City come to Anfield for clash of giants

Liverpool’s Sadio Mané was accused of diving by Pep Guardiola Picture: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Liverpool’s Sadio Mané was accused of diving by Pep Guardiola Picture: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

Barring any seismic shifts, Liverpool and Manchester City will – as they did last season – be the last ones standing when the battle for the Premier League title enters its final stage next year.

The Citizens won the league by just one point over a Liverpool side that lost just one game the whole season. However, that defeat cost them dearly as it was at the Etihad in January following a draw between the two clubs at Anfield in October.

That five-point swing gave Pep Guardiola’s team the league title, so it is not surprising that Liverpool are extremely wary ahead of today’s clash of the giants.

The Reds take a six-point lead into the game, but will draw little comfort from the knowledge that, even in the worst-case scenario, they will still be three points ahead.

Liverpool learnt the hard way last season that no lead is big enough if you have another giant of English football breathing down your neck. Going into the game at the Etihad last season, the visitors had a seven-point lead, which was cut down to four at the end of the 90 minutes. The rest is, as they say, history.

Turning to today’s match, Guardiola is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to whether regular goalkeeper Ederson is fit.

The Spaniard was forced to put defender Kyle Walker into goals for the final minutes of City’s midweek Champions League draw at Atalanta in Italy after Ederson was substituted with an injury at half-time and Claudio Bravo was sent off with only four minutes to go.

However, Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp was dismissive of speculation that the Brazilian would not play today.

“If he wouldn’t play, then it [the match] would change because Ederson is an important part of their game, 100%. Bravo can do similar things, but exactly the same? Nobody can do. That’s how it is,” the German said.

“But I expect him 100% to play. He’s an ‘all the time’ player. He did last year something similar, where he was out for a game and then I think he was back on the pitch a couple of days later. I watched the game [against Atalanta] and I didn’t see any problem for Ederson. Going in the dressing room, I know how it is, the medical team ask ‘any issues?’ and your goalkeeper can say ‘it’s a bit tight’ and you say ‘okay, no risk, come off’.”

But Guardiola will be without injured players Leroy Sané and Aymeric Laporte, who have been out of action for a while. Oleksandr Zinchenko is expected to return next month. Rodri and David Silva will also most likely be unavailable.

City star Kevin De Bruyne has downplayed the importance of the game, saying it is too early to be a title decider, even if they do not win today.

“Obviously, it’s a big gap, but, four weeks ago, people were saying it was Liverpool’s to lose. I’m not keeping track of what people say, we play so many games. We want to be ahead, but we’ve lost points. People will talk about it whether we win, lose or draw – it’s for them to say what they want,” De Bruyne said.

The last City victory at Anfield was in 2003, but the Belgian international said that played no part in anything.

“I don’t care. A lot of circumstances will decide the game. What can a player do with statistics like this? The big games are the ones you want to play, and if you want to compete for titles, you have to be the best.”

He added that he was not perturbed by the atmosphere they would face at Anfield.

“I prefer to play in that [a big atmosphere] than when there is nobody. Professionals want to play in front of 50 000, 60 000, 70 000, even 80 000 people, and it makes it worthwhile. It’s a game like any other. We know it’s a big game – Liverpool are ahead, and we have to recover and be ready.”

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