The Hard Tackle lists three players who can make a telling difference when Manchester City and Liverpool clash on Saturday.

The Premier League returns after the end of the first international break of 2023. And the 2022/23 season resumes with Gameweek 29, which kicks off with an intriguing clash between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime.

The two powerhouses have traded blows in the last few seasons as the Premier League title contenders. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have masterminded a rivalry for the ages, with both teams pushing each other to the limit. But things are different this season.

Manchester City are still in the thick of things atop the Premier League, albeit against a different opponent. That is because the 2022/23 season has been a trial by fire for Liverpool, whose stock has plummeted this term. And the Reds have conceded their spot to Arsenal, with the apprentice taking on his master.

Nonetheless, Liverpool showed in the reverse fixture that all giants should take Klopp’s men lightly at their own peril. The Reds were also on fire as they smashed Manchester United last month. So Manchester City cannot be complacent on Saturday. And as we get closer to the big game, The Hard Tackle lists three players who can turn the tie on its head.

Mohamed Salah

The list starts with a player who has been by far the highest scorer in the Premier League since joining Liverpool. And despite the Reds’ travails this term, he has continued to produce excellent numbers. The star in question is none other than Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian international has not been at his best this season but has still found a way to rack up 22 goals and 11 assists. That shows how high his levels are while also leaving significant room for improvement in the ongoing campaign.

Meanwhile, with Sadio Mane gone and Roberto Firmino set to leave in the summer, Salah’s future has been up for debate. And recent reports have linked him with Barcelona and Real Madrid. But Salah is a consummate professional who saves his best for the biggest games.

Manchester United learned that the hard way in the 7-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool. And Salah will be the key to unlocking the Manchester City defence time after time on Saturday afternoon, as he did in the reverse fixture. But if he does not rise to the occasion, Liverpool might be in for a long day at work. And Barcelona and Real Madrid might keep a close eye on the proceedings.

Kevin De Bruyne

We go from one player who has set a high benchmark over the years to another. But like Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne has struggled to scale the heights that his performances often produce. However, we reckon he might be on top of his game on Saturday.

The 31-year-old is approaching the end of his glittering career, and he made sure he let everyone know that during the World Cup. However, the Belgian international remains a creative genius who can produce magic on the field. And despite not being at his best, he has conjured up some memorable moments this season.

So in spite of De Bruyne’s substandard performance levels this season, Liverpool cannot take him lightly. Meanwhile, as he approaches the twilight of his illustrious career, the experienced playmaker will be eager to show that he is still the top dog in the Premier League. He recently laid down the marker during the international break, having a hand in each of Belgium’s goals against Germany.

The Belgian midfielder tends to save his best for the biggest occasions. And with Arsenal threatening to run away with the Premier League title, one can expect De Bruyne to keep Manchester City in the hunt.

Virgil van Dijk

Erling Haaland might not be at his fittest heading into this weekend. But that does not mean he will carry any less of a threat when he takes the field on Saturday. So Liverpool will need the defensive unit to be solid through the ninety minutes. And the onus will be on Virgil van Dijk to rediscover his best levels.

The Dutchman has been horrendous by his enormous levels this season. And his struggles have been one of the factors in Liverpool’s struggles across every competition. That is also why the Reds are going to end the 2022/23 season without a trophy.

But van Dijk can still produce a colossal performance at the back, as he showed against a resurgent Manchester United last month. However, inconsistency has been the 31-year-old’s bane this season. And if he can somehow rediscover that level against Manchester City, Haaland will endure a frustrating evening.

Liverpool and van Dijk managed to find a way to neutralise Haaland in the reverse fixture. And Jurgen Klopp needs those levels from his trusted lieutenant to earn the Reds a big win on Saturday. With that, his charges will also have a shot in the arm ahead of the upcoming run-in amid the chase for a top-four finish.

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