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Liverpool vs Manchester City

Haaland's hungry: This is Man City's big chance to kill Liverpool's title hopes stone dead

08:00 BST 16/10/2022
Jurgen Klopp Virgil van Dijk Erling Haaland Phil Foden
Jurgen Klopp's side are struggling to keep up in the Premier League and the champions could deliver a near-fatal wound with a win at Anfield.

Liverpool’s victory over Rangers in midweek was a reminder of just how devastating Jurgen Klopp’s side can be.

Seven superbly-taken goals, a Mohamed Salah hat-trick in less than seven minutes and a devastating second second-half performance, this was shades of the side that came so close to winning an unprecedented clean sweep of trophies last season.

Not that anyone at Manchester City needed a nudge at just how good Liverpool can be, particularly in a week when they face a trip to Anfield - a stadium where they have won just twice in 40 years.

“Always have been, always it is, and will be,” Pep Guardiola said when asked if Liverpool remained his main rivals.

For all Klopp’s recent suggestions that Liverpool are unable to compete with City, that certainly wasn’t what he was saying in the summer when he was preparing a fresh title challenge.

He spoke about having four of the best centre-backs in the world, the best full-backs and goalkeeper. Add in a club-record £85 million striker in Darwin Nunez, the genius that is Salah and the South American grit, talent and flair of Luis Diaz and Thiago and the early struggles are a shock. And they certainly weren't to be expected.

Guardiola has no doubts that things will be turned around sooner rather than later. City may sit second in the Premier League table, a point behind Arsenal, but no one will discount the threat from their perennial rivals, even if Klopp has claimed his side are not in the title race.

At one point last season, City were 19 points clear of Liverpool, having played two games more, but still the title race wasn’t decided until the last 10 minutes of the Premier League season as their advantage was eaten away.

Currently the difference is 13 points with a game in hand, so for all Klopp’s bad-tempered utterances, no one will be discounting their threat.

“I know the quality they have, the character,” Guardiola added about Liverpool’s title chances. “If I answered this question with five or 10 games left I’d say I think Liverpool cannot catch the top of the league, in this case Arsenal, but being in the position we are and with the World Cup still [to come], everything can happen.”

But Sunday’s clash represents a golden opportunity to deliver a serious blow to their hopes of overturning that healthy gap. Indeed, winning at Anfield would surely put City out of sight.

Last week’s trip to Arsenal was seen as a must-win. Liverpool failed and the mood after was gloomy, particularly with fresh injuries to key men Diaz, Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Champions League win over Rangers has changed the atmosphere Klopp said in Glasgow, but that doesn’t change the fact that they need a result on Sunday.

And it doesn’t change the fact that City have the opportunity to puncture that positivity quickly and deliver a critical wound.

As well as increasing the divide, a victory would deliver a psychological blow that Klopp’s side really can’t compete this season.

Liverpool have been a constant irritation, forging a brilliant and breath-taking team that may well have dominated in other eras to collect just a single Premier League title under the German’s reign.

Anfield has, meanwhile, never been a happy hunting ground. Guardiola has taken City there seven times and won just once - that was in February 2021 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when fans were not allowed in the stadium.

“I always had the feeling in Anfield that we behaved really well,” the City boss said. “Maybe in the last two games we were a little bit soft, in different circumstances, but you have to behave at the top, top level with, and especially without, the ball and being active on the second balls and many, many things. But in Anfield, win or lose, we always behaved with huge personality.”

In his pre-match news conference, Guardiola added that Liverpool had never lost at home in five years with a home crowd behind them.

It was almost a public challenge to his players that if they want to be considered the best, then they have to go to places like Anfield and make history.

The Champions League collapse in last season’s semi-final at Real Madrid is still raw and will maintain that there’s a fragility to a fabulous side that is still missing the big European trophy.

But Europe is for another day, the next clash is all about knocking back a team that is struggling to keep up.

“Jurgen might not see it now but always I see them as a contender,” Guardiola said. “Why should I say 'no' now when we are in October? In October nobody is champions or out of the road.”

City missed the chance to kill off Liverpool at the end of last season when they were held to a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium in April. They have the chance to inflict another serious wound and won't want to miss again.