There is no doubt Claudio Bravo has the full backing of his manager ahead of Manchester City's clash with Liverpool.

"Why should I doubt any player in my team? Why do you ask these questions?" a spiky Pep Guardiola said on Friday.

"It's a team game and sometimes you make a mistake; sometimes you make a good save and sometimes not. But why should I not have any confidence with one player in my team? He wouldn't be here otherwise."

It was a staunch defence of a player whose errors in his first season in England were highly scrutinised, before he then lost his place to £35million man Ederson.

Bravo came on against Atalanta after Ederson sustained an injury, but his outing only lasted 36 minutes until a rash run from goal ended in a red card.

Still, with Ederson not fit to start at Anfield, Guardiola will be turning to Bravo again on Sunday. He insists he has no doubts about the former Barcelona man, who was the hero in the Community Shield penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool in August. But should he?

EDERSON IS STILL THE SHOT-STOPPING SUPREMO...

Exploring what might be called the basic elements of goalkeeping, there is little to argue against Ederson having the edge over Bravo.

The Brazilian has made 85 Premier League appearances, keeping 41 clean sheets – almost one every two games. Bravo, in 24 games, has managed six shut-outs, or one in four.

Ederson, of course, has been playing behind a stronger defence than Bravo did in 2016-17, when he made all but three of those appearances. Dig deeper, though, and the numbers are still not on Bravo's side.

The Chile international has faced 64 Premier League shots on target, saving 37 of them, giving him a save percentage of 57.8. Ederson, with 145 saves from 202 shots on target faced, is at 71.8 per cent.

 

...AND HE IS DEFYING EXPECTATIONS

Going further, Ederson outperforms Bravo when it comes to Expected Goals on Target Conceded (xGOT) – Opta's measure of the quality of a chance created by a team, and therefore a good indicator of how many goals a keeper can reasonably be expected to have conceded.

Excluding own goals, Ederson has conceded 57 times in the Premier League, with an xGOT rating of 62.9. Bravo, who has conceded 27 times, has an xGOT of 19.9.

In other words, Ederson should realistically have conceded six more goals than he has in England's top flight, given the quality of chances his opponents created. As for Bravo, he has let in seven more goals than he should. 

 

KLOPP'S RIGHT – EDERSON CHANGES HOW CITY PLAY

Speaking to Sky Sports, Klopp said this week: "If he wouldn't play then [City's game plan] would change, because Ederson is an important part of their game, 100 per cent. Bravo can do similar things, but exactly the same? Nobody can do [that]. That's how it is."

Although he didn't specify what makes Ederson so crucial to City, it's reasonable to assume Klopp was referring to his sweeper-keeper tendencies. And he has a point.

Ederson is a critical part of City's possession play. He boasts a passing accuracy of 84.7 per cent, and he has completed 26.2 per cent of all passes ending in the final third – a hugely important ploy when it comes to escaping the Liverpool press.

He also has a massive 'keeper sweeper' accuracy of 95.1 per cent. Opta defines a keeper sweeper as any time that a goalkeeper rushes out at least to the edge of his area, under some pressure from an opposing forward racing to the ball, in which he reacts quickly and reads the play.

As for Bravo, his passing accuracy is down at 74 per cent, with his 'keeper sweeper' accuracy at 79.3 per cent. As for those long passes into the last third, he has completed only one in 10. Klopp does not need telling that those are significant drops.

To give Bravo his due, though, perhaps Guardiola is right not to be worried about the risk of mistakes, at least. Bravo has only twice committed an error leading to a shot or goal in the Premier League. Ederson has done so nine times.

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne says he is "not too scared" about first-choice goalkeeper Ederson missing Sunday's huge clash with Premier League leaders Liverpool.

The Brazil international was taken off at half-time of City's 1-1 Champions League draw with Atalanta on Wednesday at San Siro with a muscular problem.

Substitute keeper Claudio Bravo was later sent off, leaving full-back Kyle Walker to take over in goal for the closing minutes.

City boss Pep Guardiola confirmed at Friday's pre-match media conference that Ederson will not be fit to play this weekend but De Bruyne is confident Bravo can step in and fill the void.

"It's obviously a blow because he's our first-choice goalkeeper but I have confidence in Claudio also," the Belgium international told BBC's Football Focus.

"I think he had a wonderful pre-season and played against Liverpool in the Community Shield and did really well. He's an experienced keeper so I have all the confidence that he can do a good job. I'm not too scared about that."

City are six points behind leaders Liverpool, having suffered surprise defeats to Norwich City and Wolves already this campaign, while Jurgen Klopp's men remain unbeaten in the league.

City have failed to win at Anfield since 2003 but De Bruyne says they have every intention of leaving Merseyside with all three points.

"We always go to win; that's how we are built to play," he added. "It's our mentality in the team."

Asked if it was City's biggest game of the season so far, De Bruyne responded: "Probably, but people will obviously make this bigger than it eventually can be. Obviously at this moment in the year, it is a big game, but it is not all telling for me."

A win for Liverpool would give them a nine-point advantage over City at the Premier League summit – a gap some believe would be too big for Guardiola's side to bridge.

De Bruyne, however, says it will be too early to predict the outcome of the title race, regardless of Sunday's result.

"You can only talk about the importance of the game after the season is over," he told Sky Sports. "This game is too early. If it was in April, that would give another incentive to it but even if we win, draw or lose, I would still feel confident because there is still so long.

"If you lose, you know there is going to be a big gap, but we have to take it as it is, compete, and see what happens.

"We could take any reaction after the game, like saying our season is over if we lose, but there are so many circumstances that could go on.

"Maybe they [Liverpool] drop some points and we win lots of games and we end up being on top in March or April, then people will say this game didn't even matter."

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho is not convinced the top-of-the-table clash with Manchester City will define the Premier League title race.

European champions Liverpool can take a commanding nine-point lead at the summit with victory in Sunday's match-anticipated match at Anfield.

The clubs played out a goalless draw in this exact fixture last season before City prevailed 2-1 in January's return encounter, eroding Liverpool's hard-earned advantage back to four points.

Pep Guardiola's men ultimately pipped the Reds to the title by a point but Brazil international Fabinho does not view those missed chances as being decisive.

"I don't think the outcome last season was based on the results against Man City," Fabinho told the Liverpool website.

"But if we beat them then we will have a large points advantage over them, which will be important for us.

"But this game is always a bit more special because we have the chance to pick up points and stop a direct rival from picking up points.

"So we're going to do all we can to win, but I'm not sure if this result will define the outcome of the season."

Barbs have been traded ahead of the latest instalment of this burgeoning rivalry, with Jurgen Klopp highlighting City's propensity for "tactical fouls" after Guardiola accused Reds star Sadio Mane of diving.

Nevertheless, Klopp affirmed his admiration of Guardiola in his pre-match news conference and Fabinho holds an equal level of respect for what the Premier League champions have built under the Catalan.

"We've played against this City team before and they've shown us what they're about," the former Monaco star said.

"They're great with the ball and they are hard-working, they're great in attack and all of this makes them one of the best teams in Europe today.

"But in the Premier League there are so many good teams and we've managed to play well in these situations as well. So playing City will be another challenge, but I think we're ready for it."

In the past six meetings between Manchester City and Liverpool in major competitions Pep Guardiola used notably different tactical setups on each occasion.

Defensive problems with a 3-5-2 despite a 5-0 win over the 10-man Reds in September 2017 prompted a switch to his tried and trusted 4-3-3 as City swept all before them on the way to a 100-point haul and Premier League glory in 2017-18.

Well, almost all. Liverpool won a thriller 4-3 on Merseyside in the January of that campaign – persuading Guardiola to select a diamond midfield for the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final three months later.

That didn't work either, as City were ransacked 3-0 and were unable to turn the tie around despite an all-or-nothing 3-1-4-2 line-up tearing into the return leg at the Etihad Stadium with gusto.

Last season it was out with the cavalier and in with control, whether that was Bernardo Silva playing in a deeper central midfield position during a 0-0 draw in Liverpool or Aymeric Laporte playing on the left of a defence able to pivot from a four to a three in a gripping 2-1 triumph in Manchester.

City will search for a first Anfield win in 16-and-a-half years on Sunday, with Liverpool's six-point lead at the top of the Premier League table compromising their ambitions of a third straight title.

Ederson this week joined an injury list featuring Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Oleksandr Zinchenko, meaning an even taller order for Guardiola against the most persistently challenging adversary of his coaching career.

Here, we look at how Guardiola might approach his latest crack at the Klopp conundrum.

4-4-2, 1-4-4-1 – Guardiola's 2019-20 shape experiments

During August's Community Shield encounter against Liverpool, where a typically tight game went City's way on penalties after a 1-1 draw, Guardiola debuted a tweak to his 4-3-3. One of the attacking midfielders – in this instance Kevin De Bruyne – would press high and close to the centre forward, forming a 4-4-2 shape without the ball.

Ostensibly, this ploy has been designed for an aging David Silva to be able to press in a more economical fashion. The master playmaker is likely to miss out at Anfield with a muscular injury, however, and namesake Bernardo seemed a good fit for the role during the first half against Atalanta.

The Portugal international's positioning allowed him to play an astute pass to create Raheem Sterling's opener after the goalscorer won back possession with an interception.

Expect to see more of that when the hosts have the ball, while a new configuration when building play from the back might be used to try and neutralise Liverpool's formidable press.

Ederson's supreme ability with the ball at his feet is simply not replicated by Claudio Bravo, despite the Camp Nou credentials of the man who will deputise for City's injured Brazil international.

This will undoubtedly compromise the construction of the visitors' attacks on Sunday, meaning Fernandinho's accelerated progression from makeshift to mainstay at centre-back is likely to be locked in.

A notable ploy in the games against Crystal Palace away and Atalanta at home, when Guardiola paired Fernandinho with fellow defensive midfielder Rodri in the heart of defence, was one of the centre-backs moving alongside the holding midfielder when City started their build-up.

This created another passing option for the goalkeeper and deeper centre-back and amounted roughly to a 1-4-4-1 shape.

Fernandinho's superb passing range and John Stones' smooth style being suited to this approach means there is another argument for Nicolas Otamendi being the odd man out in defence, before considering his ranking alongside Bravo in the accident-prone stakes.

A time for Foden?

Ever since his maiden first-team appearance two years ago, the understandable clamour for boyhood City fan Phil Foden to feature more frequently has steadily grown.

The difference this season is a case can be made beyond romanticism and the importance of the 19-year-old's development; in certain matches and situations, City look better with Foden in the side

He dazzled for the most part when he started the 5-1 win over Atalanta, only to blot his good work with a pair of needless late bookings. That red card is a reason for Guardiola to stick with more tried and tested names, but he cited the England Under-21 star's box-to-box capabilities as the reason for his selection and frequent success against the Serie A side.

The playmaker's presence lends a dynamism to City's midfield that was notably lacking from this season's Premier League defeats to Norwich City and Wolves, and meeting Liverpool's verve and energy head on feels like a must.

Guardiola's midweek trident of Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne might well have been road tested with Anfield in mind, but throwing Foden into a high-stakes encounter – as when he scored the winner in last season's vital 1-0 victory over Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium – is being given strong consideration.

"Phil Foden has a great stamina capacity, a great thing against Liverpool," a source close to Guardiola told Omnisport before David Silva's injury made Foden's path to the first XI theoretically more straightforward.

"I think City are not interested in a crazy match versus Liverpool, but to try to be in control of the ball. But finally, that [picking Foden] is the crucial decision around Pep's match plan."

 

Aguero or Jesus… or both?

Sergio Aguero has started 2019-20 in typically prolific form, scoring 13 times in 14 appearances, despite sometimes appearing to be operating shy of top gear.

At the same time, Gabriel Jesus is also enjoying a strong run of form and, given Guardiola's frequently stated admiration for the Brazil striker's high-pressing, there could be a temptation to switch his attacking spearhead.

However, as separate as it remains from what he brings in open play, Jesus' feeble penalty at San Siro will not have helped his case. Also, Aguero's pedigree in big games – even allowing for the anomaly of him never finding the net at Anfield – surely sways the argument in his favour.

Jesus' revival after an underwhelming 2018-19 came playing on the right-hand side of Brazil's attack. Guardiola has not played Aguero and Jesus together in the same 4-3-3 forward line with any frequency since the early months of 2017-18 and a bold Jesus-Aguero-Sterling frontline would certainly raise eyebrows on Merseyside.

It could also cause plenty of problems. Nevertheless, Bernardo Silva's tireless work rate to negate Andy Robertson or Riyad Mahrez looking to atone a wretched penalty miss of his own on the same ground 13 months ago remain far more likely options on Guardiola's right flank.

Omnisport's predicted Manchester City line-up to face Liverpool: Bravo; Walker, Fernandinho, Stones, Mendy; Gundogan, De Bruyne, Foden; Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Sterling.

Alisson said Liverpool wanted to avoid a repeat of last season as he talked up the significance of Sunday's clash against Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions head to Anfield trailing Liverpool by six points through 11 games this campaign.

City claimed the title last season, finishing a point clear of Liverpool despite Jurgen Klopp's men losing just one game.

Alisson said Liverpool had no interest in experiencing that again, eager to go one better in 2019-20.

"We don't want to feel how we felt last season," the goalkeeper told The Guardian.

"Being second by just one point – and we don't know which game made us lose the title because we had a few draws where we could have done better, and we had the loss away to Man City when we could have won or drawn – means we know that we need to give everything in every game if we want to become Premier League champions.

"We want it and we will try to do it."

Liverpool have won 10 of their opening 11 Premier League games, drawing one, to open up an early lead at the top.

Alisson knows how important Sunday's encounter is as the European champions try to surge further clear.

"Last season we had a great experience, an almost perfect season," the Brazil international said. "We lost one game and that one game was against City. We know how big this game is for us.

"We know how big the game is for everyone – for them and for our fans. In the end it is just three more important points but Manchester City have been the best team in the league for the last few years so we need to give everything to win this game."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has revealed the Premier League giants have "absolutely no chance" of signing Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe, 20, has been linked with a move away from the Ligue 1 champions, with Liverpool emerging as a potential surprise destination despite reported interest from Real Madrid.

But Klopp, whose side host Manchester City in a blockbuster clash on Sunday, dismissed talk Liverpool could add the France forward.

"Buying this calibre of player is difficult. I don't see any club at the moment who can buy Kylian Mbappe from PSG," he told the media.

"I don't see any club, that is how it is. And we are involved in the clubs that cannot do it. It is as easy as that.

"Okay, from a sporting point of view, there are not a lot of reasons to not sign him. What a player he is. But it is about the money of course. No chance. Absolutely no chance. Sorry for killing that story."

Liverpool were quiet during the previous transfer window, opting against adding any new faces to the first team.

Klopp again talked up the importance of keeping his squad together, saying the players he wanted were out of Liverpool's reach financially.

"The players we thought about to make this team better were really expensive and we could not spend the money. That is how it is," he said.

"To see a player better, or with potential to be better or play the same is difficult. That is what it was. That was the situation. It was not that we were not ready, but we did not want to make five or six changes. Not at all. They are at a wonderful age with still space for improvement.

"We wanted to do something and we could have done a lot, but we only wanted to do the right thing. That is the reason we kept this squad because it is really good and if you want to improve it you have to go for the right players, not just some players to fix whatever."

Liverpool hold a six-point lead at the top ahead of the clash against City at Anfield.

Pep Guardiola has called on Merseyside police to ensure there is no repeat of the 2018 attack on Manchester City's bus when they face off with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

City's bus was damaged when making its way to the ground for the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final tie against the Reds, which Liverpool won 3-0.

This week, a poster circulated on social media in which fans were encouraged to "greet" City's coach ahead of the top-of-the-table Premier League clash.

And Guardiola urged police to make sure his team arrive without incident.

"No. Hopefully it will not happen again, so the police knew about [it] for the Champions League game before and didn't do anything," he said. 

"I don't know what they are going to do, hopefully it will be an incredible game at Anfield for the Premier League and for all around the world. 

"That is what we want. Hopefully it's not going to happen, the same that happened two seasons ago when we arrive, which was more than one bottle."

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp issued a similar message, calling on fans to provide vociferous vocal backing in the stands but not to engage in "senseless" acts.

"I'm a big believer of fan power – in the stadium. That's completely different. [The coach incident] was a senseless thing," Klopp said. 

"If somebody at Man City is concerned still, then it's our fault. Not that we did it all together, we all didn't throw the bottle or whatever it was, but it was one of us. That's why we are responsible. 

"All of us have to make sure that something like this will never happen again. It's long ago and since then nothing has happened. I don't think it was Man City specific. 

"After the punishment we got, we haven't had a similar situation – the positive outcome of something like this. 

"Actually, we used to enjoy that [the coach welcome], when we come in, it's impressive. It's a nice part of football, but if you overstep the line then it's not allowed that you do it anymore. 

"That's how it is. I wish I could say it will never happen again but unfortunately I can't. But what I can say is we will do everything that it will never happen again. 

"Everybody agrees to feel this responsibility that it won't happen again. That's why I say – go in the stadium, nothing to do outside, have your food, go in, wait for the team, we will come, let's make a pretty special game of it."

Superintendent Paul White issued a statement on Merseyside Police's official website addressing the poster doing the rounds on social media and insisted they are doing all they can to ensure there are no major incidents.

"As with any match, a comprehensive and appropriate policing operation has been put in place ahead of Sunday's game and we have liaised with both clubs and their supporter groups," he said.

"We are aware of one poster on social media regarding a bus welcome. The corresponding last fixture ran smoothly and we are working to ensure this game can be enjoyed safely by all as well as minimising any disruption to local residents and roads.

"As with all Premier League fixtures at Anfield, we will have officers on duty at the ground, both uniformed and plain clothed, supported by mobile CCTV, provided by Liverpool City Council, and specialist resources including the Dog Section, mounted police and the National Police Air Service. We will also have a city centre policing plan in place throughout the day. This is standard procedure. 

"We know that this will be a busy operation and we hope that fans attending the match will act as ambassadors for their clubs. 

"As usual we would ask fans with tickets to arrive at the ground as early as possible. Fans without tickets should not attend at all; they will not be allowed entry into the stadium."

Pep Guardiola described Anfield as the toughest stadium in the world to visit right now, but insisted Manchester City are not out of the Premier League title race if they lose to Liverpool on Sunday.

The build-up to the mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash has been dominated by talk of diving and tactical fouls, although City boss Guardiola and Reds counterpart Jurgen Klopp have done their bit to ease the tension.

Last season City took four points from the Reds, a return that proved decisive as they pipped Liverpool – who lost just once in the league – to the title by a solitary point.

Guardiola described the triumph as one of the greatest of his career and recognised the difficulty of playing at a stadium where Liverpool have not lost any of their previous 45 league games.

"As a manager, I said last season when we won the league, they're the best contender I ever faced in my career to win this league," he said. 

"It was the biggest achievement, or one of the biggest achievements, as a club. It remains the same. Probably right now they're the strongest team in the world.

"They are an exceptional team. Of course, the history is there for itself. It's something special, I think more for the quality of the team of what they do, quality of players they have, quality of manager they have, I believe more in that, in the team, than the scenario [atmosphere at Liverpool]. 

"Right now it's [Anfield] one of the toughest ones, right now in Europe it’s the toughest stadiums to go there."

Unbeaten Liverpool can open up a nine-point gap over City with victory on home soil, but Guardiola insists defeat will not mean the end of their title aspirations.

"I don't know to be honest, I think in November it never ends. I think we have a lot of games still to play," he added. 

"My experience in sport is you have to play until the end, are we going to win Champions League? Your favourite question! I don't know the answer.

"They lost one game last season, this season they are unbeaten so I think they won't lose many but the season is long."

Guardiola this week sought to clarify comments he made about Liverpool forward Sadio Mane and "diving", which drew a retort from Klopp bringing up previous accusations the Catalan's teams are guilty of "tactical fouls".

But Guardiola gave a prickly reply when the issue was brought up again, saying: "I said in Italy, no comment. 

"Ask the other managers. I know exactly what I said to my players in the last 11 years about what we have to do. I know exactly."

It was put to Guardiola that his rivalry with Klopp could potentially stand up to the one between legendary Manchester United and Arsenal bosses Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But Guardiola said it is far too soon to draw such comparisons.

"Well, I will wait [to see] if my hair grows in the next 20 years because they were more than 20 years together," he said. 

"I think we cannot compare anyone with the rivals of Ferguson and Wenger. Absolute legends in their clubs, they were more than one or two decades there." 

Jurgen Klopp has called on everyone associated with Liverpool, from supporters to the hot dog sellers, to get fully behind their side in Sunday's showdown with Manchester City.

The Premier League leaders welcome City to Anfield knowing that victory will move them nine points clear of the reigning champions with nearly a third of the season played.

Liverpool's only loss in their last 50 league outings came against this weekend's opponents in January as City overturned a seven-point deficit to win the title ahead of the Reds.

"The improvement the boys have made is obvious. We have to play our best game on Sunday," Klopp said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"Everyone in the stadium has to be in absolutely top shape - even the guy who sells the hot dogs has to be in the top shape. Get to the stadium early, wait for the warm-up, be there.

"You can't make games bigger than they are already. At Anfield, that's really cool. Everything is prepared for a really good football game. It will be one, but not sure for whom."

The two sides have been involved in a number of tense matches in recent times, most recently August's Community Shield clash that City won on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Liverpool have lost only one of their last 28 top-flight home games with City and Klopp urged his side to "be brave" in the potential title decider.

"It's a big game, two really good teams facing each other at Anfield, under the floodlights," he said.

"The last three games we played 0-0 at home, then lost 2-1 at the Etihad where we nearly scored a goal and then the last one was a draw in the Community Shield, before we lost the shoot-out.

"It will be a good football game. I'm not sure whether it will be just from a coaches and tactical point of view or a spectacle one for supporters.

"But everything is on a plate and no one hides anything, we cannot only be offensive but you have to be brave against Manchester City - even for a point."

The Champions League quarter-final meeting between the sides in April 2018 was marred by unsavoury pre-match events that saw City's team bus come under attack from Liverpool fans outside Anfield.

Merseyside Police has assured City's players and staff that steps have been taken to avoid a repeat this weekend, though Klopp can understand the visitors' concerns.

"If someone from City worries still, it's our fault," he said.

"We didn't all throw bottles [at the coach], but it was one of us. All of us have to make sure that something like that never happens again. We will do everything to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"It's long ago and since then nothing has happened. I don't think it was Man City specific. After the punishment we got, we haven't had a similar situation - the positive outcome of something like this.

"The welcome is a nice part of football, but if you overstep the line then it's not allowed that you do it any more. That's how it is."

Frank Lampard says Chelsea will be "looking in the mirror" rather than worrying about how their potential Premier League title rivals fare this weekend.

Chelsea are fourth in the table, eight points behind leaders Liverpool but six clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.

Liverpool face champions Manchester City, who are currently in second, on Sunday, presenting the opportunity for Chelsea and Leicester City - who are third - to make up ground on the top two.

And Leicester play Arsenal, meaning four of the top five will face off.

Yet head coach Lampard is determined his team will not be concerned by results elsewhere, keen to keep their focus on improving throughout the season.

"We're looking in the mirror at ourselves," he told a news conference ahead of hosting Crystal Palace on Saturday.

"Up and down are things you can't always control - what will be will be with those teams. They have their problems or strong points or whatever.

"What we have to do is look at ourselves week in, week out, look at Crystal Palace tomorrow, go away for the internationals, and then we come back and we play Manchester City. Every week brings the challenge of a game.

"At the moment, we're happy with what we've done but I think we can always get a lot better. That's the only way: I don't think we should look too much anywhere else, rather than within."

Chelsea are managing injury issues in the centre of midfield, with Ross Barkley out since the win over Newcastle United last month while Mason Mount hobbled off against Ajax in midweek.

Both players were named in Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming international break, yet Barkley will not feature at home to Palace, and Mount is a doubt.

"Ross has an ongoing issue, so he's not in the squad for tomorrow," Lampard said.

"It's a conversation I'll have with Gareth or Steve [Holland, England assistant] with Ross and everyone to see how it pans out for him over the next 10 days. I'm not sure on that one, but he won't be in our squad.

"With Mason, he's in the squad, and we're giving him another 24 hours. We'll make a call on that one in the morning [Saturday]."

Chelsea should at least have N'Golo Kante back after he returned to the bench against Ajax and was later named in the France squad. He has not featured since an injury in the previous international break.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has declared Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson fit for Sunday's crunch Premier League clash with Manchester City.

Reds skipper Henderson missed Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League win over Genk through illness, while Van Dijk was absent from training on Thursday.

However, it later transpired Van Dijk was granted permission to return to his native Netherlands to receive royal recognition for his outstanding achievements this year.

Klopp confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that the centre-back, along with captain Henderson, will be available for selection at Anfield on Sunday.

"Virgil was for other reasons not here on Thursday but he is completely fine. Jordan is completely fine," he said.

Liverpool remain without Joel Matip, Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne for the visit of City, who trail the league leaders by six points ahead of this weekend's showdown.

 

Rodrygo Goes is making waves at Real Madrid but could have been shining at Liverpool were it not for his former Santos coach Elano.

Madrid paid out a reported €45million to seal Rodrygo's signature in June 2018, by which time he had only made 13 appearances in the Campeonato Brasileiro, though he remained at Santos for another year.

The 18-year-old has made a quick impact at the Santiago Bernabeu, with his hat-trick in the 6-0 Champions League thrashing of Galatasaray on Wednesday moving him onto five goals in six appearances for Los Blancos.

Premier League giants Liverpool held an interest in Rodrygo before Madrid made a formal approach, but Elano felt their bid was insufficient.

"There was a time when there was very strong interest from Liverpool for him to leave when he was still in the youth team," Elano told ESPN.com.br.

"The values were very low, but they wanted to go. Real's offer afterwards was around €30million more.

"I had a conversation with the staff and said the boy was worth the risk and we should promote him because I wanted to work with him. Thank God everything worked out.

"He already had good decision-making at the professional level at you age. Different players have it early on. When they can control it, they get better and better.

"Despite his young age, he has already formed a maturity and game personality. He has technical ability and very precise control of his movements. It did not take long for him to adapt to the senior level. It was very fast.

"I believe so much in his personality and his football. He still has room to grow."

Fernandinho believes Manchester City showed the battling qualities they will need to end their Anfield hoodoo during the second half of Wednesday's eventful 1-1 Champions League draw against Atalanta.

Pep Guardiola's side led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Raheem Sterling's sublime seventh-minute opener and should have made their superiority weigh more heavily, with Gabriel Jesus dragging a dismal penalty wide.

But Ederson was withdrawn before the restart due to a thigh injury and substitute goalkeeper Claudio Bravo's first task was to pluck Mario Pasalic's emphatic 49th-minute header from his net.

City struggled to regain their earlier rhythm as Gian Piero Gasperino's men found a frenetic and effective tempo, and Bravo's outing got worse when he was sent off for charging out of his area to foul Josip Ilicic.

That meant Kyle Walker being introduced as an emergency keeper – the right-back's tentative save from Ruslan Malinovskiy's free-kick bringing chants of "England's number one" from the travelling supporters at San Siro.

City held out for a 1-1 draw that left them five points clear at the top of Group C, their progress to the last 16 virtually assured as attention turns towards Sunday's mouth-watering Premier League showdown with Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp's league leaders are six points ahead of the reigning champions, who last won at Anfield in 2003.

"I think the main thing was the mentality of the guys," said Fernandinho, who was again deployed at centre-back. "In difficult situations like this we have to stick together and we did.

"This is important because we are building a team to be champions and sometimes to be champions you have to play games like this.

"Now it is good because everybody is understanding what we are building."

Guardiola reported Ederson's thigh injury was "not big" but he is unsure whether his influential number one will be available to face Liverpool.

Irrespective of whether his fellow Brazil international recovers in time, Fernandinho feels City will try to end 16-and-a-half years of Merseyside frustration with confidence.

"The mentality is always try to win the game," he added.

"There's always a first time in life, no? We are searching for this first time to win at Anfield. I am confident we can go there and try to win the game.

"Of course, we will see with Ederson's situation. We are going to train and the medical staff are going to check him and we are going to see if he will be fit or not for Sunday."

Liverpool will not face any action from UEFA after supporters displayed an inappropriate banner of Divock Origi ahead of last month's Champions League clash at Genk.

Reds fans unfurled the banner during the warm-up before the clash in Belgium and the club later condemned it as "offensive", suggesting it "perpetuated a racist stereotype".

However, the incident was not included in any official reports and so UEFA will not open a case, Omnisport understands.

Jurgen Klopp's side won the game 4-1 and also beat Genk in the return fixture on Tuesday to sit top of Group E in defence of their European crown. 

Some players thrive under the spotlight more than others – Liverpool will hope Sadio Mane proves his mettle against Manchester City, when the focus will be on him for more than one reason.

Mane has established himself as one of the Premier League's great entertainers and arguably Liverpool's biggest attacking threat, yet he has also earned himself a reputation as a purveyor of the dark arts – or "diving", as Pep Guardiola put it on Saturday.

Earlier that day, Mane had gone down very easily in the penalty area during Liverpool's 2-1 win at Aston Villa. Under pressure from Frederic Guilbert, the forward theatrically went to ground and was swiftly shown a yellow card for simulation by referee Jon Moss.

Jurgen Klopp and Mane have had their say since and come to the conclusion that the Senegal forward is not a "diver" – and even Guardiola appeared to backtrack – yet this weekend he will come under intense scrutiny over his conduct, performance and attitude, particularly given that this was by no means the first time the former Southampton star courted flak for diving.

Considering Mane's importance to Liverpool, Klopp will be desperate for him to harness that attention to the Reds' benefit on the big stage, something Sergio Aguero has become remarkably adept at. 

Aguero the benchmark

Since joining City from Atletico Madrid in 2011, Aguero's productivity in games against the so-called "big six" has been truly remarkable.

In 67 matches, Aguero has scored 44 goals from 241 shots with a conversion rate of 18.3 per cent. Against any standard of opposition that would be considered outstanding – to boast such a record against the Premier League's best is astonishing.

But he is yet to score in seven trips to Anfield, making it his least favourite away ground. 

Jamie Vardy is the closest to Aguero in terms of goals, with 31 in 59 matches. While that may not be as impressive, the fact that haul comes from 109 shots – giving him a startling 28.4 per cent conversion rate – suggests he relishes such occasions like few others.

Mane's record of 18 goals in 53 matches against the top sides may pale in comparison, but it remains impressive and is bettered by only six players.

Sadio the main Mane at Anfield

There is little doubt Mane has become the most influential attacker at Liverpool this season, with 12 goal involvements (nine goals, three assists). Mohamed Salah has 10 split equally between goals and assists, while Roberto Firmino is on nine (five goals, four assists).

Mane's nine goals across all competitions may not be groundbreaking, but it is only one shy of Raheem Sterling and two fewer than Aguero.

He has proven to be a vital creator for the Reds as well, laying on 29 chances for team-mates, six more than Firmino and eight better than Salah.

It is also worth pointing out Mane's 20.9 per cent conversion rate, as that too is significantly better than those posted by Salah (7.9 per cent) and Firmino (13.2 per cent).

Mane out to make a splash

Mane's reply to Guardiola after Liverpool's Champions League win over Genk suggested he is handling the situation rather comfortably.

Not only did he admit he would do what he did against Villa – what he considered to not be a dive – again, he insisted Guardiola's comments won't change him.

Given he has established himself as Liverpool's chief attacking threat, that'll be music to the ears of Klopp as he prepares his side to potentially go nine points clear at the Premier League summit.

Klopp will hope Mane can make a splash of the right kind against the champions at Anfield.

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