Liverpool vs. Manchester: Premier League rivals face off in title race too tight to call

Liverpool vs. Manchester: Premier League rivals face off in title race too tight to call

If you were planning on going out on Sunday, you might want to take a rain check.

There’s only one thing you need to think about on Sunday and that’s Liverpool vs. Manchester City — the game that pits the European champion against the English title holder, a contest that is no stranger to hyperbole.

That hyperbole, however, is probably deserved given the astonishing form of these two teams over the past year.

With Liverpool sitting top of the Premier League, six points clear of second-place City, we asked two of our CNN Sport writers for their views on the Anfield clash and where the title might end up at the end of the season.

City victory will end Liverpool’s title tilt, writes Matias Grez

We might be just over a quarter of a way through the season but defeat for Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday will more than likely spell the end of the Premier League title race.

Even the most ardent City fan will tell you a nine-point lead is probably insurmountable.

Though Liverpool did let a 10-point lead — seven once City had won its game in hand — slip last season, Jurgen Klopp’s team this term is an entirely different beast.

Where it would once stutter and stumble against inferior and defensive sides, Liverpool has found a useful knack of snatching victory — or at least a draw — from the jaws of defeat, as evidenced by its three most recent Premier League matches.

City, conversely, is perhaps not quite the feared, unstoppable juggernaut it was last season.

An unfortunate catalog of injuries has robbed Pep Guardiola of the chance to play a full-strength defensive line for much of the current campaign, fielding at least one midfielder in central defense for 10 of the last 12 matches.

There is also now a clear, effective blueprint for defeating Manchester City — as Norwich and Wolves have recently demonstrated — though executing it is another matter entirely.

Liverpool is unlikely to adopt such a defensive, counterattacking strategy at Anfield but City’s defensive frailties remain.

Guardiola is again likely to field one of Fernandinho or Rodri in central defense, while first-choice goalkeeper Ederson is a doubt after picking up an injury in Wednesday’s draw with Atalanta.

His replacement, Claudio Bravo, has seen his career in Manchester defined by several high-profile errors and won’t instill total confidence in the traveling fans inside Anfield.

But Guardiola’s side — and City sides before him — has done something this Liverpool team has never done, in fact, that no Liverpool team has ever done: win the Premier League. Indeed the last time Liverpool won England’s top-flight title was in 1990.

It is by no means a trivial statistic, as plenty of gifted Liverpool sides have led the title race in the past and wilted in the heat; the pressure of that elusive Premier League weighs heavy on the shoulders of everybody at the club.

We witnessed it again last season, as a run of four draws in six matches after the mentally draining Christmas and New Year period handed the lead back to City, one it never looked like relinquishing.

That run of costly dropped points could perhaps be put down to a narrow defeat to City a couple of weeks earlier, a defeat by the narrowest of margins.

An effort from Sadio Mane’s was hooked away by John Stones at the second attempt, before goal line technology confirmed the ball was a mere 11.7mm away from crossing the line — the equivalent to nine grains of sand.

City went on to win the match and cut Liverpool’s lead to four points, then, two games later, came the start of the collapse.

So often a jolly caricature when things are going well, Klopp’s mask quickly slips when results no longer go Liverpool’s way and that jittery, ill-tempered mood seeps into the squad.

If City do get the better of Liverpool on Sunday, don’t be surprised if another lead is quickly whittled away.

It’s Liverpool’s time, says James Masters

It has been 30 years since Liverpool last won the league title — but that wait could be about to come to an end should Klopp’s side learn from the experience of last season.

In any other era, the 97 points Liverpool accrued last season would have won the title — the problem in Manchester City, Liverpool faces an opponent that has redefined the word consistency.

City, which won last season’s title with 98 points, two shy of the total it posted in winning the Premier League 12 months earlier, is a winning machine.

Few can watch Guardiola’s side led by the wonderfully talented Raheem Sterling and midfield magician Kevin De Bruyne without being impressed with the brand of football on offer.

In Sergio Aguero, City boasts one of the all-time great goalscorers in Premier League history, while David Silva is always easy on the eye. While others grow older, he seems to get younger.

And yet, even though City won everything on offer in England last season, the Premier League, the League Cup and FA Cup, it was Liverpool’s Champions League triumph that seemed to overshadow what had been achieved by Guardiola’s side.

Whether we are witnessing the beginning of a new rivalry between two clubs who appear set to dominate English football for years to come is able to debate. The animosity between Liverpool and City pales into insignificance compared to that between Liverpool and Manchester United.

But City is only too aware of the threat posed by Liverpool — the team it currently trails by six points in the Premier League and a side it has failed to beat in any of its previous 18 visits to Anfield.

Do not overestimate the Anfield factor. City has been scarred before, though it should have won last season’s encounter where Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty in a goalless draw.

Liverpool’s home record is hugely impressive. It should also be pointed out that not since April 2017 when Crystal Palace triumphed at Anfield has Liverpool lost at home in the Premier League. Only City and Leicester escaped without defeat at Anfield last season.

And perhaps that’s why this game is so huge. Few wondered if Liverpool could keep up the intensity of last season, a season in which the emotional strain became evident as nerves began to fray.

For Liverpool, this is an opportunity to move nine points clear of City and though by no means a fatal blow, it would be a huge statement of intent.

There is also a case for claiming that Liverpool is only going to get better with the margin of victory in six of its 10 Premier League wins so far this season being by a single goal. In addition, it has only managed to keep two clean sheets in the league so far this season.

And yet, there is a feeling that Liverpool has developed that knack that all champions need — the ability to grind out a win without being at its very best, and the invaluable ability to find a goal at the very death of a contest.

Last weekend was a perfect example of Liverpool’s refusal to be denied. Trailing 1-0 at Aston Villa, Andy Robertson netted an 87th-minute equalizer before Mane netted the winner deep into stoppage time. It used to be called ‘Fergie time,’ now it’s ‘Kloppage time.’

Mane, who has scored 10 goals in 16 appearances in all competitions, has been Liverpool’s outstanding player so far this season.

He will be key on Sunday for a Liverpool side that is unbeaten in its past 28 league fixtures, having won 23 of those and drawn the other five.

A win against City will inject yet more belief into a side already brimming with confidence. This a team that plays with a zest and enthusiasm that is infectious, a brand of football that gets the neutral off the couch and mouthing “How?” as yet another last-minute winner hits the back of the net.

Fun, young, vibrant and backed by a coach in Klopp whose charisma is at the very heart of this Liverpool team, it’s surely time to end that 30-year wait.

If it can cope with the extra demands of the Club World Cup in Qatar and the Champions League, this could be Liverpool’s year. The only caveat to that is that similar was said 12 months ago.