Liverpool-Manchester City Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - While the tumultuous times of Mario Balotelli may have come to a close at Manchester City, the positive partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge may just be beginning.
Quiet watchers at the end of the transfer window, City again make a bid to cut into their archrivals' lead atop the Premier League table Sunday when they host a Liverpool squad eyeing a run to the top four.
Balotelli, the mercurial Italian striker who created as many headlines for his off-pitch exploits as his on-pitch goal-scoring prowess, departed for AC Milan on Thursday after totaling 30 goals in 80 matches for Manchester City (15-7-2), helping the club win their first Premier League title last season and keeping them in the chase to repeat.
"Being at City was an important part of my life and career," he told the team's official website. "I needed to grow up like a player and as a person and it has been a very good experience for me... I will always have a special place in my heart for City, it is a great club with a great future."
Despite Balotelli's departure, manager Roberto Mancini still has a gifted trio of goal-scorers in Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko, who have combined for 25 of City's 45 goals in league play. None, however, were able to find the back of the net in a scoreless draw Tuesday at Loftus Road versus Queens Park Rangers as City dropped two valuable points to Manchester United in the chase for the title to fall seven back.
"We did everything to win this game but we didn't score," Mancini said. "When you play like this away and you don't win, it's incredible - we lost two points here and against West Ham, today was the same game."
City's defence, though, remained airtight with their fourth consecutive clean sheet and extended their shutout streak in league play to 375 minutes dating back to Russell Martin's goal for Norwich in City's 4-3 win on Dec. 29.
The challenge of unlocking City's backline and beating goalkeeper Joe Hart now falls upon Suarez and Sturridge, who have shown plenty of promise as a tandem for Liverpool (9-8-7) since the latter arrived in January from Chelsea. Sturridge has scored two goals in three matches for the Reds to take some of the burden off Suarez, whose 17 goals in league play trail only Manchester United's Robin van Persie (18).
"Good players will always find half a yard with their partner and I think they've been great so far," Liverpool assistant Colin Pascoe said of Suarez and Sturridge. "Once you put them both together, the football takes over. You see the footballing intelligence and the footballing finesse they both have."
Suarez gave Liverpool an early 1-0 lead Wednesday with his sixth goal in five league matches, but the Reds squandered a two-goal advantage in the final half-hour at the Emirates and settled for a 2-2 draw versus Arsenal. Jordan Henderson scored in the 60th minute, giving him goals in consecutive league matches.
Liverpool enter this match seventh in the table with 35 points, seven behind Tottenham for the fourth and final Champions League spot. While the Reds made one big splash before the transfer deadline in acquiring Coutinho from Inter Milan, the Brazilian forward will not play in this match.
Tevez helped City secure a 2-2 draw at Anfield in the reverse fixture on Aug. 26, netting the equaliser in the 80th minute after Suarez had staked the Reds to a 2-1 lead earlier in the second half. The Argentine has been a thorn in Liverpool's side, netting five goals in eight lifetime league matches.
Manchester City have two wins and a draw without conceding in their last three league matches versus Liverpool at the Etihad.
Updated February 1, 2013