of Luis Suarez. We are playing against Liverpool thinking we must repeat what we are doing at home."
Pellegrini also said that the Premier League title fight will have plenty of twists and turns to come.
"This Premier League will not just be Liverpool and Manchester City. Five or six teams will fight until the end."
Aguero is not the only frontline City player absence – hamstring injuries for right-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards mean Gael Clichy could again be asked to play on his 'wrong' flank – but Pellegrini is confident he has the strength in depth to manage.
"We have a really strong squad with real quality players, who can cope with all the matches, without our injured players and players that can't play," he added.
City have conceded five goals in two matches, leading some to question their resilience in a title battle which will likely go to the wire.
But Pellegrini is adamant the 2012 champions' approach will not change, even though opponents may adopt an ultra-cautious approach in an effort to stifle his side.
"I think they (opponents) have changed already but I think we try to solve the different problems put to our team," Pellegrini added.
"The way in football is to score goals, that is why people pay for their tickets. Fans are always trying to celebrate the goals of their teams.
"That is very important, I think it is the best way to win.
"As much as you can. Maybe sometimes winning 1-0 is a very good goal, and that goal is three points more.
"But if you are playing well, why would you change if you are winning by two goals?
"If you are winning by two, why don't you continue?"
James Milner attributed the win at Fulham, who fought back from two down to level at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining, to City's strength of character.
The England midfielder insists the full squad will be required in the coming weeks, with matches in such close proximity.
He said: "We're going to have a lot of games through Christmas and when you look at January it's just the same, because we're doing well in the competitions.
"It's not going to take 11 men to win trophies this year, it's going to take the full squad and we need to make sure whoever comes on the field, one to 25, does the job."
Milner and Jesus Navas came off the substitutes' bench to score at Fulham, providing a boost entering the Liverpool contest.
Navas said: "We feel very, very strong and we know that if we work like this we are going to get good results."