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Another City-Liverpool humdinger? | Football News

Among the talking points in the Premier League, which resumes after the international break with defending champions Manchester City hosting a rebooted Liverpool on Saturday, is that no manager has been sacked yet. The number was six at this time in 2022.

 Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp (Action Images via Reuters)
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp (Action Images via Reuters)

It can be put down to Chelsea being patient with one, Spurs having hit a goldmine with theirs, ditto Villa, Manchester United focusing on takeover rather than tactics, the promoted teams working within their fiscal limitations or, as in the case of Burnley, staying invested in the boss.

Three points separating the first five teams after one-third of the games is another talking point. Titles are not won in November, or even at the new year as Arsenal will tell you, but till it fades there will be hope that 2023-24 could be different from seasons where it was either a procession or a two-team race.

Liverpool’s return to form is a third. They had finished out of Champions League berths last term and instead of eyeing a return to the top four, if Trent Alexander-Arnold has spoken of winning the league it is because they have been that good.

“So far we’ve performed in a way that is how you would expect someone who can win the league to perform and if we carry this on we should be in and around it come May,” the full back was quoted as saying in The Guardian.

That’s being ahead of progress for a squad that moved Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita and James Milner. That has happened because a recalibrated midfield has bedded-in earlier than expected. Dominik Szoboszlai, Ryan Gravenberch and Alexis Mac Allister have worked the engine room well and forged excellent understanding with frontliners Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Cody Gakpo.

There is so much more to Salah than numbers but so staggering have they been that it is crucial to single him out here. Salah has 10 goals and four assists in the league which is second only to Erling Haaland (13 goals, 3 assists), who has returned to training after an ankle injury. Liverpool had an underwhelming 2022-23 but Salah scored in both league games against City.

“He must be one of the top offensive players in the world. Not top 10, but top three,” said Brentford manager Thomas Frank after Salah had picked them apart in the 3-0 win. In great form for Egypt too, Salah’s is averaging .83 goals per game for Liverpool. Only once, in 2017-18 when he scored 32 goals in 36 games, was it better (.88). Salah, 31, has been so remarkably injury free that Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp had once said he must have bones of a 19 or 20-year-old. In seven seasons, he has missed 10 games for Liverpool.

But, for all the regained confidence and skipper Virgil van Dijk’s form – which has helped big time in regaining the confidence – Liverpool have not won at City since 2015. They finished 22 points behind City last term and had lost 1-4 away to the champions in April. Liverpool have won only two of their six away games in the league and are up against a team which has won its last 23 matches at home in all competitions. And in Haaland they have a phenomenon on 49 goals from 47 Premier League games. Should he score on Saturday, it would be the fastest to 50 goals in the competition’s history. Andy Cole, the current record holder, took 65 games.

Nathan Ake, Mateo Kovacic, Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones have been injured, Ilkay Guendogan and Riyad Mahrez have left as has Cole Palmer, who even scored against them, but none of that has stopped City from topping the standings. Or winning five of the last six seasons.

The one time they didn’t, Liverpool did. Twice, they survived the severest of pressure from Liverpool to win the league by one point. And Liverpool have beaten City 10 times in their last 23 meetings. Both love high lines and have players who can make that idea look silly – Jeremy Doku, here’s looking at you.

Can Liverpool breach the fortress? Will it be a goal fest like the one in January 2018 that ended 4-3 or a battle of will and skill, like the 2-2 in April 2022? We don’t know but Klopp had a point when he said this is the kind of game the world would pay the most to see.

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