The Sunday Mail
LIVERPOOL have lived through many false dawns in the 29 years since last lifting a league title, but the class of 2019-20 have the chance to prove they are the real deal when reigning champions Manchester City visit Anfield this evening.
City’s relentless hunger to push the bar to new heights under Pep Guardiola has kept Liverpool waiting.
Despite posting the third highest points tally in English top-flight history last season with 97, Liverpool lost out by a solitary point as City backed up their 100-point campaign with 98 to retain the title.
Beset by defensive injuries, those standards have slipped slightly at the start of this season, allowing Jurgen Klopp’s men to open up a six-point lead ahead of today’s battle between the top two.
“Last season we won the Premier League against the best contender I had ever faced in my career,” said Guardiola on Friday.
“Right now Liverpool are the strongest team in the world. Playing at Anfield, we know what it means for them and for all their rivals.”
Revitalised following Klopp’s arrival four years ago, Liverpool have not lost a home game in the Premier League since April 2017.
Their solitary defeat in the last 50 league games on any ground came away to City in January in a titanic tussle that ultimately decided the title race.
The consistency of both sides has seen this fixture become English football’s biggest game in recent seasons.
In 2017-18, it was Liverpool who ended City’s quest for an unbeaten league season and thrashed Guardiola’s men 5-1 on aggregate in an ill-tempered Champions League quarter-final.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” said Klopp.
“Man City is a pretty good football team. Thank God there is a rivalry because that means we are not in bad place as well.”
While City have suffered shock defeats to Norwich and Wolves in the first 11 games of the season, Liverpool have had the air of champions in recent weeks, with their ability to fight to the end for their rewards.
Late goals against Leicester, Tottenham, Manchester United and Aston Villa have earned Klopp’s men an extra eight points in the past month alone.
Now they have the perfect opportunity to press home their advantage against a City side further weakened at the back by an injury to goalkeeper Ederson.
The erratic Claudio Bravo, who was sent-off for a characteristic charge from his goal against Atalanta in the Champions League in midweek, will start a Premier League game for the first time since May 2018.
A longer term injury to Aymeric Laporte has already destabilised City’s title defence with midfielder Fernandinho forced to deputise at centre-back, while left-back Benjamin Mendy is still to find his best form after two injury-plagued seasons.
“It’s a big game, two really good teams face each other. The best news is it’s at Anfield,” added Klopp.
Guardiola insisted all will not be lost in the case of his fourth defeat in five visits to Anfield as City boss, but knows how much of a mountain it would leave his side to climb.
“It never ends in November,” said the Catalan.
“It will be more difficult when you see a team like Liverpool, who lost once last season and are unbeaten this season.
“So you can imagine that they are not going to lose many games but the season is long, and a lot of situations can happen.” – AFP