The abiding impression one got from the first press conference when Jurgen Klopp was unveiled as the Liverpool manager, replacing Brendan Rodgers, was one of a man who felt honoured at getting the job. Always a good start. Especially at a big club.
This is a man who had twice won the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and reached a Champions League final and had been in great demand before he seemed to lose his way or lost his desire there. Now he stands on the cusp of history at a club with a deep sense of history. The German could join the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish as Championship winning manager.
He could also join Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool managers who challenged for the title but failed, finishing second. We will return to Rodgers much later.
When Alan Hansen picked up the Barclays League championship trophy at the end of the 1989/90 season making it the club’s overall 18th top flight title win there was not one person at Anfield that afternoon or anywhere in England who would have forecast that 28 seasons and counting later they won’t have won another.
The closest the club came was the exhilarating campaign of the 2013/14 season led by Rodgers. That Liverpool team attacked with such ferocity they threatened to – and sometimes did – blow teams into orbit.
It was this attacking ferocity that, in the end, became their undoing as Chelsea arrived at Anfield on the 27th of April 2014. There was no need to go gung-ho against a Chelsea side determined not to give anything away. A draw was not going to adversely affect the title charge provided the business was done elsewhere.
Chelsea contrived to win 2 nil at Anfield so that “elsewhere” of Crystal Palace a week later assumed epic importance. What happened at Selhurst Park that night will haunt all those involved in the red half of Merseyside for as long as they live.
Liverpool threw away a 3 goal lead with 11 minutes of normal time left, sending many on both sides of Manchester wild with jubilation. The point took Liverpool back to the top but Man City had a game in hand. “Never has going top of the Premier League table with one game to play been greeted by such outpouring of grief, despair and disappointment” wrote BBC’s Phil McNulty in his match report.
Last season Liverpool played like the 2013/14 band of brothers but this season they have added more control to their play and are far more solid at the back.
Former Man United defender Gary Neville was very clear from the start of the season that this provided Liverpool with their best chance of winning the league. I agreed with him from that time as I just did not see City retaining the title. I think the City will be slightly more focused on winning the Champions League and could just slip up at home.
There have been comparisons between the front 3 Rodgers had of Luis Suarez, a very young Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge and those this season Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
For sheer excitement I will go for the Rodgers’ trio. Luis Suarez was unplayable in truth. He scored and created goals by the bucketful. Sturridge is probably one of the most talented English players of his generation and he stayed fit enough to contribute his share while Sterling belied his young age to come alive in big games.
However, the 2018/19 team have a balance now that makes them immovable. Virgil Van Dijk’s presence at the back along with Alisson Becker in goal have added assurance that was unavailable to the team 5 seasons ago.
Liverpool have not tasted defeat all season as they make the visit to the Champions in Manchester. It is extremely important that the visitors realise that a defeat will not harm their title charge. There is always the danger that teams in good form and unbeaten get hung up on going unbeaten ignoring the bigger picture.
City have to win to keep alive hopes of retaining the Premier League title – a feat not achieved since Man United in 2009. That having to win is what will make City so vulnerable to Liverpool’s counter attack but manager Pep Guardiola is not one to change his playing principles.
Liverpool have in Fabinho and Gigi Wynaldum two players that can physically impose themselves on the City midfield in an area the Champions like to play their one-touch pass and move. Firmino’s ability to play in that gap between the centre-backs and the deepest midfielder will be crucial for the visitors. The Brazilian is clicking back in form at the right time
Liverpool possess the more potent front three and can score goals out of nothing. City need David Silva, Bernado Silva and Sergio Aguero playing at their best.
Liverpool are the form side and have greater depth to change play during the game. They have the bit between their teeth going into the match. It should be cracking match and one that will play up to the hype around the Premier League as the most exciting league in the world.
Last season, Andrew Robertson the Liverpool left back said “I have been told that each time the club won the title previously they have had a Scottish first team player. I am hoping to join that list”. He will in May.