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New-look Liverpool face acid test of title credentials at Man City

Author: AFP | Published: Friday, November 24, 2023

Mohamed Salah has scored 12 goals for Liverpool this season (Ian Hodgson/AFP)

Liverpool head to Manchester City on Saturday for a clash between the Premier League’s top two teams, hoping to prove they are once again genuine title contenders.

The Reds have been City’s most consistent challengers during a dominant era for Pep Guardiola’s men.

Liverpool’s first title for 30 years in 2019/20 was the only time City have failed to become champions of England in the past six seasons.

In 2018/19 and 2021/22, they edged out Jurgen Klopp’s side by a single point in thrilling title races.

But it was Arsenal who pushed City close last season as Liverpool sank to fifth after coming agonisingly close to an unprecedented quadruple of trophies the previous year.

Klopp has christened his rejuvenated squad “Liverpool 2.0” but admits there is a long way to go before his new-look team reaches the stellar levels of his previous sides at Anfield.

Liverpool trail City by a single point at the top of the Premier League table, having lost just once in 12 Premier League games this season, in highly controversial fashion at Tottenham in September.

“We decided last year we had to change a lot,” said Klopp. “We are at the moment going in the right direction and that’s really important.”

However, they still have to prove they can again match the relentless City machine over the gruelling long haul of 38 games.

Anfield appears to have been restored as a fortress around which the foundations of a title tilt can be built — Liverpool have won all nine games in all competitions at home this season, scoring 27 goals in the process.

But Klopp’s men have won only two of their six away league games so far and face the ultimate challenge at the Etihad.

City have won 23 matches in a row at home in all competitions dating back to December last year.

– ‘Twists and turns’ –

“When we come back there is a very big one away and we will see if we are ready for that test,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said ahead of the international break.

“Overall this season we have been doing well but the season is not decided in November and there could be so many twists and turns, we all know that.”

The Dutchman’s return to top form has played a major part in Liverpool’s revival.

But it is a midfield overhaul that has added fresh energy and zest to a side that looked to have passed its best.

Dominik Szoboszlai has been a revelation since his move from RB Leipzig, while Alexis Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch have shown flashes of promise.

Up front, only City’s Erling Haaland has scored more goals than Mohamed Salah’s 10 in the Premier League.

But the Egyptian has been ably supported by a potent array of attacking talent including Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Cody Gakpo.

The one glaring requirement remains a more defensive-minded option at the base of midfield.

Liverpool tabled a British-record bid for Moises Caicedo only to be rejected by the Ecuadoran in favour of a move to Chelsea in August.

Japan captain Wataru Endo was a cheaper option but is yet to earn Klopp’s trust, making just two Premier League starts so far.

It was for trips like those to the Etihad that Liverpool craved Caicedo’s energy and aggression — without a player of that profile, City could potentially cut loose.

But should Liverpool succeed in deploying their own weapons to end the champions’ invincibility on home soil, it will be difficult for Klopp to quash talk of another title bid.

“You have to keep going with all the other teams until March or April,” said the German.

“If we are still there then we can start talking. Until then you fight your way through the most difficult league in the world.”

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