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Liverpool and Man City rivalry hits new levels of discord ahead of clash both sides must win

Even the managers are getting involved ahead of what may be a Premier League clash for the ages at Anfield.

MANCHESTER CITY ARE the best team in Premier League history and only Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have risen to meet their vaulting challenge. 

Once Guardiola invested in the full-backs he needed to realise his game-plan after a stodgy first season, his side sauntered to the league title with a record 100 points. they lost just twice all season: to Manchester United and Liverpool. 

manchester-city-v-liverpool-premier-league-etihad-stadium Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Source: Martin Rickett

The Liverpool defeat was City’s first of the season, and the United loss came sandwiched in a pair of Champions League knockout defeats to…Liverpool. 

Like Guardiola the year before, Klopp then signed the right players – Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker – and found the steel to reinforce their occasionally brittle brilliance. 

Hence we saw the two best sides on the planet go head-to-head at an unprecedented, abusrd pace last season: one won the league by a point and the other had to make do with the European Cup. 

That both Liverpool and City ended the season with the prize the other covets the most added another small flourish to one of English football’s greatest head-to-heads. 

Off the field, relations between fans have soured, and probably hit a nadir when a few Liverpool fans rained objects down on the City bus ahead of the Champions League quarter-final first leg. 

The ill-feeling took a while before bleeding onto the field, though, as City and Liverpool seemed to come together in mutual respect at each other’s quality. 

After the league defeat at Anfield in January 2018, a grateful Kevin De Bruyne – presumably bored with his side’s majesty – said “props to Liverpool for a great game” on Instagram. Klopp frequently hails City as the world’s best team, while Guardiola said last season’s Liverpool are one of his greatest-ever opponents. 

Oh, but it’s beginning to turn now.

City’s players were filmed brainlessly singing a song referring to Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat a year earlier, the words mentioning fans being “battered in the streets”, a reference to the supporters attacked at the final in Kiev. It also used an old, corrosive trope of Liverpool fans being “victims”, and it was grossly insensitive in the aftermath of the attack on Sean Cox ahead of the semi-final that preceded the final in Kiev. 

City chose not to pour an ounce of their extensive oil reserves on troubled waters, and instead published a lamentable response lacking a condemnation of the song. “The song in question, which has been a regular chant during the 2018-19 season, refers to the 2018 Uefa Champions League final in Kiev”, a City spokesperson said. “Any suggestion that the lyrics relate to Sean Cox or the Hillsborough tragedy is entirely without foundation.”

In another off-field skirmish it emerged in September that Liverpool had paid Man City a £1 million settlement after City made a complaint that their scouting system had been hacked into. It was a confidential settlement, and it was made without Liverpool or the accused individuals at the centre of the incident accepting liability or wrongdoing. 

So as all of this roils in the background, the managers have resisted getting involved…until this week. Guardiola snuck in a mention of diving in praise of Liverpool at the weekend, to which Jurgen Klopp insisted he wouldn’t be drawn into a response.

‘Nope, you’re not getting anything out of me. I’m not replying to it, no siree. And I’m definitely not going to mention tactical fouls. Oh, whoops, I’ve already said too much.’ 

It’s fair to say that Michael Oliver is under more pre-game pressure than any referee has been subject to since Alex Ferguson retired. 

The game itself should be utterly brilliant, at least going off precedent.

The league clash at the Etihad last season was one of the greatest Premier League games ever played, and probably the highest-quality match the competition has ever seen. City won it, but by a frightfully narrow margin: Liverpool fans won’t need reminding of the 1.1 cm that separated Sadio Mane’s shot from crossing the goal-line. 

manchester-city-v-liverpool-premier-league-etihad-stadium John Stones clears the ball off the line...just. Source: Martin Rickett

It was the only game Liverpool lost all season, and proved decisive in the title race. 

It was also a thrilling comparison to the side’s cautious 0-0 draw at Anfield earlier in the season, a game in which both managers seemed happy to settle for a draw ahead of kick-off. 

Sunday’s game should be more adventurous, as it’s reasonable to say that both managers feel they will need to win the game. 

City, obviously, need to begin to claw their way into the six-point gap at the top, while Liverpool may feel they need to take every possible opportunity to build their lead ahead of an enervating winter fixture list during which they are likely to drop points. 

Liverpool have traditionally dipped under Klopp in January, and this season must preface that month with an absurd fixture list that includes 12 – and likely 13 if they make the Club World Cup final – between the last weekend of November and the second day of the new year. 

They must also smell opportunity – last season’s run-in taught them they can’t rely on anyone else to take points from City, and when are they ever likely to meet a City side as vulnerable as Sunday’s? 

end-of-premier-league-season-package Vincent Kompany protests having tackled Mohamed Salah. Source: Martin Rickett

Guardiola will be without Aymeric Laporte (his best defender) Leroy Sane (the decisive goalscorer against Liverpool last season) the ever-reliable David Silva and, most troublingly of all, with Claudio Bravo in Ederson’s absence. 

Liverpool, by contrast, should be at full-strength bar the absent Joel Matip, although Mohamed Salah looks to be struggling to shake-off the ankle injury suffered in the dying moments of the win against Leicester City. 

City will be heartened by Liverpool’s faultering defensive record – no opposition team have failed to score at Anfield this season – and their decidedly mixed performances in recent weeks, which have not been exposed to public criticism amid their remarkable mentality in scoring late goals.

Liverpool look to have the edge on Sunday, but in these games, the edge is often barely perceptible: last season it was all of 1.1 centimetres. 

Either way, it is must-watch. 

Premier League fixtures (all kick-offs 3pm unless stated)

Friday

Norwich vs Watford (8pm) 

Saturday 

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace (12.30pm) 

Burnley vs West Ham 

Newcastle vs Bournemouth 

Southampton vs Everton 

Spurs vs Sheffield United 

Leicester vs Arsenal (5.30pm) 

Sunday

Wolves vs Aston Villa (2pm)

Manchester United vs Brighton (2pm) 

Liverpool vs Manchester City (4.30pm) 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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