Fifty four weeks ago we welcomed Pep Guardiola to Anfield for his first visit as Manchester City boss. It was an unhappy one for the new City manager, who was in charge of a side clearly in a state of flux, and they were sent home with a 1-0 defeat ringing in their ears thanks to Gini Wijnladum’s bullet header just before half time. The proved to be Liverpool’s last win a month while City, well, just look at them now. Pep comes back to Anfield this Sunday with a revitalised and seemingly unstoppable Manchester City team. They are unbeaten domestically this season and are champions in waiting in the eyes of most. This isn’t going to be easy.
There some omens that go in Liverpool’s favour ahead of this game though. City haven’t won at Anfield since Nicolas Anelka scored a last minute winner against his former side all the way back in May 2003. Jurgen Klopp will no doubt be heartened by his team’s good home record against the Citizens and seemed to believe that his side does have a chance on Sunday during Friday’s press conference. “In a football way, I think we should try to clarify something.” He went on, “They play a fantastic season, our season is not too bad, but in a game like this you need to show that you can cause them problems, more problems than other teams can, make their life difficult and try to win. It’s Anfield, that’s another thing that we should show. I’m really looking forward to the game, to be honest.
Despite that exemplary home record though, our 5-0 defeat at the hands of tomorrows opponents back in September still sticks in the throat. Evidently, that is no different for Klopp. “In sports, that’s why you play twice against each other – sometimes you get an opportunity to put things right. [The 5-0 defeat] was not a nice day in the season, to be honest, so to try and draw another picture, I think that would make sense and will be one part of our motivation, but if that’s the only one then we don’t have a chance anyway.” With City avoiding defeat in their last 22 league fixtures – only two of which ending in a draw – the task to put things right will surely be a difficult one.
During his press conference Klopp was able to confirm that Mohamed Salah is fit for the game on Sunday after missing the F.A Cup third round win over Everton, a welcome boost for all Liverpool fans. There was more positive news from the manager, who also said that Alberto Moreno, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge have all returned to training although this game has come too soon for them.
Around the same time, 30 miles down the M62, sat the opposition manager his training base. Pep Guardiola held court with nations press and was obviously confident ahead of Sundays game. “Of course if you want to achieve something that’s good and win titles you have to win these kind of games. This season we were able to do that but we still have to go to Anfield, to Tottenham – there are still lots of games to play. But Liverpool is such an important game, to realise again if we are able to do big things in this season, in important stages, in the Champions League. To see ourselves, when we arrive in Basel, knockout games – how is our behaviour? We did it in Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, and we’ll see on Sunday how we do.” Guardiola also stated his awareness of the danger Liverpool pose. “I met Jurgen when I was at Bayern Munich and he was always a guy who tried to play forward, and with no fear. They are playing at Anfield – I’m not expecting a team that will wait for what is happening – I’m pretty sure he will try and make his own game and I think it will be a good game.”
Guardiola has two major injuries to contend with going into this game. Vincent Kompany is regaining fitness but will not make it in time for Sunday. Gabriel Jesus is also ahead of schedule in his return from a medial knee ligament injury but is unlikely to be fit until City travel to Basel in the knockout stages of the Champions League next month. Other than that there are no new injuries for Guardiola to negotiate and his side is virtually at full strength.
To say that Manchester City are probably our biggest test at home this season is probably an understatement. The stat mentioned earlier – 20 league wins in 22, 2 draws – is frightening. Yet they have not been at their stunning best lately. The 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on New Years’ Eve saw them come worryingly close to losing their unbeaten streak and, for an hour or so last week, Burnley were much the better side in their F.A Cup tie. All good things must come to an end and you get the feeling that the end if near for City now. Having not won at Anfield in 15 years, a place which will be the setting for undoubtedly their toughest game of the season, one does ask the question – why not now and why not us?