Pep Guardiola has warned Liverpool that Manchester City are coming to get them – and is convinced the champions can end their Anfield hoodoo by toppling a team he rates as “the strongest in the world”.
City have won just once in the past 38 years at Anfield and take on a Liverpool side who have gone 45 home matches without defeat, the second longest unbeaten run in Premier League history.
But Guardiola, while recognising Liverpool’s strengths and formidable record at Anfield, has heaped scorn on any suggestion City might be underdogs. He says he has never gone into a game thinking he could not win – and has no intention of starting now.
City will halve Liverpool’s six-point lead over them if they win at Anfield for the first time since 2003 but must do so without first-choice goalkeeper Ederson, who has a thigh injury, Aymeric Laporte, their best defender, and winger Leroy Sane.
“What does it mean to be an outsider? People say, ‘You’re an outsider or not, an underdog or not’. I’ve never gone into a game feeling like an outsider and feeling like I’m not going to win,” Guardiola said. “But, of course, they’re six points ahead and playing fantastic all season and we have many [injury] problems in some departments. But I’m not going to take the bus to Anfield thinking I’m going to lose the game. That has never happened in my career. Always I had the feeling that if we do the special things we plan to do, we will have our chance to win.”
Nonetheless, Guardiola – who has won two and lost four of his eight competitive meetings as City manager with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool – admitted his side would need to deliver a near-perfect performance to close the gap at the top. “Yeah, we know it,” he said. “To win these kind of games you have to be at the top level – definitely. We can’t be half-half.
“The way they [Liverpool] play, they demand incredible attention in all the details for 95 minutes.
“I’m pretty sure that if there’s a chance to win at Anfield it’s when you believe you’re going to win the game. If you just think, ‘Let’s see what happens’ against that team, there, I think it’s not possible [to win].
“The only chance we have is if we play like we are and try to create chances to score goals.”
Guardiola asked his full-backs, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, to defend deeper and occupy Liverpool’s wide forwards, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, at Anfield last season, when Riyad Mahrez missed an 85th-minute penalty in a 0-0 draw.
It was a rare case of Guardiola adapting his style to account for an opponent’s strengths. So will it be the same again today?
There have been only three times in Guardiola’s 11-year managerial career with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City when his team have not had more possession than their opponents and, on each occasion, Klopp was the rival manager. In 2015, when Bayern ground out a 1-0 win over Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, January’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium and this season’s Community Shield, which City won on penalties.
“It’s not [about] adapting, it’s because they are good,” Guardiola said. “Normally, yeah, it’s happened in my career at the clubs I’ve been at that we controlled possession. We have the belief that when you have the ball you can create more and concede less. But when that’s not happened, it’s because Dortmund was a good team and Liverpool was a good team and the way they play they have the quality to do that.”
So it says more about the quality of Klopp’s teams? “Absolutely,” Guardiola added. “Opponents always have their strong points and they do it well. Probably right now they [Liverpool] are the strongest team in the world”
The loss of Ederson is a particular blow to City, with Claudio Bravo set to deputise in goal four days after being sent off for a reckless lunge during City’s 1-1 Champions League draw against Atalanta in Milan. Sane’s absence robs City of pace and directness on the flanks and Laporte – another long-term injury victim – has proven himself the Premier League’s second-best defender after Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. There are also doubts over midfielders David Silva and Rodri.
But Guardiola is adamant that if his players implement his tactical game plan – and remain strong mentally – they can hurt Liverpool, who have yet to keep a clean sheet at Anfield this season, conceding 16 goals in nine games.
“I will try to tell them to focus on what we have to do to win the game in our mental approach and tactical decisions,” Guardiola said. “Thirty-eight years for one win, it shows how difficult it is at Anfield but always you have a challenge.”