Sterling poised to handle hostility
Guardiola backs forward for Anfield
Pep Guardiola believes Raheem Sterling is now mature enough to take a hostile Anfield return in his stride.
Two years ago the England international was jeered and substituted at half-time during his first game back at Liverpool following his £49 million (Dh247.16m) move to Manchester City.
Sterling received similar harsh treatment from Reds fans as he endured another difficult match at his old ground last season.
But this time things could be different with Sterling enjoying the best form of his career ahead of the Premier League leaders’ trip to Merseyside today.
The 23-year-old has been one of the key figures in City’s outstanding start and has 18 goals to his name, his previous best in a club season already smashed by seven.
City manager Guardiola said: “Normally when this kind of reaction happens it is because he was loved by the fans.
“I understand completely but it is not the first time he has gone back. I think it is the second or third time.
“I think he’s more mature. Of course he has to be calm and play the game he has to play.”
City have won 20 of their 22 Premier League matches this season and drawn the other two. They seem to be powering to the title but, of all teams, Liverpool are considered one of the most likely to threaten their unbeaten record.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have found form themselves and have not lost in 13 outings in the league, making them strong challengers for at least second place.
The encounter will also be a clash of two of the most exciting teams in the Premier League this season.
City may be able to afford a slip-up but Guardiola views the contest as a stern test of his side’s credentials.
He said: “It’s a real test to go to Anfield, one of the most prestigious stadiums and teams in the world. So we’ll try to put in a good performance. It’s a big game for us and we are going to prepare as best as possible.
“If you want to achieve something good or win titles you have to not just win, you have to win on these kind of stages.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is relishing the chance to put things right when City visit.
The 5-0 defeat at Etihad Stadium on September 9, when Sadio Mane was sent off just before half-time with the scoreline at 1-0, remains the German’s most frustrating match of the season.
Both teams were level on seven points when they met in the fourth round of Premier League matches and Klopp believes the result was something of a turning point in both clubs’ campaigns.
With the gap now at 18, the Reds are playing to prove a point but Klopp would like nothing better than to inflict a first league defeat of the season on City.
“We played there a few months ago and it was one of the stranger games in my life,” he said.
“Before the City game we were pretty much level and after that game we struggled a bit and City obviously didn’t.
“In a football way we should try to clarify something. Sometimes you get an opportunity to put things right.
“It was not a nice day so trying to draw another picture would be one part of our motivation.”
City have lost just once in all competitions this season – to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League – and have a 15-point advantage at the top of the table having scored 64 goals and conceded just 13.
However, Liverpool midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain insists Pep Guardiola’s side are not unbeatable.
“Of course they’re not. They’re still human. They haven’t lost many games but of course they are beatable,” he said.
“I think he’s more mature. Of course he has to be calm” – Guardiola on Sterling