Wednesday 2 January 2019 4:25 pm

Manchester City are ready to halt the Liverpool juggernaut and get their Premier League title defence back on track


Sport and Business Reporter at City AM. Email: michael.searles@cityam.com

Sport and Business Reporter at City AM. Email: michael.searles@cityam.com

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It was at this stage last season that Liverpool ended Manchester City's unbeaten run in the Premier League with a 4-3 win at Anfield.

Until then City had looked unstoppable, but they came undone when visiting Anfield on 14 January and have been unable to beat Liverpool in three attempts since.

Thursday night's trip to the Etihad Stadium promises to pose the biggest test yet for Jurgen Klopp's men as they charge toward a first Premier League title but this time around it will be reigning champions City who endeavour to prevent the Reds from going unbeaten.

City stumble

Pep Guardiola's side stumbled upon tough times over the festive period and have now lost three of their last five league matches, but they got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win over Southampton on Sunday.

Their first game of 2019 will see them welcome a deadly Liverpool side who thrashed Arsenal 5-1 at the weekend and City's manager has suggested that anything but a win will mean the title race is over.

“The reality is clear. We are seven points down,” Guardiola said at the pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “It is a big opportunity for us to reduce the gap.

“Everybody has been asking what will happen if we lose. We are going to try to make our game, to be there and be fighting for the Premier League for as far as possible.”

City will need all hands on deck if they are to nullify Liverpool's attacking threat and the return of Fernandinho from a thigh injury for that victory over the Saints was a major boost.

Midfield maestro


It is no coincidence that City succumbed to their second and third defeats in the league this season during the only two games that the defensive midfielder has missed.

For all their squad depth it is the one position in which they are wholly dependent on the 33-year-old, with an array of other midfield talent unable to play that role to the same standard.

The Blues conceded five goals in those two matches, having only conceded 11 in the 18 league games that Fernandinho has been involved in.

David Silva was also a welcome return for Guardiola as City go into the clash with an almost fully fit side, while Kevin De Bruyne is set to undergo a late fitness test on the morning of the match.

Guardiola has always insisted that Manchester City's dominance last season would be hard to replicate and he was right – despite some brilliant performances, their results have been less convincing this campaign.

They have already lost more matches than they did in the entirety of last season and would now have to win their 18 remaining fixtures to reach that record 100 point mark again.

Make or break

Defeat on Thursday night would see them fall 10 points adrift of Liverpool and leave them in third place behind Tottenham, with Chelsea breathing down their necks.

Signs that Guardiola's side have not been at the same level as last season have been apparent across all competitions.

In Europe they lost at home to Lyon before drawing away and they could only secure narrow, unconvincing wins over Hoffenheim, who look unlikely to make it back into Europe at all next season.

A penalty-shootout win against Leicester saw them scrape through to the Carabao Cup semi-final where they face Burton Albion next week, having had a relatively easy route through the competition.

Despite that, Guardiola's side are still in all four competitions and with the return of some of their key players to full fitness, it would be hasty to rule them out of any of those trophies.

Elusive title

City held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the pair's first encounter this season, but a trip to Manchester, where the Reds lost 5-0 last season, is perhaps the biggest hurdle for Liverpool as they bid to end their wait of almost three decades for the English top-flight title.

If Jurgen Klopp's side can win they will be well on their way to that elusive trophy and potentially even going the league season unbeaten, with just three games against other Big Six sides left to contend with.

They face a trip to Manchester United in between their Champions League last 16 fixtures against Bayern Munich before welcoming Tottenham and Chelsea to Anfield, which has once again become a fortress.

Guardiola has no intention of handing over the Premier League crown that easily, though, and believes his side can beat Liverpool, despite hailing them as the “best team in Europe”.

“We can beat them. I know today nobody trusts us but it is what it is,” Guardiola said. “We are going to focus on what we have to do to win the game. Everyone is talking if we lose, but we can win.”

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