City and PSG are big­gest forces in foot­ball – Klopp

Liver­pool to test their ti­tle cre­den­tials against cham­pi­ons at An­field to­mor­row

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - ANDY HUNTER

Liver­pool v Manch­ester City An­field, to­mor­row, 4.30pm Sky Sports PL

Two gi­ant spec­tac­u­lars are tak­ing place in Liver­pool this week­end, one cour­tesy of the French street the­atre com­pany Royal de Luxe and the other thanks to the emer­gence of Jür­gen Klopp’s team as a for­mi­da­ble ob­struc­tion in the way of Manch­ester City’s vast am­bi­tion.

Only the for­mer’s route around the city has been pub­li­cised, how­ever, as Mersey­side Po­lice seek to avoid the un­savoury scenes that greeted the cham­pi­ons’ ar­rival at An­field in April. A re­peat of what both clubs de­liv­ered on the pitch last sea­son will be em­braced by those seek­ing a new Premier League ri­valry.

Liver­pool ver­sus Manch­ester City does not have the his­tory, the an­i­mos­ity – even ac­count­ing for a dam­aged City coach – or the de­ci­sive in­flu­ence on sil­ver­ware to be ranked among the true ri­val­ries of the Premier League era. Not yet, any­way. “Bol­locks,” was Klopp’s re­sponse when the sug­ges­tion was put to him on yes­ter­day.

But the po­ten­tial ex­ists for one to take root. An­field staged the finest Premier League game of last sea­son when Pep Guardi­ola’s side suf­fered their first de­feat in 23 league games in Jan­uary, though not with­out a fight. To­mor­row pro­vides the most eagerly an­tic­i­pated con­test of this cam­paign, with the teams boast­ing iden­ti­cal un­beaten records and the two man­agers con­fi­dent their squads have im­proved.

Ti­tle cre­den­tials

In terms of spec­ta­cle and qual­ity, if not ri­valry, it is un­doubt­edly the strong­est the Premier League cur­rently has to of­fer. Liver­pool can de­liver the big­gest state­ment of their ti­tle cre­den­tials so far with a sixth con­sec­u­tive home league win over City. Equally, there is no bet­ter place for Guardi­ola and his play­ers to prove his point about im­prov­ing on ex­cel­lence than An­field.

“I’m not sure if it is [the Premier League’s key ri­valry] but that is what we have to prove,” the Liver­pool man­ager said. “They are so strong. This team to­gether with the club, the money they have and this man­ager is ex­cep­tional. It is a good match, a good com­bi­na­tion.

“It makes them the big­gest force at the mo­ment to­gether with PSG in world foot­ball. We have to bat­tle and fight with them for dif­fer­ent things in the league and maybe in the Cham­pi­ons League at one point if it comes to that again. That is it.

“They are re­ally good, and we have to prove that we are as good as we can be and we showed that in a few mo­ments. But even if we had won at Napoli I wouldn’t sit here now and say: ‘yes, this is the game be­tween the two big ones, United is not there any more.’ That is ob­vi­ously bol­locks. We face a very strong team again, and it will be very dif­fi­cult again, that is all.”

Lead­ing pack

Klopp be­lieves it is folly to pro­mote the claims of two clubs in the Premier League when the lead­ing pack are grow­ing ever stronger. He also did not dis­guise the fact that de­spite his record of beat­ing a Guardi­ola team seven times, more than any other man­ager, and last sea­son’s vic­to­ries in the Premier League and Cham­pi­ons League, Liver­pool must im­prove their re­cent record of suc­cess to be con­sid­ered a gen­uine threat to the cham­pi­ons.

“We played Chelsea twice last week. I can­not un­der­stand how we can ig­nore them. They are much more proven win­ners than we are. I’m not sure if we are much younger than

I’m not sure if it is [the Premier League’s key ri­valry] but that is what we have to prove

the Chelsea squad, but we are a good age group and we should have had time al­ready to­gether to reach an­other level. But that is our tar­get.

“Two years ago we had a fan­tas­tic record against the top six but it was like: ‘yes, they are good against them, but not so good against all the oth­ers.’ We al­ways find some­thing if you don’t win all of these games. That’s where we want to be but I am not sure in this mo­ment if we are there. We will see.

“We can­not do more in a spe­cific week­end than beat­ing them. In this mo­ment there is no pres­sure. If this was match­day 30 then we would have to see who can deal with it. Last year it was City be­ing cham­pi­ons, be­fore that it was Chelsea who were cham­pi­ons, and we were cham­pi­ons some­thing like 40 years ago. We have to see. We don’t know.”

Liver­pool may be more re­liant on their de­fen­sive strength than at­tack­ing qual­ity to­mor­row , with Mo­hamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sa­dio Mané yet to re­dis­cover last sea­son’s out­stand­ing form. Salah’s dif­fi­cul­ties con­tin­ued in the mid­week Cham­pi­ons League de­feat at Napoli where, of Liver­pool’s start­ing XI, he re­ceived fewer passes than any player bar Naby Keïta, who was car­ried off in­jured af­ter 19 min­utes. Salah re­ceived 17 passes to Firmino’s 28 and Mané’s 23.

They re­main key to­mor­row, how­ever, and to Klopp’s prospects of savour­ing his lat­est en­counter with Guardi­ola.

Mo Salah’s dif­fi­cul­ties con­tin­ued in the mid­week de­feat at Napoli

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