Watching Liverpool play against Arsenal at Anfield two weeks ago was like reading a gripping novel by James Patterson. Brisk from the start, Jurgen Klopp’s team gave fans a feast of entertainment that in contrast cast a dark shadow on Arsene Wenger’s regime instead, prompting French international striker Olivier Giroud to remark afterwards; ‘I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed to be a part of it. We were shambles.’ In truth, watching Arsenal go down 4-0 dulled the senses of the neutral and left their fans bleeding internally. It evoked painful memories of Jose Mourinho’s labeling of Wenger as a ‘specialist in failure.’
After finishing fifth and outside the Champions League places for the first time under Wenger, it was the kick in the backside everyone expected to re-ignite his passion, ambition and focus. But two back-to-back defeats in the first three games of the season have left Arsenal in 16th position . Six points behind the leaders Manchester United. On the other hand, Liverpool’s second straight win in three games catapulted them to second position ahead of pre-season favourites Chelsea and Manchester City.
After returning to the Champions League for the first time in three years while eclipsing both Arsenal and United last season, Liverpool are brimming with confidence. They are clearly aiming higher, which is why Klopp has done what his predecessors Brendan Rogers and Rafa Benitez failed to do; namely, refuse to sell his best players. FC Barcelona splashed their hundreds of millions but failed to prize Phillipe Coutinho – Liverpool’s best player – away. The message cannot be lost on City, who host Liverpool in a game which is likely to raise the roof at the Etihad.
Like Arsenal, City are one of the two teams among the Premier League giants who Liverpool love to play against. In fact, the City-Liverpool fixture is beginning to bear the look of a derby ever since the 2013-14 season when the two finished first and second respectively after fighting neck-to-neck for the title. City beat Liverpool to the title by just two points in the end but since then, matches involving the two bear a knife edge. Fans are left drooling once the game picks tempo. Klopp’s team has won four and drawn once in the last five league encounters. It’s the longest winless streak for City against a top side in the league, a statistic that will bother Pep Guardiola. As worrisome to the Spaniard as Liverpool’s overall record against the teams in the top six last season – the best in the league – which was no defeat in 10 matches.
City and Liverpool were separated by two points and finished third and fourth respectively. Both have won two games in three so far and are level on points but Liverpool are ahead on goal difference. That’s how close the competition between the two has become. As usual City’s big names supercede their technical qualities as a team. Just the mention of Guardiola, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, David Silva, Bernard Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Raheem Stirling is enough to intimidate the opposition, which is why they were installed as title favourites before the first ball was kicked.
Thus far however, reputations have amounted to little, as they’ve scored just five goals in three games and conceded two. Surprisingly, usually wasteful Sterling is their leading scorer with two goals. He salvaged a point against Everton with just eight minutes remaining and saved them the early embarrassment of dropping points to Bournemouth with a winning goal deep in added time to win 2-1. The two results, coming after a labored win against new comers Brighton is not championship winning form and certainly not the best preparation before facing the league’s most brutal attackers.
In their rejection of Barcelona, Liverpool have reminded the Premiership of their pedigree as one of Europe’s elite clubs. It was also a mission statement for the season and silent speech for the future. They have created their own magic and danger in Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohammed Salah, Coutinho, Emre Can, Georgino Wijnaldum and Daniel Sturridge. Attacking from all fronts, domineering in midfield, electric on the counter and tantalizingly clinical. They do all this with eloquence and a flair that makes their football brand the most exciting in the league.
When they are in the mood they are unstoppable. Arsenal were dissipated. If Liverpool win at the Etihad , their doubters will stand and take note. City carry the home advantage, Liverpool the momentum and psychological advantage. With all the sub plots awaiting and both teams intent on positioning themselves for a credible title challenge, the game promises to be a cracker.