Dubai: We may be seeing the first chinks in Liverpool’s armour as they bid for their maiden Premier League crown.
Last season’s Uefa Champions League finalists looked like the best team in England as the curtain came down on last term and manager Jurgen Klopp wasted no time in strengthening further over the summer to launch an assault on that elusive Premier League title and, perhaps, go one better in Europe’s elite club competition.
In have come goalkeeper Alisson, and midfielders Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho to give depth to the Reds’ strengths. They now have two quality players for almost every position on the field, something only City could boast last season.
Manchester City cruised to the title under the guidance of Pep Guardiola last season but the one team who exposed their frailties time and again were Liverpool.
Guardiola faces his friend and nemesis Klopp at Anfield on Sunday with many describing the German as Super Pep’s ‘Kryptonite’ — Klopp has an unmatched 57 per cent win ratio against the Spanish coach over their careers.
The last time City visited Anfield there were tremors felt before, during and after Guardiola’s humbling defeat in the Champions League quarter-final first leg, leaving the English champions-in-waiting battered, bruised and beaten — much like their team bus which was attacked by fans en route to the stadium on that evening in April.
Liverpool ended last season with three wins against City, so it’s easy to see why Guardiola will be on his guard this weekend.
“They are a top side in the way they play,” he said on Friday. “Liverpool beat a lot of sides not just City last season.
“Liverpool is one of two greatest teams in England. We try to be close to them. They are top side and we try to be closer every time.”
The home fans will be looking to make Anfield another cauldron of noise as the visiting league-toppers face their closest rivals in the league.
City lead Liverpool on goal difference but have not won at fortress Anfield for 15 years.
However, Klopp’s men have stumbled in the past fortnight or so — Wednesday’s loss to Napoli in the Champions League was their third match in succession without a victory, they also drew with fellow Premier League title chasers Chelsea and lost to the same opponents in the League Cup.
“I know how they fight,” Guardiola said. “Go to Anfield, win, lose, whatever. It’s a long time ago Man City was able to win at Anfield. What I want to see is the team alive, and we are alive.”
With much at stake so early in the season, Klopp may have to do without Keita and fellow midfielder Adam Lallana, who are carrying knocks, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a long-term absentee. So, rightfully, the manager is also approaching the match with some trepidation.
“We beat City three times last season and not once after any of those games did we go into the dressing room and think ‘now we know how to beat them’,” Klopp said on Friday. “I don’t think it makes too much sense at the moment to think about the title, but it’s a home game against Man City and it’s tough. Man City is always tough, even when we won 3-0 in the Champions League. In the 4-3 they were really good. Before that they had 60 games in a row. They never gave up even at 4-1 down.
“We have to be spot on, on our best to keep them away from our goal and create chances in front of our goal. They have my respect, for sure. It will be hard work, no problem with that, everybody knows it.”
Guardiola’s squad could be strengthened by the return of flair players Benjamin Mendy and Kevin de Bruyne, but in true Pep fashion, the boss is keeping his cards close to his chest, refusing to comment on their availability for what will be a massive test on Sunday.