Charging Liverpool challenges Man City to prove its greatness
“I start to read and then I start to think ‘Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp’ and I cannot focus,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola last month, admitting Liverpool’s charge to depose the Premier League champion has been in his head for some time.
But in its very first game of 2019, City already finds itself in must-win territory to haul Liverpool back into view by inflicting the leader’s first defeat of the season and cutting a seven-point lead to four at the Etihad on Jan. 3.
Last January, it was City that was on course to equal Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of 2003-04 until it went to Anfield in January and was blown away by a three-goal salvo in nine second-half minutes to lose 4-3 despite a late rally.
In the documentary “All Or Nothing,” which chronicled City’s title triumph, Guardiola is seen admitting to his coaching staff ahead of returning to Anfield for the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg: “They scare me. They’re dangerous, I mean it.”
Now Liverpool has extended that ability for short destructive bursts into a title challenge for the long haul.
The addition of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker and a first full season with the world’s most expensive defender Virgil van Dijk has seen Klopp’s men concede just eight times in 20 Premier League games.
And after a slow start, the prolific front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane that terrorized City last season are beginning to hit top form once more.
All three scored in the same Premier League game for the first time this season on Dec. 29 as Arsenal was blown away 5-1 at Anfield.
“That’s why it is a challenge for us next Thursday to try and win there to try and sustain this position as long as possible to arrive at the end of the season fighting for the title.”
However, the City boss has also been keen to reiterate just how good his own side is, despite its recent blip.
Until mid-December City was the heavy favorite to back up a record 100-point season that saw the team compared to the greatest sides English football has seen with another significant landmark of becoming the first side in a decade to retain the Premier League.