Premier League 2019-20 preview/The contenders: Man City and Liverpool

City too slick for rest of challengers

Manchester City players (from far left) Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Oleksandr Zinchenko with the club's four trophies won last season - Community Shield, League Cup, FA Cup and English Premier League. They were at a promotional event in Shanghai o
Manchester City players (from far left) Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Oleksandr Zinchenko with the club's four trophies won last season - Community Shield, League Cup, FA Cup and English Premier League. They were at a promotional event in Shanghai on July 19 during Premier League Asia Trophy tournament. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Sepp van den Berg.
Sepp van den Berg.PHOTO: REUTERS

A new football chapter awaits as the 28th English Premier League season is upon us. The Sunday Times begins its countdown with the favourites.*Reds still behind rivals despite great strides as Pep aims to match Ferguson's achievement

LONDON • Jurgen Klopp did not spell it out in quite these terms but, over the past four seasons, Manchester City's Premier League finishes have been fourth, third, first and first.

This coincides with his tenure at Liverpool. Since he arrived in October 2015, the Reds have finished eighth, fourth, fourth and second.

It is why Klopp said of City ahead of their Community Shield clash today: "They are clear favourites. How could we be favourites?"

City's points tally over those four seasons reads: 66, 78, 100, 98. Liverpool's is: 60, 76, 75, 97.

As those figures show, it is only last season that his team seriously rivalled City, or anyone else, for the Premier League title.

Liverpool made an impressive 22-point jump, but it was 12 months after City, under Pep Guardiola, did the same.

Essentially, Klopp feels his Reds are a year behind their rivals, and he also is aware the Spaniard is football's ultimate perfectionist.

  • +22

  • Points gained by Liverpool last season over the previous term to push Manchester City all the way till the last matchday in the title race.

Guardiola's obsession with improvement knows no bounds - Barcelona won three straight Spanish LaLiga titles under him and it was the same story in Germany at Bayern Munich.

Matching Alex Ferguson's feat as the only manager to win a hat-trick of titles in the Premier League era - he did so at Manchester United from 1998 to 2001 and 2006 to 2009 - will burnish his already formidable reputation further as he considers the English top flight "the toughest league I have faced".

City already own several records, including the most number of points earned in a league season (100), most number of wins (32) and the most number of goals scored (106).

Last season, they pipped the Reds to the title by a single point after ending the campaign with a 14-game winning streak. They have also strengthened this term.

While Liverpool have not made a perceived major summer signing, City brought in Rodri, Fernandinho's heir apparent, for a club-record fee of £62.8 million (S$105 million).

The combative Spain midfielder will ease the burden on the Brazilian veteran and make their defence even meaner.

  • MAN CITY TRANSFERS

  • IN
    • Rodri from Atletico Madrid, £62.8 million (S$105 million)

    • Angelino from PSV Eindhoven, £5.3 million

    OUT
    • Fabian Delph to Everton, £8.5 million.

    • Vincent Kompany to Anderlecht, free.

    • Douglas Luiz to Aston Villa, £15 million

    Note: Transfers are selected and accurate as of press time.

    LIVERPOOL TRANSFERS

    IN • Harvey Elliot from Fulham, fee yet to be decided by tribunal

    • Sepp van den Berg from PEC Zwolle, £1.3 million

    OUT
    • Alberto Moreno released

    • Daniel Sturridge released

    • Danny Ings to Southampton, £20 million

They let in only 23 goals last season, just one more than the Reds, and despite losing Vincent Kompany on a free transfer, few at the Etihad are pining for their former captain.

In light of Fabian Delph's departure, City triggered Angelino's buy-back clause, meaning their best defender, Aymeric Laporte, will no longer have to fill in at left-back.

They may go into the new season with only three recognised centre-backs although, with the transfer window closing on Thursday, City could still make a late move.

But Fernandinho has been earmarked for a move into defence, something Guardiola already experimented with last term against Arsenal.

Rodri, however, will be a key cog, with Guardiola convinced he has already found an "incredible holding midfielder for the next decade".

As will Kevin de Bruyne, who last season missed five months owing to a string of injuries, but has played a full part in the club's pre-season training, and the City manager believes "we are stronger with him".

Phil Foden made his first league start last term and is expected to improve. Guardiola remains unrelenting in his pursuit of perfection, but such is his faith in his players that he is prepared to go easier on them this campaign.

Ahead of their trip to Wembley, he said: "We will be nicer this season. These players convinced me with what they did last season. If they can't do it, it will be because opponents are better.

"At the end of the season before last, I didn't know how we'd handle our success, but it was incredible what they've done. The target is to keep going."

But while history suggests City will get better, if any team can challenge their hegemony in the league, it will be Liverpool.

At Anfield, it is evolution after a revolution, although only losing once in reaching 97 points last season - the most by a second-placed side - also suggests there is "space for improvement", even without big-name signings as the spine of the team remains intact.

Guardiola has acknowledged the "incredible challenge every time I face his teams", and Klopp is sure his players are no longer dwelling on their Champions League final triumph over Tottenham as their focus turns to ending a 29-year wait for a league title.

The German said: "It's all nice but it (the plaudits after lifting their sixth European Cup) keeps you in that moment.

"I want to be completely focused on a new season. For the first time in my career, from next Monday, I will have the (whole) team back together again, that's true. Keeping the boys together, staying aggressive, greedy, let's get going again."

Echoing his boss' thoughts about a settled, maturing squad, Scotland captain Andy Robertson said: "The same got said about Spurs last season, that they wouldn't kick on without signings, but they went on and had a more successful season.

"For us, the most important thing was keeping all our players, and we've managed to do that, have all stayed together and that's a big thing. It's about sticking together and getting even more familiar with each other.

"We've had players that have been in their first season, (Naby) Keita and Fabinho.

"Their first season is over now and they've settled in. So I'm sure they will be looking to kick on and so will everyone else."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

SEE ALSOReds need Shield for pre-season blues

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 04, 2019, with the headline 'City too slick for rest of challengers'. Print Edition | Subscribe