Manchester: “I start to read and then I start to think ‘Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’ and I cannot focus,” were the exact words from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola last month, admitting Red’s charge to depose the Premier League champions has been in his head for some time.
But in their very first game of 2019, City already find themselves in must-win territory to haul Liverpool back into view by inflicting the leaders’ first defeat of the season and cutting a seven-point lead to four at the Etihad Thursday.
“With the position of Liverpool, if we drop points then it is over, it is finished; it would be almost impossible,” said Guardiola after Sunday’s 3-1 win at Southampton.
Guardiola’s obsession with Liverpool and Klopp in particular is not surprising. For a serial winner, no side and no manager has caused the Catalan as many problems as the German.
City have won just one of seven meetings since Guardiola joined Klopp in England after locking horns in charge of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
A shock run of three defeats in four Premier League games in December has left City playing catch up to a Liverpool side eyeing history by ending a 29-year wait to win the league. But even when seemingly no one else could stop City, Klopp’s men were a constant menace.
Now Liverpool have 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 games.