London: Jurgen Klopp says he is preparing to face “the best team in the world” when Liverpool and Manchester City lock horns in a fixture that could decide the destination of the Premier League title.
Sunday’s enticing encounter at the Etihad is the standout match of the season so far as the two dominant forces in English football battle for supremacy.
Just one point separates the pair, with Liverpool - 14 points behind City at one stage - having relentlessly hunted down their rivals.
Manchester City have barely stumbled in their pursuit of a fourth Premier League crown in five years but a few dropped points here and there have let Liverpool back into the title race.
Klopp’s men, chasing an unprecedented quadruple of trophies this season, are breathing down City’s necks after a remorseless 10-game winning run in the league.
Cannot afford to lose
The German knows his side can ill afford to lose at the Etihad - where they have not won in the league since 2015 - but does not feel victory in Manchester would be decisive.
“If you win against City, which is already difficult enough, I think nobody would think, ‘OK, that’s it decided’ because of the quality of the opponent,” he said.
“We play now against the best team in the world, that’s how it is, but we will give it a try anyway.”
The two sides also meet in the FA Cup semi-finals the following week in a season-defining period for both but for now all eyes are on the Etihad.
Since Chelsea won the title in 2017, no team has come close to competing with the North West pair at the top of the table, with Liverpool’s triumph in 2020 the only time Pep Guardiola’s side have missed out on top spot.
Klopp is used to taking on Guardiola’s teams with his Borussia Dortmund side twice losing out to the Spaniard’s Bayern Munich team before the pair locked horns in England.
“If I would be a different person I would be, probably, a little bit depressed about the fact that Pep Guardiola is constantly coaching these kind of teams,” Klopp said.
“Maybe in Dortmund we could’ve won more titles if Pep wouldn’t have been at Bayern. Now, it is pretty much the same, imagine if he would not be here, we probably could’ve won at least one more league title,” he said.
Guardiola has made no secret of his admiration for Liverpool, recently calling them the toughest opponent he has faced in his career as a manager and the feeling is mutual.
“I respect a lot what they do, it’s an insane football team. And, for me, the world’s best manager,” added Klopp, who said the task of studying Guardiola’s side ahead of the game is a rare pleasure.
“I couldn’t respect more what they are doing. I like watching them. I cannot say I love a lot of opponents, or competitors, but I really like watching City.
“So, always when we play them, the analysis is a mix of serious work and real joy... its fantastic football. It’s, like, the next level,” he said, stressing City’s ability to tighten and expand spaces on the field.
Liverpool have not won any of the last four meetings between the teams, including the 2-2 draw at Anfield in October, but momentum in the title race has shifted towards Klopp’s side.
City had a 13-point lead in mid-January although Liverpool had played two games fewer at that point.
Draws at Southampton and at home to Crystal Palace along with a home defeat to Tottenham allowed Liverpool to close the gap with a 10-match winning run.
Seven games remain for the teams after Sunday’s clash but with both so consistently dominant, the outcome of their face-off could be crucial.
City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne says the players are relishing the prospect of a classic.
“I think everybody is looking forward to it. I think the players will take it as a privilege to play these games,” he said.
As a player you want to win games and trophies and if you want to do that then you need to win these big games. But if you win, draw or lose, there is still a lot to play for.”