Pep Guardiola has lost a major advantage over Liverpool and Man City boss knows it – Ian Doyle

Pep Guardiola had absolutely no doubt that his Manchester City side was lucky enough to be spared.

“I could imagine what Anfield could be like after the 1-1 and the impact on their players,” said the Catalan.

“Hopefully next time we can do it with a similar performance with the spectators because Anfield, with people and without, is completely different.”

The incident Guardiola referred to took place just over an hour into Liverpool’s last home game against City in February when, after Mohamed Salah was brought back into the area by Ruben Dias, the Egyptian scored from the spot in front of the Kop.

However, instead of being met by a huge roar from a raucous crowd, there was an eerie silence beyond the brief cheers of that of a red conviction on the pitch and around the dugout.

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Few would disagree with the claim that City have benefited more than most from games played behind closed doors, especially when they take on a Liverpool side that feeds on the passion, noise and fury of their support .

The subsequent ease with which Guardiola’s side shrugged to return to a 4-1 win on their way to all-out Premier League title success was testament to that, albeit aided by unusual Alisson Becker mistakes.

Today, however, it is different. More than 52,000 will be gathered at Anfield, with Liverpool looking to make an important early statement in the title race by avenging their first home loss to City since 2003.

With that defeat in the midst of a string of six consecutive home league defeats last season, the Reds have still not lost a Premier League home game in front of paying supporters since April 2017.

The final of that sextet of setbacks, against Fulham on March 7, was the last time Jurgen Klopp’s side lost a top-flight game after racking up an unbeaten run of 16 games.

By contrast, City have shown some glimpses of fragility this season, although they were hugely impressive last weekend, winning 1-0 at fellow title challengers Chelsea.

Their star at Stamford Bridge was Dias, the defender who demonstrated the form that led to him being named Footballer of the Year last season.

If much has been done about City’s apparent problems in front of goal – they were knocked out at Paris Saint-Germain mid-week despite creating a host of chances – there have been few real concerns about their backline.

With Virgil van Dijk, the PFA Player of the Year for 2019, gradually returning to his best at the heart of Liverpool’s rear, Anfield will be pitted against the two best central defenders in the Premier League.

And Reds boss Klopp believes a shift in emphasis over the past decade has helped leading players in the position gain more recognition.

“The game has changed in the last ten years,” he says. “Everything is much more tactical than before.

“The tactics can be influenced by the size of the field, which means you can control the size of the spaces the other team can use.

“You need different rules for that and one of the most influential rules is the last rule. It means you need a very different skillset (today).

“It’s not enough to win challenges in a one-on-one situation, you have to organize a very defensive line-up, you have to be good on the ball, you have to be fast, physically strong, technically good.

“The middle halves are a different animal now. I’m not saying that Rio Ferdinand or John Terry or others weren’t good. They were good. Why they didn’t get recognition I don’t know.

“Obviously people have had a more detailed look at that and the mid-half can also be player of the season.”

With nearly five days having passed since the 5-1 Champions League game in Porto, Van Dijk is likely to be rejoined by Joel Matip as centre-back.

However, Klopp has a number of selection posers. The Reds boss must decide whether to keep James Milner as a replacement for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold as right-back, while Joe Gomez and Neco Williams are the other options.

Curtis Jones is favorite to remain in midfield after his outstanding performance in Portugal, while Roberto Firmino’s late support from the bench has cast doubt on the starting roles of Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.

There is no doubt, however, that Anfield will bounce off kick-off this afternoon – and while Guardiola knows exactly what to expect, dealing with it is a very different matter.


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