PEP ON THE ROPES

Guardi­ola faces an­other test as Liver­pool come charg­ing at City

New Straits Times - - Sport - LON­DON

MANCH­ESTER City launch them­selves into a fore­bod­ing run of fix­tures at home to Liver­pool to­day with Pep Guardi­ola un­der pres­sure to prove he has not lost his magic touch.

Dumped out of the Cham­pi­ons League by Monaco on Wed­nes­day, City face a five-way scrap with Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, Liver­pool, Arse­nal and Manch­ester United over the three spots in next sea­son’s com­pe­ti­tion.

Liver­pool’s visit pre­cedes back-to-back trips to Arse­nal and lead­ers Chelsea and hav­ing already seen his side lose at An­field, Guardi­ola knows just how dan­ger­ous Jur­gen Klopp’s side can be.

“Klopp is a top coach,” the City man­ager told his pre-match press con­fer­ence, two days on from his side’s dis­jointed 3-1 loss to Monaco at Stade Louis II.

“It’s an at­tack­ing side: win the ball and at­tack. He likes to at­tack in four, five, six sec­onds all the time.

“He’s a top trainer. I re­spect (him) a lot. Huge, tal­ented play­ers, English play­ers and for­eign play­ers. I think it’s a re­ally good team.

“A good test against one of the best teams in the Premier League.”

City go into the week­end third in the Premier League ta­ble, one point above fourth­place Liver­pool with a game in hand.

It is a mea­sure of the ex­tent to which Guardi­ola’s stock has fallen in Eng­land that Liver­pool could be­come the first team to record a

home-an­d­away dou­ble over a side he has man­aged.

In ad­di­tion, City have already lost five times this sea­son and Guardi­ola has never suf­fered six league de­feats in the same cam­paign.

But while Liver­pool will draw en­cour­age­ment from their 1-0 win over City on New Year’s Eve, se­cured by an early Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum header, they re­main be­set by doubts them­selves.

The vic­tory against City left them six points below lead­ers Chelsea, but they have won just three of their nine matches since and con­tinue to fluc­tu­ate be­tween be­witch­ing and be­wil­der­ing.

A dis­mal 3-1 de­feat at Le­ices­ter City bridged im­pres­sive home wins over Tot­ten­ham and Arse­nal and they laboured to a 2-1 home vic­tory over Burn­ley in their most re­cent out­ing.

Klopp en­joyed a good record against Guardi­ola when they were in charge of Borus­sia

Dort­mund and Bay­ern

Mu­nich re­spec­tively, but he says re­ports of the Cata­lan’s demise have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.

“For me City are the most difficult team to play,” said the Liver­pool man­ager, who over­saw a 4-1 vic­tory at the Eti­had Sta­dium last sea­son.

“I know their im­age at this mo­ment in this coun­try is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. “I’ve heard about Pep Guardi­ola’s style and all that stuff, but it is real foot­ball and it is difficult to de­fend against them and a lot of teams have failed already.

“If you are pas­sive against City, you have no chance. You have to be ac­tive and to be ac­tive, you need to be brave.”

Whereas three of City’s five de­feats have come against other teams in the top six — Tot­ten­ham, Chelsea and Liver­pool — Klopp’s side have shown a par­tic­u­lar ap­ti­tude for top-of-thetable clashes.

They are un­beaten in the nine league games they have played to date against the other teams in the top six and have emerged vic­to­ri­ous on five oc­ca­sions.

City cap­tain Vin­cent Kompany will hope to fea­ture af­ter over­com­ing a knee in­jury, hav­ing been left out of the squad for the trip to Monaco.

Mid­fielder Ilkay Gun­do­gan (knee) and for­ward Gabriel Je­sus (foot) re­main long-term ab­sen­tees.

Klopp is cross­ing his fin­gers Brazil­ian for­ward Roberto Firmino will prove his fit­ness in time.

Firmino missed last week’s vic­tory against Burn­ley due to a groin com­plaint, but re­turned to train­ing on Fri­day.

Cap­tain Jor­dan Hen­der­son (foot) and striker Daniel Stur­ridge (hip) are def­i­nitely out and Divock Origi is a doubt due to ill­ness.

But De­jan Lovren (knee) is fit af­ter playing 75 min­utes for the club’s Un­der-23s on Monday and could take over from Rag­nar Kla­van in the heart of the Liver­pool de­fence. AFP

EPA PIC

Man City’s Alek­san­dar Ko­larov (left) vies with Monaco’s Valere Ger­main in their Cham­pi­ons League match on Wed­nes­day.

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