Pep Guardiola’s three word confession that Liverpool must never forget – Paul Gorst

Read more at www.liverpoolecho.co.uk

It’s the fixture that brings Pep Guardiola out in cold sweats, the one Manchester City fear more than any other.

But maybe, as football continues to morph into this scarcely recognisable, post-pandemic version of the game, Liverpool cannot even take City’s Anfield dread for granted any more?

After building up a feeling of invincibility across a near four-year, 68-game stretch, it has taken just a handful of weeks for Jurgen Klopp and his players to see that aura dissolve.

Liverpool are now without a win at home since December 16 and have suffered back-to-back defeats at Anfield in the Premier League for the first time since 2012 after Wednesday night’s bleak loss to Brighton.

With their hosts unable to call on the rousing support inside the ground either, City will be licking their lips at the prospect of a first win against the champions away from home since 2003.

That win was more than five years before City became the modern incarnate they are today, bankrolled by the billions of Sheikh Mansour.

Money, it seems, cannot buy you three points at Anfield.

But, as Klopp has found to his detriment of late, a disciplined defensive setup and willingness to work hard certainly can.

Defeats to Burnley and Brighton, either side of a morale-boosting couple of wins in London against Tottenham and West Ham, have almost put paid to hopes of league title No.20.

With the Reds entertaining City on Sunday seven points behind their perennial title rivals, defeat would see Guardiola and his men disappear over the hill.

Victory will give the title picture a different filter at least, but it would still be City’s to lose given their game-in-hand and ominous form that sees them head to Merseyside in possession of a 13-game winning streak in all competitions.

Even armed with that lengthy run in his backpack, Guardiola would not typically be relishing his annual trip to L4, though.

“The motto ‘This is Anfield’ is no marketing spin,” he said in 2019. “There’s something about it that you will find in no other stadium in the world.

“You feel small and the rival players seem to be all over you. It’s a bugger of a ground.”

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Last season, a 3-1 defeat there was enough for some to start anointing the Reds as the next champions of England, while Guardiola’s conservative approach in the goalless draw of 2018 spoke volumes about his respect and concern for Klopp’s Liverpool.

Three goals in nine second-half minutes saw the Reds eviscerate their visitors in January 2018 before another statement performance awaited a few months later.

A chastening Champions League defeat probably still lingers in the memory of the Catalan, whose trepidation for Anfield was laid bare in City’s All or Nothing documentary a few seasons ago.

“They scare me,” Guardiola famously conceded at the time.

He added: “They’re dangerous, I mean it.”

But where once that fear was well placed, Guardiola will surely recognise he will never have a better chance to banish the demons on Sunday.

Liverpool head into the game at a low ebb, struggling for invention and bereft of confidence.

And that is before we even make mention of a crippling injury list that is surely the root cause of a malaise that has hung around for the last two months.

Even if Fabinho, Sadio Mane and Alisson Becker are able to take their place in the side, Klopp still heads into this one without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

City know full well how the absence of a top-class centre-back can harm title hopes given the amount of coverage Aymeric Laporte’s sidelining received last term.

Unsurprisingly, it is even harder without three.

And with Naby Keita and Diogo Jota also likely to be absent too, Klopp has puzzles at both ends of the pitch to figure out.

In an era that has become almost laughably tribal and one-eyed, it will be labelled as moaning if such noises were to come directly from the Liverpool camp.

It is why Klopp has been keen to carefully respond to questions about his lengthy injury list as accusations of excuse-making would be an easy stick to poke with.

But the fact remains that the Reds have headed into six different matches this season without at least eight players to choose from.

A half-dozen or more have been unavailable for more than two thirds of their games this term.

At a time when the outside search for answers is leaving no stone unturned, it is this that is the primary reason.

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In truth, as maddening as most recent results have been since the turn of the year, the fact that Liverpool head into the weekend still inside the top four is probably an achievement in itself.

It is the manner of the disagreeable results – and the identity of those securing them – that is most perplexing for those who would normally be watching from the stands.

Supporters have been glued to their TVs experiencing something akin to Groundhog Day as Liverpool have laboured against West Brom, Burnley and Brighton in recent weeks.

But if a failure to break down teams sitting behind the ball has become the key theme for Klopp to resolve, when the big fixtures arrive, his players normally show up too.

It is why Guardiola, as he prepares to enter an empty Anfield to face a confidence-sapped and injury-hit Liverpool, will know it is no foregone conclusion.

Victory may not be the tide-turning result many thought it could have been had Brighton been negotiated, but it will still offer a huge indication that Liverpool possess the stomach for this fight.

City might be leaving their fears back in Manchester on Sunday, but their hosts can still make sure they were right to at least have them.

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