It’s official. Liverpool have enjoyed their greatest ever start to a season in their 126-year history
Manchester City v Liverpool, Thursday 3 January, 7pm, Sky Sports Premier League/HD (CH 512/502)
A 3-1 win at Burnley on 5 December (their 12th win in 15 games, and one in which James Milner maintained his incredible streak of never losing a Premier League clash in which he’s scored – 51 and counting!) set yet another historic Reds record, in what is shaping up to be a truly memorable campaign where a top flight title is a realistic possibility.
But (and it’s one giant, Pep Guardiola-shaped “but”) Manchester City are still lurking with intent. The Citizens sit just seven points behind leaders Liverpool in the Premier League table and can seriously shake up the title race with a win over Jürgen Klopp’s men at the Etihad Stadium, live on Sky Sports.
No better time for the two to do battle then! As we look ahead to this potential January title-decider (seriously, who else will this pair lose to?), two of our sports writers debate whether Liverpool can halt the City juggernaut and end 29 years of hurt come May.
So, where’s this title heading?
Matt Beadle: The Etihad. City are unstoppable. And this is why…
They bounce back
Of the numerous records Guardiola has smashed (and continues to smash) as City boss, the team’s run of five consecutive wins following October’s international break marked a first among all Premier League clubs. Their last game before that break? A goalless draw at Anfield where the aftermath of Riyad Mahrez’s row Z penalty could have given Liverpool a psychological edge. It didn’t. A couple of dodgy December results aside, the defending champions remain mentally resilient.
They score and don’t concede
In the run-up to December’s gruelling fixture list, City had netted 19 goals in their previous five games. That works out to a quite ridiculous 3.8 goals per game. Moreover, if you take the 45 goals they registered in their opening 15 fixtures, Pep’s powerhouse is on course to eclipse the record 106 they bagged in last season’s record 100-point campaign. At the other end, no goalkeeper to have played more than ten games has had to make fewer saves than Ederson, and no team has conceded less on their travels this term. Beat that.
They’re still not at full strength
Quick neighbourhood comparison: When Manchester United lost marquee men during their period of Premier League dominance, they always struggled. Titles weren’t retained following the departure of Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, while Roy Keane’s season out with injury saw the trophy go to Arsenal. Kevin De Bruyne has been a peripheral figure this season, yet City’s indomitable midfield have plodded along just fine without him. That bottomless war chest need not be dipped into this window – De Bruyne’s return from a cruciate injury is like having a new signing all over again.
Simon Ward: Anfield. Liverpool are ready to take that final step…
They can now win ugly
Liverpool are still unbeaten after 20 games. But while many pundits predicted such a start, the way Jürgen Klopp’s men reached that total has surprised. Absent are the swashbuckling, cavalier performances of last term. But while the football hasn’t been as pretty, that points total certainly is. United and Arsenal built title-winning sides around forgettable 1-0 victories, and those Huddersfield and Brighton games certainly tick that box. Although a few scousers might just remember the Everton one…
They’ve stopped leaking goals
A keeper’s self-belief powers confidence throughout a team. And while the shaky Loris Karius looked like he was being held on a football pitch against his will, Alisson has the kind of mettle you can spot from space. Putting aside his trickery at Leicester, where he managed to conjure up a goal for the opposition out of thin air (a magician, indeed), he has been an incredible buy for Liverpool. Despite last year’s heroics up top from Salah and co, the reds just couldn’t shut up shop. But Alisson, alongside Virgil van Dijk, feels like the missing part.
They still haven’t reached top gear
It seems inexplicable that we’re talking about Liverpool’s defensive grit and ability to grind out results when – let’s not forget – the team has what is arguably the most exciting attack in Europe. But there’s good reason. Salah, Mane and Firmino haven’t yet hit the heights of last term. And while nobody expected Salah to better his debut season, where he smashed the club’s goal-scoring record, he won’t be happy with his tally so far. But the quality is undoubtedly there. And once it clicks, there’s not a team in world football that can deal with them. What a statement it would be if this is the game where everything comes good…
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