The Big Match

Not much room for error

Roberto Firmino celebrating with Adam Lallana after scoring Liverpool's second goal against Stoke, in their 4-1 win at Anfield on Tuesday. A draw today at the same venue is of little benefit to either the Reds or City, with leaders Chelsea surging ah
Roberto Firmino celebrating with Adam Lallana after scoring Liverpool's second goal against Stoke, in their 4-1 win at Anfield on Tuesday. A draw today at the same venue is of little benefit to either the Reds or City, with leaders Chelsea surging ahead.PHOTO: REUTERS

Dashing but erratic challengers, City visit Reds with Pep and Klopp rekindling rivalry

LONDON • It is the perfect year-ending treat: Liverpool versus Manchester City, two Premier League title challengers brimful of attacking, pass-and-move brio and full of goals duelling at high pace in one of England's noisiest and most storied venues.

"If I wasn't sitting on the bench, I would buy a ticket," boomed Jurgen Klopp with a smile on Thursday, as he pondered Anfield's blockbusting prelude to the New Year's Eve celebrations today.

In pursuit of Chelsea, who have been making serene, faultless progress, second-placed Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's City may feel this is a match they simply must win.

A draw would not be much use to either with the prospect of Chelsea, who should make it 13 wins in a row against Stoke earlier in the afternoon, ending the year eight points clear of Liverpool and nine ahead of City.

It is not a slight on Antonio Conte's leaders to suggest Liverpool and City are, on their day, the most dazzling teams in the division, but their problem remains that no one can be confident when that day will be.

  • 2.3

    Combined goals per game by the Premier League's top scoring teams, Liverpool (45 in 18 matches) and Manchester City (39 in 18).

Will the Anfield faithful see the Liverpool side which eviscerated Stoke 4-1 to chill the bones of a very cold-looking but suitably impressed Guardiola on Monday?

Or the Liverpool who looked as if they could not defend to save their lives as they twice surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 4-3 at humble Bournemouth earlier this month?

Likewise, will it be the crisp Guardiola machine that made his old Barcelona charges look lost at the Etihad in the Champions League?

Or the hapless, strangely dispirited bunch who were crushed at struggling champions Leicester recently?

"There are a lot of games to come but it is the most important game I can imagine against an outstanding, strong team," Klopp conceded. "The advantage is that it's at Anfield. We must try to use this."

For the moment, these sides remain two thrilling but inconsistent works in progress, the heaviest scorers in the league with 84 goals - Liverpool 45, City 39 - between them.

A win today would also mean a fourth league victory in succession for either of them, offering crucial momentum to propel them into the New Year.

It is also the renewal of a duel between two of the game's finest coaches who have brought their respectful rivalry from the German Bundesliga, where Klopp's Borussia Dortmund never could unseat Guardiola's magisterial Bayern Munich, despite the duo splitting their contests with four wins each.

Who is the pressure on most? Well, Klopp has been an unqualified success, a motivational, magnetic man of the people who perfectly reflects Anfield's passion.

Guardiola, in contrast, is a cauldron of intensity, offering a surprising air of uncertainty and self-questioning that emerged following his stellar 10-win start to his City reign.

He still does not seem wholly at ease with his frantic new world.

Klopp is a fan, though, saying: "He's a really influential manager with clear ideas. Fantastic career."

The good news for Guardiola is the return from suspension of Sergio Aguero, at a time when Liverpool are without their injured defender Joel Matip.

REUTERS

LIVERPOOL V MAN CITY
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 1.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'Not much room for error'. Print Edition | Subscribe