Man City v Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp says Pep Guardiola’s team are strongest in the world

Manchester City host Liverpool on Saturday in a game that could shape the course of the Premier League title race – but Jurgen Klopp says it is not a test of how close the Reds have got to the champions.

City have won five of the past six titles with Liverpool clinching the other – the only two champions since Chelsea’s 2017 triumph.

City’s ex-Bayern Munich boss Guardiola and Liverpool’s former Borussia Dortmund manager Klopp have faced each other more than they have encountered any other manager – 28 times. Klopp has won 11, with Guardiola successful in 10.

“He made me better,” said Guardiola of Klopp.

“Him and his teams, here and Dortmund, have always been big rivals. They are good games for both, positive approach and always attractive. He made me a better manager through his teams.”

In two of the past three seasons, the Reds have been well off the title pace – but they are looking a proper threat again.

A Liverpool win over the current leaders, in the first Premier League match following the international break, would take them back to the top for the first time since May 2022.

“It is not a test [on] how close can we get to City, it is just a super exciting football game,” said Klopp.

“But for us it is not about being excited, we have to prepare it properly and we know we have to be at our best to get a chance. Then it is about us to take it.”

City have won their past 23 home games and one more would equal the record for consecutive wins by an English top-flight club, set by Sunderland between December 1890 and April 1892.

“Well, I know that the longer a run is going, the more likely it is that it ends,” said Klopp.

Liverpool have won just one of their past 14 Premier League trips to City (D5 L8) – a 4-1 victory in Klopp’s first visit to Etihad Stadium in November 2015.

They went down 4-1 at City last season when Mohamed Salah’s early opener on 1 April proved to be a false dawn for the visitors.

“Saturday is a tough one, it’s the strongest team in the world for the last few years,” said Klopp. “Our record [at the Etihad] is not great you will tell me. They are extremely strong, nothing I can say makes them weaker, otherwise I would say it on repeat. Last year is just a memory.”

So just how big is this game?

A new Liverpool?

Liverpool midfielders

Liverpool were miles off City last term and failed to even qualify for this season’s Champions League, finishing outside the top four for the first time in a full season under Klopp.

But in the summer Klopp launched a nearly unprecedented overhaul of a Premier League team’s midfield.

Out went captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a combined £51m. In came Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch for about £145m.

Hungary captain Szoboszlai, signed from Leipzig, has been a big success so far.

He ranks in the top five in the Premier League for possession won (88), passes in the opposition half (434) and chances created (28).

Ex-Blackburn striker Chris Sutton said: “Liverpool have gone up a level in quality in the middle of the park with the players they have brought in. With the greatest respect to the Liverpool midfielders before, they were more runners.”

Former England winger Andros Townsend, who plays for Luton, said: “It’s completely different to two years ago, when they had the two number sixes in Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, who were the workhorses of the side.

“They didn’t get forward as much and were prepared to sit back and wait for the counter-attack. Cut out balls and feed the attackers.

“Now, when the ball is with the defence, you have three midfielders who all have the quality to get on the ball and can turn and play forward. You don’t have a minute’s rest and have to be switched on for 90 minutes.”

Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland midfielder Ray Houghton agrees.

“They’re more vibrant in that area of the field,” Houghton told BBC Radio Merseyside. “The changes that the manager made were the right ones, to bring in younger, fresher players.

“Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister have fitted in and Alexis will be even better when he pushes a bit further up the pitch.”

But ex-City player Michael Brown sees a weakness.

“In past seasons you’d be worrying because Liverpool are winning all their games, they look powerful and are giving people the runaround regularly,” Brown said.

“I don’t think they’re at that level this season. I’ve seen them and that midfield still concerns me slightly.

“There’s so much change around and I don’t think they’ve got that holding midfield player. I think City can easily capitalise on that because they can move them around.”

Are Man City at the same level as before?

Manchester City go into the game one point clear of Liverpool and Arsenal at the top, with Tottenham and Aston Villa also within three points of the leaders.

This is the first time City have topped the Premier League table after 12 games since 2018-19.

Their 28 points after 12 games is similar or better to the past three seasons, when they have also won the league (20 points in 2020-21, 26 in 2021-22 and 29 last season).

In 2020-21 they were ninth. The following season they were third and last season second.

But it remains some way off their electrifying best starts – 34 and 32 points after 12 games in 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively.

They had 25 points at this stage of the last season they did not finish top, Liverpool’s title-winning campaign of 2019-20.

“You look at City’s return from the past few seasons – it’s really good, it’s better than it has been,” Brown told BBC Radio Manchester’s We’re Not Really Here podcast.

“They love a chase. They can go after teams and everyone knows they’re coming – they’re on the run. But you’d rather be ahead any day of the week, where you can almost guarantee yourself another Premier League title.”

Will Haaland play?

Manchester City

Erling Haaland has scored 49 goals in 47 Premier League matches for City.

A goal on Saturday would mean breaking the record for fastest to 50 – with Andy Cole’s 65-game feat the swiftest on record in the Premier League era.

Liverpool are one of two teams – along with Brentford – that Haaland has faced and not yet scored against in the competition.

But he is a doubt going into this game after suffering a minor ankle injury for Norway against the Faroe Islands and missing the match with Scotland.

“He trained yesterday [Thursday] with some niggles but yes, today is the last training and hopefully he can be part of that,” said Guardiola on Friday.

Who will win this game and the title?

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League table: 1st Man City, 2nd Liverpool, 3rd Arsenal, 4th Tottenham, 5th Aston Villa & 6th Man Utd

Newcastle legend Alan Shearer said in his BBC Sport column before the international break that he sees it as a three-way title race between City, Liverpool and Arsenal, who are only behind Klopp’s Reds on goal difference.

After Guardiola’s team fought out a 4-4 draw with Chelsea, Shearer said: “City dropped points at Stamford Bridge, but they are still top of the table heading into the international break, which is probably where most people expected them to be.

“The same goes for Liverpool and the Gunners, who are both a point behind them. I’ve always thought it will be those three battling it out at the top for the whole season, and I still don’t see anyone different getting in there.

“To be beaten by two stoppage-time goals at Wolves was a cruel way for Tottenham to suffer their second defeat of the week, but I never expected them to challenge for the title anyway.”

Sutton, who was Shearer’s strike partner at Blackburn, said of Saturday’s big match: “It will be good for the Premier League if Liverpool win that game but City haven’t even got going yet and that is the biggest worry.”

Brown, who started his career at City, said: “You have to look and say Liverpool are real title contenders this season and very close to Manchester City. I believe they can get a result.

“I would still back City if they lost the game – no question. They’re going to be right in the mix and surely City will win the league again?”

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