An­field his­tory an­other bar­rier as

Guardi­ola says Liver­pool strong­est team in world Man­ager has com­plete trust in goal­keeper Bravo

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - Jason Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Pep Guardi­ola has laid bare the scale of the task fac­ing Manchester City at An­field. Not only will the cham­pi­ons face a Liver­pool team who, he said, are the “strong­est in the world”, but will do so in an arena which is the “tough­est sta­dium in Europe to go to”.

Even if his in­tent was surely to mo­ti­vate his play­ers, to ap­peal to their com­pet­i­tive na­ture and pride, the City man­ager should know. An­field is the only place he has been to at least three times and not won.

Fa­mously he called it “a b----- of a ground” be­cause that has hap­pened against no other team – in Spain, Ger­many or Eng­land – in his sto­ried coach­ing ca­reer. And vic­tory is es­sen­tial for the cham­pi­ons; a de­feat is un­think­able. Even in Novem­ber. It re­ally is set to be a Su­per Sun­day be­tween, ar­guably, the two most ex­cit­ing club sides in world foot­ball, with Jur­gen Klopp even urg­ing the hot-dog sell­ers to up their game.

If Liver­pool were to win they would open up a nine-point lead over City that, with 26 Premier League games to go, would surely not ap­pear in­sur­mount­able and es­pe­cially for a team of City’s awe­some ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Ex­cept this is Klopp’s Liver­pool and a re­lent­less Liver­pool, as Guardi­ola ac­knowl­edged, who lost just once in the league last sea­son, al­beit to City at the Eti­had in Jan­uary when there were mil­lime­tres be­tween the teams, lit­er­ally, with a John Stones goal-line clear­ance ef­fec­tively set­tling the ti­tle.

“I know what is go­ing to hap­pen if we lose. Peo­ple will say it’s over but [there are] a lot of games to play and [my] ex­pe­ri­ence in sport is that you have to fight un­til the end,” Guardi­ola said.

“I don’t know if it will be over – it will be more dif­fi­cult if one sea­son they’ve lost one game and this sea­son they are un­beaten, so you have to imag­ine they are not go­ing to lose too many games. But the sea­son is long, a lot of games and sit­u­a­tions that can hap­pen.”

The sit­u­a­tion at An­field is so ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated, not least be­cause of the in­creas­ingly fierce ri­valry, and dis­like, be­tween the clubs, if not the man­agers.

How­ever, there was even a sur­pris­ing shift on that front in the past week, with Guardi­ola first ac­cus­ing

Liver­pool and, ap­par­ently more specif­i­cally Sa­dio Mane, of “div­ing” and Klopp re­spond­ing with a with­er­ing line. “I prom­ise not to men­tion tac­ti­cal fouls,” he said about a sub­ject that Guardi­ola re­sponds to with a “no com­ment”.

How­ever, it re­mains, as with both man­agers’ press con­fer­ences yes­ter­day, a per­sonal ri­valry with­out vit­riol de­spite its in­ten­sity.

That ac­cord does not ex­tend to the clubs or the fans and City were fu­ri­ous af­ter their bus was at­tacked be­fore last year’s Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal first leg on its way to An­field, while Liver­pool were stunned by footage of City play­ers singing a deroga­tory ver­sion of “Allez, allez, allez” on their plane back from Brighton to Manchester af­ter beat­ing Liver­pool to the ti­tle last May.

On the pitch they bench­mark them­selves against each other, which makes the at­mos­phere even more febrile.

But the most fas­ci­nat­ing fac­tor is that of City play­ing at An­field, where they have won only once in 38 years and not since May 2003, when Ni­co­las Anelka scored his sec­ond goal, in in­jury time, to se­cure a 2-1 win. City have lost 15 of the 22 fix­tures in the Premier League era.

Re­mark­ably, it means that City have never won there un­der Abu Dhabi own­er­ship de­spite what they have achieved in the past decade. Up un­til last sea­son’s goal­less draw, when Riyad Mahrez missed a late penalty, they had lost each game since 2013-14 – de­spite fin­ish­ing ev­ery cam­paign higher in the league.

Play­ers such as Ser­gio Aguero, David Silva and Vin­cent Kom­pany have not tasted suc­cess there. And nei­ther has Guardi­ola, who knows that Klopp can whip up An­field like no other Liver­pool man­ager in re­cent years.

“There’s some­thing about it you will find in no other sta­dium in the world,” Guardi­ola told the Cat­alo­nian news­pa­per Ara in July as Barcelona still reeled from their ex­tra­or­di­nary Cham­pi­ons League ca­pit­u­la­tion. “They score a goal and over the next five min­utes you feel that you’ll re­ceive an­other four. You feel small and the ri­val play­ers seem to be all over.”

Is An­field there­fore the hard­est place to go? Guardi­ola was asked di­rectly at his press con­fer­ence. “They’re an ex­cep­tional team, the sta­dium makes an in­flu­ence, of course, the his­tory speaks for it­self. Of course it’s some­thing spe­cial, but I think it’s more for the qual­ity of the team and what they do, the qual­ity for the play­ers and the man­ager that they have. I be­lieve more in that,” he said be­fore adding: “Right now it’s one of the tough­est ones, I would say right now it’s the tough­est sta­dium in Europe to go to.”

Guardi­ola con­tin­ued: “For me as a man­ager, I said last sea­son when we won the Premier League, that they are the best con­tender I’ve faced in my ca­reer.

“That’s why to win this league was one of the big­gest achieve­ments we’ve achieved as a club, as a per­son, and it re­mains the same. So

‘I would say right now that An­field is one of the tough­est sta­di­ums in Europe to go to’

In the 27 sea­sons of the Premier League, the lead­ers af­ter 11 games have won the ti­tle only 12 times. How­ever, no side with a points ad­van­tage of five or more at this stage have ever lost the ti­tle.

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