Liverpool head into crunch clash with Manchester City seven points behind their rivals in the title race… but it might be Pep Guardiola looking over his shoulder come April with his side facing a MUCH tougher run of games
- Liverpool and Manchester City collide in a mouthwatering game on Sunday
- City’s relentless form has put them seven points clear of the Reds at the top
- Victory for Pep Guardiola’s side would make them favourites to regain the title
- But defeat would be an issue, given City’s tough run of games on the horizon
- Sportsmail analyses both teams’ set of fixtures and why City must win at Anfield
It is no secret that Liverpool’s Premier League title defence has not gone to plan.
The midweek defeat by Brighton has left the champions floundering seven points and a game in hand behind leaders Manchester City, who are the only team showing any sign of consistency.
The last team Jurgen Klopp would have wanted to welcome to Anfield would have been City, who have won their past 13 games across all competitions, but Pep Guardiola’s side are next to arrive at Anfield on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp (left) and Pep Guardiola meet on Sunday but Liverpool have the easier schedule
However, the Spaniard’s record at Liverpool is miserable. It stands at four defeats and one draw in five matches, over the course of which the new heavyweight rivalry of English football has stemmed.
But after a miserable winter, it is Liverpool who come into the game on the back foot and scrambling for some sort of form. Anfield will be empty, Klopp has none of his first-choice defenders available and his front three aren’t firing.
City, meanwhile, are red hot. Their newly-constructed defence is resilient, there are goals aplenty all over the pitch and Guardiola has successfully tweaked his tactics to cope with the gruelling schedule of lockdown football.
Many think that even if City lose at Anfield then there is still too much work for this Liverpool team to do to catch up with them.
But a quick look at what the future holds for both teams after this weekend and you will see it is City that would benefit most from a win, not the Liverpool team that has been left trailing in their wake.
That is because Guardiola’s side play seven of the Premier League’s current top 10 in their next 10 matches after the visit to Anfield.
Liverpool have struggled for any sort of form recently while Manchester City are flying
Liverpool have got the better of City at Anfield in recent years, winning four and drawing once
First up is Jose Mourinho and Tottenham at home. Spurs are in free fall but they are a wounded animal in desperate need of a big result to turn their season around. His counter-attacking style will also suit Spurs at City, knowing it will take a huge offensive effort to break them down.
Immediately after that is two away games at Everton and Arsenal. Both teams have European aspirations and after a few disappointing months are starting to climb up the table.
City then welcome in-form West Ham and Manchester United to the Etihad. The Hammers let themselves down against Liverpool last weekend but they are much more capable of beating the bigger teams, as proven by the midweek win at Villa.
The game with United, meanwhile, could be a title decider if Liverpool continue to drop points. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are three points behind City but did manage to win at the Etihad last season.
Again, like Spurs, United’s counter-attacking style suits them in the big games away from home and they probably should have taken all three points from Anfield last month. After those tough run of five games, City then have a winnable pair of fixtures against Fulham and Wolves.
Manchester City face Spurs after Liverpool and Son Heung-min saw them off in November
City also host Manchester United in early March and the Red Devils won there last season
But then they end the month with tricky trips to Leicester, also among the chasing pack after another fabulous start under Brendan Rodgers, and Aston Villa. Sandwiched between those games is a home match with Leeds.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have already caused the ‘Big Six’ sides plenty of problems this season and played out a thrilling 1-1 draw with City at Elland Road earlier on in the campaign.
Those 10 games will be defining for City’s chances of winning the title back from Liverpool but do pose a difficult enough challenge that they will be wary of leaving Anfield empty handed once again on Sunday.
On the other hand, victory over City could give Liverpool’s flailing campaign a much-needed shot in the arm. Who knew that playing at Anfield would be Liverpool’s issue but since the fortress fell against Burnley last month that is exactly what it has been.
After a famine of goals over Christmas, Liverpool looked back to their best in away wins over Tottenham and West Ham. But against Brighton they looked bereft of ideas, drained of all energy and short on confidence.
Liverpool travel to Leicester next weekend, the scene of their best performance last season
They also host Everton this month – the match in which Virgil van Dijk suffered his injury
Some Liverpool fans will hope City’s preference to come out of their own half and impose themselves on matches will be to their advantage as it has been in the past. They are in dire need of a home win and need to go on an almost perfect run of form to catch City now.
They have a chance to do that with five games after City that, while tough on paper, are all winnable and would do some damage to their other rivals in the race to secure Champions League football next season.
After City, Liverpool travel to Leicester. The King Power Stadium was the scene of arguably their best performance in their title-winning campaign on Boxing Day 2019 and Foxes talisman Jamie Vardy is only just returning from injury.
Then there is the small matter of the home Merseyside derby against Everton. Always a nervy occasion for both sets of fans, Liverpool have had the best of the fixture in recent memory, particularly at Anfield where the Toffees seem to have an annual meltdown.
Klopp’s men then have two winnable away games against Sheffield United and Wolves either side of a home fixture with Fulham. Then come two pivotal matches that will be key to how Liverpool’s season concludes.
Games against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea and Arsenal could be key to Liverpool’s title chances
Klopp will be hoping what is left of his injury-hit squad are still in one piece and his January signings of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies are fully integrated because they have back-to-back games with Chelsea and Arsenal.
The Blues already look much improved under Thomas Tuchel while Liverpool have not won at Arsenal since the opening day of the 2016-17 season. Those games could be key if Liverpool are able to claw some ground back on City.
Following those two matches, the Reds conclude their next 10 games with another trio of winnable matches at home to Aston Villa, away to Leeds and then at home to Newcastle.
City probably already sense that they have an opportunity to kill off Liverpool with a win on Sunday.
But more dropped points at Anfield and their tricky run of fixtures could unnerve Guardiola, especially if the Reds click back into gear and find their rhythm.
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