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Even at this relatively early stage of the season, Manchester City's trip to Liverpool feels like it could be a defining clash.

Led by Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, the Premier League's top two are undoubtedly going to offer up a thriller with plenty of tactical intrigue in the way they will play.

Sportsmail has put together a tactical preview of the issues surrounding both sides ahead of Sunday's match.

The battle of the defensive midfielders

Few would have predicted this after Fabinho's start to life in England but on current form the Brazilian is probably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League.

He's so important to Liverpool that he was left out of the game against Aston Villa in order to ensure he would not pick up another yellow card and end up suspended for this match.

His compatriot Fernandinho probably merited that accolade before Fabinho really got going and yet he is unlikely to feature in his preferred role on Sunday due to City's defensive injuries.

Rodri is also not likely to be available for the champions at Anfield.

That means Ilkay Gundogan will play in the No 6 position when City visit Liverpool and that could be an issue.

He is not a natural sitter, and while he has been deployed there in the past, it tends to be an issue against the best sides.

Gundogan is more useful going forward, and while that is useful when City face the usual also-rans in the Premier League, it is a problem against Liverpool.

If you compare Fabinho and Gundogan statistically then the issue becomes very clear.

Gundogan only manages 1.2 tackles per 90 minutes played compared to Fabinho's 2.9, highlighting the fact he is less valuable when it comes to breaking up play.

All of this could be a problem for City if Liverpool come out flying.

That's especially the case with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in fine form in the middle of the park and having previously shown his capacity to hit a goal or two against City.

He will also be less useful in forcing transitions, which is a crucial aspect in how both teams play, and his lack of suitability for the role means he is more likely to get caught out against Liverpool's pressing machine.

And he can get caught out there too. Against Atalanta, pressing him with a few men saw him lose the ball, leading to a swift counter that resulted in Claudio Bravo being sent off.

It will not surprise you to hear that Liverpool have both the style and players to exploit that.

Gundogan could be a defining factor on Sunday — whether he wants to be or not.

As mentioned above Fernandinho is likely to play in defence for City on Merseyside and that is because Pep Guardiola has had problems at the back all season.

Aymeric Laporte has been out for most of the season after his subtle but important role in their title-winning season last time out.

Guardiola clearly does not trust either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi particularly and tends to rotate between the pair, with Fernandinho taking up the other slot in central defence.

Given he often deployed Laporte as an auxiliary left-back in these games, over fears about Liverpool, it is a real blow to have so few defensive options available.

His problems in defence, an area Guardiola is never given enough credit for working on, has been reflected in City's recent performances.

Where in August, September and October they conceded four goals a month in five or more games, they have let in two in their two matches already in November.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are going through their own defensive woes. Joel Matip has been on the sidelines as he nurses a chronic knee problem.

At the same time, there has been an issue in net with Alisson missing the first part of the season — although he is now fully fit.

Liverpool have tried Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez alongside Virgil van Dijk to replace Matip but neither has been a complete success.

That puts Liverpool in a position where they have not kept a clean sheet in their last eight games.

They also conceded 12 goals in October — which admittedly included the freak 5-5 against Arsenal — a massive leap from their six in six matches in August and four in five games in September.

It's a surprise given how defensively sound they were at stages last campaign. And they are now questionable from set pieces again.

If you were a City forward, you'd feel fairly optimistic that chances will come at Anfield.

Claudio Bravo and the chaos he brings

It is hard to give Ederson the credit he really deserves when there are so many spectacular players around him, but the Brazilian is really a key part of the City machine.

More than anything, it is the calm he brings at the back when others could wilt in the face of Guardiola's demands.

A player who has consistently struggled with that since he arrived at the Etihad Stadium is Claudio Bravo.

Jettisoned from the first-team after a single season, Bravo never looked particularly comfortable in the City system or, in reality, saving shots.

During his brief cameo on Wednesday night he looked overwhelmed and got himself sent off for dashing out and taking out Josip Ilicic.

Not that he fares better when he stays on the pitch. Of the last 40 shots on target that Bravo has faced in the Premier League, he has let in 21, saving just 19.

It is not as though they were all world-beating efforts either. The expected goals figure was just 12.6, showing how below-par Bravo's performances have been.

He ranks lowest in the Premier League for save percentage since the start of the 2016-17 season too.

The presence of City's calamity keeper could be a big difference maker on the day.

Guardiola insists he is confident about Bravo, commenting: 'I’ve seen him in training and I know how fired up and how good he is – we're not going to lose because of Claudio.'

But in reality, Ederson's absence can only be seen as a huge plus for Liverpool.

First, a caveat. Roberto Firmino's goalscoring rate against City in recent seasons is about where it should be, with four in eight matches.

But when it comes to Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, neither has lived up to the heights that would be expected of two of the Premier League's most devastating forwards.

Mane has played six against City, scoring once, while Salah has the same total in his four matches against them.

Neither has created many chances either - Mane with three, Salah with four.

The long and the short of it is either Guardiola has done a very good job of containing them, or they have put together a handful of iffy displays in front of goal and that is due to change.

Guardiola, at the least, seems to think a lot about them. During Amazon's documentary about City, he was filmed at Everton saying: 'The forwards for Liverpool are good.

'They scare me, they're dangerous, I mean it.'

Eventually, it feels as though they have to revert to the mean.

As mentioned above, Guardiola has a habit of using a central defender up against Salah in an attempt to negate him but is unlikely to be able to this time given the options available to him.

That means the Egyptian could hope to have a bit more success this time out.

Do not be surprised if Mane and Salah finally put together the performance that would be expected from them in front of goal against Guardiola's side.