(From L, Front) Liverpool’s Guinean midfielder Naby Keita, Liverpool’s English defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool’s Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, Liverpool’s English midfielder James Milner and Liverpool’s Scottish defender Andrew Robertson and (From L, Rear) Liverpool’s Senegalese forward Sadio Mane, Liverpool’s Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino, Liverpool’s English defender Joe Gomez, Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah and Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson pose for a team photo prior to the UEFA Champions League group C football match between Napoli and Liverpool on October 3, 2018 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. / AFP PHOTO / Alberto PIZZOLI
Liverpool welcome Manchester City to fortress Anfield on Sunday hoping to lay down a marker against the Premier League champions and regain momentum for a tilt at a first title in 29 years.
Both sides can only be separated by City’s superior goal difference at the top of the table having dropped just two points each in unbeaten starts to the league season after seven games.
However, Liverpool’s perfect run of seven straight wins to begin the campaign in all competitions has come unstuck in the past week.
Defeat by Chelsea with a much-changed side in the League Cup was followed by a well-earned point against the same opponents at Stamford Bridge thanks to Daniel Sturridge’s brilliant late equaliser.
Yet, more worrying for Jurgen Klopp was an uncharacteristically lacklustre display in losing 1-0 to Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“This was a reality check on how things must not go,” warned midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
Liverpool were outplayed for large spells in Italy and looked to be feeling the physical toll of a brutal run of fixtures that also included a trip to Tottenham and a thrilling 3-2 Champions League win over French champions Paris Saint-Germain in a four-week spell.
“You have seen it has been absolutely intense since the last international break with the games we’ve had — Chelsea twice — coming to Napoli, playing PSG and now we have the game on Sunday against Man City,” said Klopp. “We cannot change that, so we have to make sure we are ready.”
– Salah slump –
City’s visit, therefore, doesn’t come at the best time as Liverpool seek to show they are capable of knocking Pep Guardiola’s record breakers off their perch.
Liverpool had the edge on City when they went head-to-head last season, winning three of their four meetings.
City’s hopes of an unbeaten season went up in smoke in a 10-minute period at Anfield in January as Liverpool struck three times en route to winning 4-3.
And they also prolonged Guardiola’s quest to land City’s first-ever Champions League title with a 5-1 aggregate thrashing in the quarter-finals.
However, the task for Klopp is to marry that ability to rise to the big occasion with City’s consistency that racked up 100 Premier League points last season.
Liverpool certainly now have the squad for the long haul. So often outgunned by Abu-Dhabi backed City in the transfer market in recent years, it was the Reds who were the biggest spenders this summer.
Of the new recruits, though, only goalkeeper Alisson Becker has made a big impact as Klopp has prefered to stand by those who got Liverpool to the Champions League final last season.
That run owed much to the firepower of Mohamed Salah’s 44 goals. However, the Egyptian has so far struggled to match those heights in his second season at Anfield.
Salah was subbed off on his return to Stamford Bridge last weekend and largely anonymous in Naples as Liverpool failed to muster a single shot on target.
“I don’t remember when that happened last,” admitted Klopp, who remains convinced Salah’s slump will be temporary.
“It’s like riding a bike. It’s not like you wake up in the morning and you cannot finish any more.”
Liverpool need Salah back in the saddle come Sunday if they are to stop City puncturing their super start by striking first blood in the title race.