Sunday is not hosting a rivalry from the ages between Liverpool and Manchester City, but we are undoubtedly witnessing a high point in English football when these two teams clash at Anfield.
No doubting the identity of England’s top two
Manchester City have swept all aside domestically in the last two seasons, setting numerous records and accumulating 198 points from a possible 228 in winning successive Premier League titles under Pep Guardiola.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have risen dramatically under Jürgen Klopp to become City’s closest challengers in England while also setting the standard in the Champions League.
In their two appearances since returning to Europe’s premier club competition, the Reds have reached two consecutive finals, losing to Real Madrid in 2018 before defeating Tottenham Hotspur in June to claim a sixth Champions League crown.
Alongside their European exploits, Liverpool matched City throughout last season’s Premier League title race, finishing only one point behind City on ninety-seven points and setting records for a second-placed side.
Now Klopp’s men have ridden their momentum into this season with ten wins and a draw from their opening eleven league games, opening up a six-point lead on Manchester City in the process.
City have already suffered surprising defeats to Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers – a third league defeat at Anfield would result in a nine-point gap to the top.
Victory for Klopp over Guardiola would be a huge statement of intent in the title race and establish a lot of ground for City and co. to make up on Liverpool, although the title race would be far from over in November, regardless of the result on Sunday.
Are Liverpool and Manchester City vulnerable?
Despite their dominance as the Premier League’s top two, neither side has hit their consistent best so far this season.
Manchester City could only manage a point against Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium, despite bombarding Mauricio Pochettino’s men for the majority of the game, alongside their two defeats.
Yet City have not forgotten their ability to completely annihilate the opposition with their systematic brilliance, as Watford discovered in an 8-0 defeat to the defending champions.
Liverpool have only slipped up once in the Premier League after Adam Lallana rescued a point for the Reds against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but their performances have been marked by character, persistence, determination and endurance rather than defensive security and a free-flowing attacking football.
Liverpool impressed against Arsenal, Burnley, Newcastle United and Tottenham, but offered clear chances and goals to three of those teams.
They enjoyed patches against Norwich City, Southampton and Chelsea which were enough to secure the points, and fought for fortunate victories against Sheffield United, Leicester City and Aston Villa.
The consistency of performance will have to improve from Liverpool if they want to remain at the top of the table and a top performance will certainly be required to ensure victory on Sunday.
Sunday crucial but not a decider in the title race
Despite the stakes, Sunday is not a must-win game for either team or manager. Nine points behind are far from ideal, but also far from insurmountable in November – City have overcome similar deficits before to win league titles, such as in 2012 against Manchester United and even last season.
Likewise, at the start of the season, Liverpool would have happily taken a six-point lead over City going into the November international break, which they can manage with a draw.
Even in defeat, the Reds will remain three points clear at the top.
Sunday is more about making a statement for both clubs, to offer an indication of how this season’s script will be written come May.
Injuries will also play their part. Liverpool are missing in-form Joël Matip to partner Virgil van Dijk at the centre of defence, with Dejan Lovren likely to start alongside the Dutch figurehead.
Lovren is a good defender but vulnerable at the highest level, as Sergio Agüero showcased in City’s 2-1 win at the Etihad last season, while Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son Heung-min caused the Croatian numerous problems a fortnight ago at Anfield.
Yet City have deeper problems on the injury front. With their key defender, Aymeric Laporte, out until the New Year, an instability has developed within the City defence which has undoubtedly affected their results this season and their confidence throughout the team.
Rodri, Ederson and Oleksandr Zinchenko are also missing, while David Silva is a doubt for Sunday.
However, City’s squad is the most talented in world football and Guardiola will be able to call upon firepower from the likes of Agüero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.
City’s attacking threat remains but the defence will be a major concern for Guardiola travelling to Anfield, a stadium City have not won at since 2003.
Liverpool have momentum and belief flowing through them following their collection of dramatic victories and have the power of Anfield behind them on Sunday, so they are slight favourites.
Yet with a defence shakier than last season and deprived of Matip, and Liverpool’s attacking triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, this match promises to be closer to the exhilarating 4-3 encounter of January 2018 than the dull 0-0 draw from October of the same year.
Maybe not a rivalry for the ages, but a match for the ages instead – all roads lead to Anfield on Sunday.