The Big Match

Football: Abysmal Anfield record does not bode well for leaders Manchester City

Manchester City's Danilo in action with Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool in Manchester, Britain, on Sept 9, 2017.
Manchester City's Danilo in action with Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool in Manchester, Britain, on Sept 9, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Reds' home has been a graveyard for leaders, with abysmal winless run going back to 2003

Pep Guardiola has spent three months being asked if Manchester City can complete the Premier League season undefeated to become the division's new "Invincibles". His answer has always been emphatic.

He has used the word impossible.

And yet there seems to be ever fewer games when City could lose. If they are likely to be beaten anywhere, it may be at Anfield.

Perhaps history is irrelevant when clubs change as fast as City, but they have not won at Anfield since 2003 and have not even taken a point since 2012.

Moreover, it does not feel a coincidence that no manager has beaten Guardiola more often than Jurgen Klopp.

The Catalan has grown tired of negative tacticians configuring opposing teams purely to defend. The upbeat German has proof that attacking Guardiola's sides can reap a reward.

It is partly because of Liverpool's nature.

At their most blisteringly brilliant, they can trouble anyone. Yet City may have been relieved when Philippe Coutinho completed his £142 million (S$256 million) move to Barcelona: the Brazilian was a regular scourge of theirs.

And it is inescapable that Guardiola inflicted Klopp's joint-heaviest defeat in management when Liverpool lost 0-5 in September.

It was distorted by Sadio Mane's first-half dismissal and, while Liverpool's 10 men were unable to formulate an answer to City, part of the intrigue lies in the question of what will happen if both sides play progressive, pressing games at pace for 90 minutes. After all, Klopp's Liverpool used to overwhelm City with their speed.

So this has the potential to be a classic. Admittedly, Liverpool have the best home and City the finest away defensive records, but the impression is that both sides' strengths lie going forward.

The fact that Liverpool have conceded 13 goals against the top six indicated why they spent £75 million on Virgil van Dijk.

City have let in only 13 in the entire league season but they face a unique challenge. If both managers are likely to play 4-3-3, the major difference is that Liverpool's front three are so narrow and City's so wide.

Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph must stop Mane and Mohamed Salah from accelerating into the channels inside them.

Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson will have to be aware of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane hugging the touchlines, looking to open space for Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva infield.

Late goals are a common denominator. Sterling is a reason why City, who have a recent habit of conceding first, score so many.

A former Red, he can also expect a red-hot reception. The City fans are likely to chorus that Sterling is top of the league.

He will remain so, but it will be significant if they retain their unbeaten status after what promises to be their stiffest test.

LIVERPOOL V MAN CITY

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 11.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Anfield represents a daunting city task'. Print Edition | Subscribe