Jurgen Klopp insisted Liverpool's 4-0 loss to Manchester City had "nothing to do" with being crowned Premier League champions last week.

In their first appearance after winning a first league title since 1990, Liverpool were well beaten at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

A Kevin De Bruyne penalty and goals from Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden, and an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal, saw City to an impressive victory.

Klopp refused to use Liverpool's title success as an excuse, but said City manager Pep Guardiola had an easy way to motivate his side.

"It has nothing to do with last week to be honest. It hurts like defeats hurt," the Liverpool manager told a news conference.

"What I wanted to see was a team who is ready to fight against Man City, who have obviously, I'm not sure if it's the right saying, but a point to prove. It was easy motivation for Pep, let me say it like this.

"The decisive moments City used, we didn't, and it doesn't help, so we had probably more chances than we had in games which we won but we didn't use them, or none of them, so City were there.

"Usually we don't give them that many counter-attacks, with two goals they had a throw-in which is a strength for us usually, tonight it wasn't, and that's how it was then and they have this result."

Liverpool are 20 points clear of City after what was just their second defeat of the Premier League season.

Klopp said any suggestions the gap between the teams was actually that big were wrong.

"If anybody thought before this game that the quality gap between Liverpool and Manchester City is 20 or 23 points, I cannot help these people," he said.

"Football is not about that. Football is about winning games and we did that in a pretty impressive manner.

"I saw, I think, pretty much all of City's games and even the games they lost were good, unbelievable. It is the truth, it is not that they didn't perform or whatever."

Liverpool will try to bounce back when they host lowly Aston Villa on Sunday.

Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in world football, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Liverpool's first outing as Premier League champions proved one to forget as Guardiola's dethroned City ran out 4-0 winners at the Etihad Stadium.

De Bruyne slotted home a 25th-minute penalty after Joe Gomez fouled Raheem Sterling, who doubled the advantage against his old employers 10 minutes later.

Phil Foden made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain turned Sterling's shot into his own net to complete the scoring.

The latter two goals featured typically precise De Bruyne passes in the build-up and the Belgium midfielder underlined his case for being the Premier League's outstanding player against unquestionably the division's outstanding team this season.

"He is a really good player. A really, really good player. He has something unique," Guardiola told reporters afterwards.

"He can run, the vision he has. The personality he shows right now, scoring four penalties in a row when we struggled this season with them.

"Right now in the midfield position is the best.

"Of course he can get better. How? He knows it."

Foden was again worthy of praise within the supporting cast, with the England Under-21 midfielder's assured finish bringing his fourth goal in three Premier League outings since the resumption.

"What we have done is try to protect him," Guardiola said.

"Don’t let him play every single game. Young players have to be careful in the first steps.

"He has an incredible thing that makes me convinced for the next decade he will be an incredible player.

"There is not one day when he has had a bad face for not playing. In training sessions, every single action is positive. Every one – look forward, don't regret.

"He is a huge competitor, he is a guy who scores incredible goals, so fast, defensively so strong.

"It's a reality that he played at Old Trafford, he played here. Against incredibly top teams he was there, always playing at a high level.

"I don't want to say anything wrong, but Gareth Southgate has an incredible talent for the national team in his hands. I saw many players in my life, training with incredible players and Phil will be one of them."

Foden's fellow academy graduate Eric Garcia returned to action after suffering a concussion in the 3-0 win against Arsenal and recovered well from a shaky start at centre-back, after Mohamed Salah hit the post during a deceptively strong Liverpool start.

"He played against Salah and [Sadio] Mane. He's 19, he had a kick against Arsenal, was training for three or four days after 10 days out and he was awesome," Guardiola added.

"He doesn't make mistakes. He is always focused, he guides the line, he knows what he has to do.

"As a club, we are so proud to have Phil and Eric. We can count on them, without a doubt."

A tetchy Jurgen Klopp insisted newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool approached Thursday's clash with Manchester City with the right attitude.

Liverpool were playing their first game since City's loss to Chelsea ended their 30-year wait for the top-flight title but were second best throughout in a 4-0 defeat to the team they have deposed as champions.

Kevin De Bruyne's penalty set the tone and Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden made it 3-0 before half-time, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's own goal rounding off a miserable evening after a week to celebrate.

Reds manager Klopp was clearly in an irritated mood during a post-match interview with Sky Sports but was adamant he had no qualms about the desire of his team.

"I saw a brilliant attitude, I saw boys who were fighting with everything we have. [It's not that] we didn't behave like somebody who became champion a week ago, [that] it's not important, so that was awkward," said Klopp, whose side lost for just the second time in the Premier League this season. 

"We lacked fluidity and in some situations, 50-50s, they were just quicker than us in mind, that's true as well, that's what they use. 

"Then the pitch becomes big immediately. The first goal we left Joe [Gomez] it felt like five minutes alone in a challenge with Sterling and there must be a second player. 

"I think before the second goal we lose the ball, the third goal could have been [dealt with better] which makes no sense, but it can happen against City that you can have massive problems. 

"They used their chances, not all but a lot, and we didn't. So, City were 100 per cent deserving today, but a 5-3 or something like that would have been possible as well. It doesn't make the things better, but now it's 4-0, we have to take that and that's it."

With Liverpool's focus perhaps not as high as it normally would be against City, Klopp was pressed on if perspective must be given to the result.

The usually amiable German again defended his team, though, and said the result was more down to City's own vast quality.

"If you wanna lead this story in the direction that we were not focused on that game then do it, that's the second time I spoke about attitude, I like my team how they set up, I said that and I thought it's clear," he added. 

"If you go again with that, I think we proved that point and we proved as well that City is an unbelievable team. 

"Isn't it nice in this league that another team can be champion even when City is around and can play this kind of football, isn't that a surprise as well?

"City is outstanding, I said that, I have to give them credit. By the way I do that always because they are incredible.

"I saw City's season and I didn't see a bad game, honestly even when they lost they still played really good football."

Raheem Sterling says Manchester City laid down a marker for next season with their thumping 4-0 win over newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool on Thursday.

Pep Guardiola's side made light work of the lacklustre Reds, who were playing for the first time since their first top-flight title in 30 years was confirmed last week.

Kevin De Bruyne got them on their way from the penalty spot after Sterling had been hauled down by Joe Gomez, before the England international, Phil Foden and an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal sealed the resounding victory.

"They [Liverpool] have been brilliant all year," Sterling told Sky Sports. "We knew we had to come out strong because we wanted to have a good game against them.

"We had a test against the current champions and wanted to make a point. We did brilliantly. Next season started today, and we did well."

Foden was once again instrumental to everything positive about City's display, with Sterling impressed by the 20-year-old's maturity.

"This is a team that is evolving and changing," he added. "You can see the maturity Phil is playing with.

"He's 20 and playing like he's been in the first team for years. It's a credit to him. Every opportunity he gets, he does brilliantly."

If it was a night that carried the now familiar whiff of fireworks for Liverpool, it was one that reeked of total humiliation for Manchester City.

Even after dazzling showings from their goalscorers Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in an irresistible 4-0 win, the gap is 20 points. The analysis of where a Premier League title defence helmed by the most celebrated coach of a generation went so far awry should be unsparing.

But, as Pep Guardiola has pointed out frequently since the Premier League title was ceded to Merseyside, City still have plenty to play for this season. The EFL Cup can still be joined in the trophy cabinet by the FA Cup and the Champions League.

They started tentatively – their trademark passing from the back dangerously pedestrian against the most ravenous press in world football, even allowing for the prospect of a week's liquid refreshment drawing some of its bite.

Ederson made a double save from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino before the former skipped inside Eric Garcia to hit the post.

At that point, Guardiola's mind might have flashed back to a match that was both stinging for him as a proud Catalan and hugely significant in his own career.

After Barcelona surrendered LaLiga to Real Madrid in 2007-08, Frank Rijkaard's side performed a guard of honour for their bitter rivals – albeit at a braying Santiago Bernabeu as opposed to a deserted Etihad Stadium – and were soundly beaten 4-1.

It was an abject embarrassment that rubber-stamped the end of Rijkaard's tenure and Guardiola's elevation from the B team.

His rise has continued more or less unchecked ever since, except for encounters with Jurgen Klopp teams.

A win here does little to remove the stains of an inadequate title defence, but another league loss to follow the error-strewn reverse at Chelsea that gift-wrapped the trophy Liverpool craved beyond all others could have done significant damage.

A creaky defence, all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero crocked, Leroy Sane in Munich never to return. As Salah led blue shirts a merry dance during the opening exchanges, it was easy to see more Mancunian misery unfolding.

But De Bruyne was having absolutely none of that. The Premier League's outstanding player was about to take apart the Premier League's outstanding team.

Even as his team-mates struggled to find their footing early on, two glorious passes released Gabriel Jesus, only for the Brazil forward to mistime his runs.

Guardiola's heart will have been in his mouth when his midfield talisman trod on the ball and landed in a twisted heap for a rare unsuccessful assault on the Liverpool backline.

Hopes of FA Cup and Champions League glory can be launched into the sky with whatever assortment of corner shop explosives you like if City don't have De Bruyne fully fit.

It feels like a trick of the mind that the Belgium playmaker was confined to the margins by two medial knee ligament injuries last term, as City edged Liverpool in that titanic title tussle. He is the heart and soul of a team that has shown too little of those qualities as a collective at times in 2019-20.

The supporting cast sparkled here, though, with Sterling enjoying an overdue night of revelry against his former employers.

According to most versions of events, Joe Gomez handled a rampaging Sterling far more effectively in the St George's Park canteen last November than he did here.

The Liverpool centre-back grappled to foul his international team-mate and De Bruyne slotted the opener from the penalty spot. Gomez could not stop Sterling doubling the advantage and was substituted at half-time.

By that point, De Bruyne had pinged a one-two into the path of Foden for an ebullient finish. There was no let-up early in the second period – Jesus drove at the Liverpool defence and shot too close to Alisson, Sterling saw an effort deflected wide after a run of his own and Virgil van Dijk intervened in the goalmouth to deny Foden.

There was undoubted catharsis in all of this for City, as De Bruyne worked through his full repertoire. Another pass of geometric precision had the insatiable Sterling looking for number four, which arrived as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his fine scoring run in this fixture in the wrong net.

A headed attempt by De Bruyne to make it five was more Ballon p'Or than Ballon d'Or, but his unrelenting brilliance was the source of relief and pride for City and Guardiola. In the wider context this result can mean little more.

Nevertheless, they have a base camp for the next instalment of a domestic rivalry that has enthralled for three years. "Next season starts today," a defiant Sterling told Sky Sports afterwards.

In Europe, they could be punting for the big prize next month with a two-season ban confirmed. De Bruyne operating in that last chance saloon is a terrifying prospect for anyone.

Liverpool's first game since being confirmed as Premier League champions did not go to plan as deposed title-holders Manchester City romped to a 4-0 win at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

The Reds' first top-flight title in 30 years was confirmed when City lost to Chelsea last week and the celebrations of their long-awaited success perhaps caught up with Jurgen Klopp's side, who were ruthlessly dismantled by the rampant hosts. 

A Kevin De Bruyne penalty and clinical finishes from Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden put the game to bed before half-time, while an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain own goal in the second half added to the ignominy.

Liverpool remain a whopping 20 points ahead of City, who are 11 clear of third-place Leicester City.

The visitors had started brightly, Mohamed Salah crashing a low effort against the post inside the opening 20 minutes.

City soon hit the front, though, De Bruyne stroking home a 25th-minute penalty after Sterling was hauled down by Joe Gomez following a sumptuous turn.

Sterling made it 2-0 when he collected Foden's pass inside the area and cleverly clipped past Alisson from eight yards.

Foden added a sublime third shortly before the break, firing over Alisson after the brilliant De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan had combined to carve open Liverpool's defence.

Substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain then turned into his own net in the 66th minute as he stretched to clear Sterling's effort on goal.

City substitute Riyad Mahrez had a stoppage-time goal ruled out by VAR after a handball by Foden in the build-up, but it mattered little as the damage had been well and truly inflicted on Klopp's men by then.

 

What does it mean? Wounded City humble new champions

Given the scoreline, you would be forgiven for thinking Klopp had decided to field a team of youngsters following their confirmation as Premier League champions. As it was, this was the Reds' strongest XI. They were no match for a City side clearly hurt by losing their title last week, though.

Pep Guardiola will have seen this as an opportunity to lay down a marker for next season and his side did not let him down. Roll on the 2020-21 campaign.

Sterling finally makes his mark against Reds

The England international had to wait until his ninth appearance against his former club to net against them and he certainly enjoyed the moment. He was superb throughout, linking up with De Bruyne and Foden to devastating effect.

Gomez endures game to forget       

Gomez and Sterling had a spat while on England duty last year and the Liverpool defender had a torrid time against his international colleague here.

The City man forced Gomez into a foul for De Bruyne's penalty and generally ran him ragged throughout.

What's next?

Guardiola's men travel to Southampton on Sunday, while the Reds host relegation-threatened Aston Villa at Anfield on the same day.

Eric Garcia is back in the Manchester City starting line-up for the visit of newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool.

Teenage centre-back Garcia is making his first appearance since suffering concussion in a collision with goalkeeper Ederson during City's 3-0 win over Arsenal two weeks ago.

Pep Guardiola's men have since ceded their title to Liverpool, who are at full strength for the behind-closed doors encounter at the Etihad Stadium as they look to burnish a glorious campaign with further entries into the record books.

Garcia and central defensive partner Aymeric Laporte will have to contend with the Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah forward line.

In Sergio Aguero's ongoing injury absence, Phil Foden and ex-Red Raheem Sterling line-up alongside Gabriel Jesus in the hosts' attack.

Liverpool are 23 points better off than City at kick-off, but have won only one of their previous 10 Premier League outings at the Etihad.

Manchester City will close the gap on Liverpool in the Premier League next season if they address the centre-back position, according to Jamie Carragher.

Champions Liverpool face City at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday in their first match since winning a first English title in 30 years.

Carragher, a Champions League winner with the Reds, thinks City boss Pep Guardiola always has something up his sleeve for matches between the teams.

And he believes the contest will be the prelude to a closer title battle in the 2020-21 campaign, with Liverpool sitting 23 points ahead of the side they dethroned this time around.

"It's whether Guardiola comes up with something a little bit different for Liverpool's front three," Carragher said to Sky Sports ahead of the match.

"He could go with three at the back, or with a more defensive full-back, as he did in this fixture last year when he put [Aymeric] Laporte at left-back.

"He always seems to have something a little bit different up his sleeve against Liverpool, so I wouldn't be surprised if he did something like that.

"Can Liverpool control Kevin De Bruyne? And can City's back four cope with Liverpool's front three? I think those are the big questions, really.

"De Bruyne is, for me, the best player in the Premier League. If Liverpool can stop that man in midfield, that will stop a lot of City.

"No doubt Liverpool will have to deal with De Bruyne, because if they don't it will make it really difficult for them.

"City will want to put a marker down and win the game. At their best, they're almost unstoppable, but one of the few teams that can stop them are Liverpool, so it will be brilliant to watch." 

Discussing next season, Carragher added: "There's 23 points between the teams but I don't see the gap as being that big.

"There's no doubt that Liverpool have the edge, but I certainly don't think there will be that much next season – I don't think there's too much between the teams. 

"City are too good a team and Guardiola is too good a manager to have a gap like that between one of his teams and someone else's.

"I think a lot of it will [come down to] who City recruit. There's no doubt that City will do a lot more in the market than Liverpool will. 

"If City recruit well, it will bridge that gap that we've seen this season and then it becomes about how Liverpool deal with that.

"The big problem is how many goals City have conceded compared to Liverpool. That's the big difference. The centre-backs issue was a problem for City all season. 

"They need to rectify having lost [Vincent] Kompany. If they add in that position, they could certainly bridge the gap and make it really tight next year."

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was more deserving of the Best FIFA Men's Player award in 2019 than Barcelona star Lionel Messi, according to France great Alain Giresse.

After guiding Barca to LaLiga glory and the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, Messi won the accolade for a sixth time back in September – he was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009 and claimed four Ballons d'Or while it was backed by world football's governing body.

Mane finished fifth in the voting, behind Liverpool team-mates Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, and Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Giresse, who coached Mane during his time in charge of Senegal between 2013 and 2015, insists the 28-year-old should have finished top after starring for Liverpool on their way to Champions League success.

"I definitely would have put Sadio Mane ahead of Messi, in terms of the season they had last season," he told ESPN.

"When I was head coach of Senegal, Sadio was still young but he had ahead of him an enormous potential, a technical potential, and a moral potential to go on to become a great player, as he has become today."

Giresse, named French Player of the Year three times in the 1980s, was Tunisia head coach until August and should have been eligible to vote.

"I didn't receive the ballot sheet, so it wasn't me who voted [on Tunisia's behalf]. I can't say who did, but it wasn't me," he said. The top pick credited to Giresse was Ronaldo, with Van Dijk second and Messi third.

Former Bordeaux and Marseille midfielder Giresse also managed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at international level with Gabon. 

Aubameyang shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Mane and Salah last season and Giresse believes the Arsenal striker is now among the world's best.

"I launched Pierre-Emerick with the Gabon national team, at the start of his development, his expansion and his progression," he said.

"We can all see his pathway and the level he's reached now. We're talking about [him moving to] Real Madrid, so it shows how this player has reached a world-class level, and you could say the same about Sadio."

Jurgen Klopp says he would never compare himself with Liverpool legends Kenny Dalglish and Bill Shankly, despite winning the Premier League and Champions League.

Liverpool ended their three-decade wait for top-flight silverware last week, a little over a year on from being crowned champions of Europe for a sixth time.

Klopp is only the third manager in the club's history to win both trophies in their various guises, alongside Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, with Dalglish and Shankly unable to achieve the feat.

However, ex-Borussia Dortmund boss Klopp - who also won the Club World Cup in December - insists he is not interested in comparisons with two of the club's all-time greats.

"I'm rather surprised to be honest," Klopp told Sky Sports. "The reasons why Kenny [didn't win] I know, but with Bill I don't know exactly why he couldn't win it.

"But it is not important. I would never compare myself with them. Nobody should do that actually. It was different times, building a club and carrying a club.

"It's a big achievement, I know that. I know how we did it, pretty much because of all the hard work people put in at Melwood and the passion that people showed for this club.

"It's never easy, it was not easy this time but it makes it much more valuable, worthy and emotional."

Like Klopp, Jordan Henderson has also written his name in Anfield folklore by joining Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson and Graeme Souness in captaining Liverpool to both major honours.

Henderson succeeded Steven Gerrard as skipper in 2015 and has proved his critics wrong with his performances over the past couple of seasons, much to Klopp's delight.

"I couldn't be more happy for him to be honest," the German said.

"If we speak about people carrying expectation around with them, Hendo could and should probably write a book about it and how he deals with that because it was massive when I came in here.

"I felt it pretty early, that it is really difficult to do his job. How people saw him as a player... thank God we all knew what kind of player he really is and together we could make that obvious.

"Now he is probably in the best place ever, in a good shape of course. Not only at the moment but this is of course the big one.

"I can't wait for him to be sitting in a TV studio two or three years after his career has finished, talking about Trent Alexander-Arnold and the other guys and telling them what is right and wrong!

"That will be good fun for sure."

Liverpool will take to the field at Manchester City on Thursday as Premier League champions.

The Reds' 30-year wait to reign supreme in England's top flight came to an end when City were beaten by Chelsea last week.

Becoming champions with seven matches to spare underlines the dominant nature of a campaign masterminded by the brilliant Jurgen Klopp.

As such, a host of Liverpool players are expected to be in the running for the end-of-season awards.

But which of Klopp's heroes has been the most important to the cause? Here, our writers pick out who has been the star turn and state their case.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD – Dom Farrell

The majestic front three and the defensive solidity acquired through the astute big-money purchases of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk are the twin pillars of this Liverpool triumph, but Trent Alexander-Arnold gives them their x-factor. Shut down Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino if you can, but then find yourself terrorised by a lavishly talented youngster who might yet redefine what the modern full-back looks like.

Lethal from both open play and dead ball situations, the 21-year-old has been the Reds' main creative force this term and it's not even particularly close. Andy Robertson is second to Alexander-Arnold's 12 assists with eight, while the right-back's 78 chances created dwarf the next best return – 49 from Salah.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK – Ryan Benson

Van Dijk has been the one ever-present for Liverpool this season, starting every single Premier League match. The Dutchman leads the way for clean sheets in the division with 14.

Throughout the campaign he has been the ultimate assuring presence at the back, from his exceptional reading of the game, dominant physicality and fine technical ability. While Salah, Mane and Firmino may be responsible for most of the goals, they would also be significantly worse off without Van Dijk, whose impact at Anfield continues to amaze.

JORDAN HENDERSON – Rob Lancaster

If Van Dijk is the Rolls Royce at the back and the forward trio are sports cars capable of going from 0-60mph in a hurry, Jordan Henderson is the equivalent to a five-door family hatchback. Flashy? No. Supremely reliable? Absolutely. 

Under Klopp, the Reds' win percentage is almost 13 per cent higher (68.8 per cent compared to 56) when Henderson plays. Their only league defeat so far this season, away to Watford, came without the skipper in the line-up.

The midfielder has contributed in attack, providing five assists and grabbing three goals in 2019-20, but that's not his major purpose. Henderson knows his role and plays it to perfection, serving as the manager's on-field lieutenant as he passes and presses relentlessly to help break opposition teams down. Having lifted the Champions League last season, now he has captained Liverpool to domestic glory too.

SADIO MANE – Joe Wright

It's often said the mark of champions is to win not just when playing well, but when victory seems beyond you. Sometimes – if not often – Liverpool have been up against it and in need of a saviour. More often than not, that saviour has been Sadio Mane. 

Mane has been Liverpool's most impressive attacking player all season, his all-round game now honed to a frighteningly high level that has produced 15 goals and seven assists. Those goals have been undeniably crucial, yielding 18 points in 2019-20, a tally nobody in the Premier League can better. If ever Liverpool looked likely to falter, Mane's goals kept them on course.

MOHAMED SALAH – Liam Blackburn

Salah's prolific debut season following his arrival from Roma – he scored 44 goals in all competitions in 2017-18 – raised the bar ridiculously high. Even in the previous campaign, no one scored more in the Premier League than the Egyptian's 22 and he is once again Liverpool's leading marksman in 2019-20.  

His total of 21 goals in all competitions sees him average one every 146 minutes, while no one in the Premier League has scored more than Salah's seven match-winners.

However, Salah is about more than just goals. He has created 49 chances and provided seven assists. Liverpool's struggles to break down a stubborn Everton defence when the 28-year-old remained on the bench throughout their first game after the lockdown only underlined his importance.

Having finally ended their wait for a breakthrough Premier League title, Liverpool will face the team they dethroned as champions, Manchester City, on Thursday.

Jurgen Klopp's men led the way as early as August and never relinquished their grasp on first place.

Unlike in the near misses in 2008-09, 2013-14 and 2018-19, the Reds would not be caught, with Manchester City and the rest of the Premier League trailing in their wake as they secured top-flight silverware for the first time since 1990.

They will receive a guard of honour at the Etihad Stadium, with City's 2-1 loss at Chelsea last week clinching the championship.e

However, there were a number of key results along the way. We take a look.
 

Norwich City 3-2 Manchester City - September 14

Pep Guardiola's side blinked first in the title race. Although City had already dropped points at home to Tottenham before visiting Norwich, it appeared the defending champions would again match Liverpool stride for stride. But one of the upsets of the season sent shockwaves through the division in matchweek five.

City lost Aymeric Laporte to a knee ligament injury the previous weekend, and John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi endured a miserable evening as Kenny McLean, Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki scored at Carrow Road. Liverpool had earlier come from behind to beat Newcastle United, establishing a strong early advantage.

Sheffield United 0-1 Liverpool - September 28

Liverpool did eventually drop points for the first time against Manchester United in October, but their winning start continued to that point despite a serious test against newly promoted Sheffield United.

The Blades have been a surprise package this season and were perhaps good value for a point against Klopp's men, only for an uncharacteristic error by goalkeeper Dean Henderson - on loan from rivals United - to gift Georginio Wijnaldum a precious 70th-minute winner.

Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool - November 2

It is often said that the best teams win even when they do not play well, and the victory at Sheffield United was far from unique in that sense. Indeed, at Villa Park, Liverpool were heading for defeat until the 87th minute.

However, Andy Robertson stole in for a late equaliser, and then Sadio Mane incredibly clinched victory in the fourth minute of stoppage time. It was the second such comeback from the Reds in two weeks, having previously rallied against Tottenham at Anfield in a crucial stretch that included a dramatic win over Leicester City and their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City - November 10

And eight days on from the win at Villa, Liverpool increased their lead at the top of the table to eight points with victory over City, who were left a further point back in fourth. With the Reds' failure to beat Guardiola's side home or away in 2018-19 proving costly, this success represented a huge boost.

The match was not without its controversies, however, as City fumed at an apparent Trent Alexander-Arnold handball in the build-up to Fabinho's opener. The right-back looked to be guilty of the same offence again late in the game, with no penalty given, as Mohamed Salah and Mane also netted in a mammoth triumph.

Liverpool 2-0 Watford - December 14

Along with the run of fixtures leading into that City game, December represented a key spell for Liverpool as their title bid was disrupted by the Club World Cup. Watford would be the side to finally beat the Reds in February and, in the final match before the FIFA tournament, they gave it a good go at Anfield, too.

Nigel Pearson's first game in charge of the Hornets saw Liverpool troubled throughout, and not until Salah struck his second in the 90th minute were the points made safe.

Leicester City 0-4 Liverpool - December 26

Liverpool won the Club World Cup in Qatar, but it was like they had never been away when their league campaign resumed on Boxing Day. Leicester were second when the teams met but were blown away on their own patch.

Roberto Firmino opened the scoring before the break and then netted again, along with James Milner and Alexander-Arnold, in a ruthless eight-minute second-half spell. City lost at Wolves the following day - their second defeat of December - and the title race already looked to have been run.

Tottenham 2-0 Manchester City - February 2

Liverpool were relentless over the festive period, and their rivals' struggles meant Klopp's side could even afford a slow restart following the February mid-season break. Any slim City hopes of a spectacular pursuit of the Anfield club were surely already over in defeat at Tottenham prior to the weekend off.

Ilkay Gundogan missed a penalty, Oleksandr Zinchenko was sent off, and Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min netted. Bernardo Silva subsequently moaned City "gave up a bit too soon" in the title race. When Guardiola's men went down 2-0 again at Manchester United a month later, Liverpool were on the brink.

Manchester City were merely reigning Premier League champions from around the turn of the year. Any meaningful title defence ended a long time ago.

After amassing an astounding 198 points over the course of consecutive championship-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola's men were unable to summon an adequate response in the face of Liverpool's relentless onslaught.

City's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week completed the formalities, meaning Guardiola's plans over how to wrest back control should already be well underway.

Ahead of Liverpool's trip to City on Thursday, we look at the areas where he and the Etihad Stadium's brain trust should be focusing their attention.

 

ADDRESS OBVIOUS GAPS IN THE SQUAD

Guardiola's suggestion at the end of last week that he might not seek a like-for-like replacement for Leroy Sane if the Germany winger completes his long-mooted switch to Bayern Munich understandably caused consternation among City fans. Vincent Kompany's influence and aura were irreplaceable when he called time on his career in Manchester in May 2019, but a new centre-back would certainly have come in handy.

The cruciate knee ligament injury that decimated Aymeric Laporte's campaign left Fernandinho simultaneously learning a new position and standing in as City's most reliable option in central defence, as Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones laboured. A high-quality partner for Laporte must be the number one transfer market priority.

A natural left-winger is also needed. Sane has been another long-term injury victim this term and, without that option, City's attacks have sometimes become narrow and predictable. On the subject of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Benjamin Mendy looks to have put a nightmarish two years behind him, although he endured a game to forget against Chelsea. It would be foolish to count on the France international's fitness holding for long and links to England left-back Ben Chilwell are understandable.

RECHARGE AND REPLENISH STAR MEN

The three positions above are likely to be the limit of City's ambitions in an uncertain market, with the depth of coronavirus' impact upon football finances yet to be fully realised. Whether or not the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for sport overturns or reduces their two-season Champions League ban must also be factored into any plans.

The good thing for Guardiola is the fact that plenty of room for improvement lies within. Aside from the imperious Kevin De Bruyne and the ever-prolific Sergio Aguero, it is hard to identify a senior City player who can be wholly satisfied with their efforts this term. Ederson's three errors leading to a goal are second only to Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (five) in the division, while Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling have at times appeared burned out following the exertions of a triumphant 2018-19.

UNLEASH PHIL FODEN

David Silva's departure at the end of this season was expected to usher in Phil Foden to blossom as the master's apprentice. This has been muddied slightly by the England Under-21 star's best performances coming in a wide attacking role, most notably his man-of-the-match outing in the EFL Cup final and his two-goal showing in the recent 5-0 demolition of Burnley. He was badly missed at Chelsea.

Guardiola loves players who are adept in a number of roles and Foden has thrived regardless of what his brief is on any given stage. The academy product has long looked a player at home in this City team; he now seems like one who could significantly elevate it. It is time to let him fly.

REMAIN BANNED FROM THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

From having to scale down more ambitious transfer targets to tackling some awkward conversations with star players over their immediate futures, the seismic blow of City's exclusion from the Champions League holding firm should not be underplayed. However, if we are looking at this purely in terms of their chances of winning a third Premier League title in four seasons, a coach of Guardiola's calibre getting free midweeks to hone his side to his version of perfection is something of which Liverpool and others would be right to be wary.

DON'T ACTUALLY CHANGE TOO MUCH

Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, City compiled deplorably meek title defences. The clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool this time around makes it tempting to lump their 2019-20 efforts in with those other failures. But there is an important wider context. The Manchester United and Chelsea sides that unseated Mancini and Pellegrini were not a patch on Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool machine. This City had won six of the previous seven domestic honours on offer and could conceivably finish 2019-20 with the FA Cup and that elusive Champions League nestled alongside the EFL Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Also, it is not a slight on the Reds' brilliance to note most things that could have fallen in their favour this season have. That is inevitable. City sealed their 100-point season with a last-minute winner at Southampton, having beaten Saints, Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield Town in similar fashion before the turn of the year. Mind-boggling deeds require a certain level of fortune.

Heading into their game at Chelsea, City were still ahead of Liverpool by five points with a game in hand in Opta's Expected Goals league table (Yes, yes… when's the parade?!?!). Liverpool's brutally clinical efforts are to be admired, but the underlying numbers suggest such a gulf will not become the norm.

Premier League champions Liverpool will emerge at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday to a guard of honour from previous title-holders Manchester City.

It will be the latest episode in the captivating rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

We run the rule over two men whose tactical approaches and high levels of achievement have – and it does not feel too grandiose to suggest this – changed football in the 21st century, as well as one another.

THE BUNDESLIGA YEARS

Guardiola's arrival to take the reins of a treble-winning Bayern for 2013-14 came shortly after their rivalry with Klopp's Dortmund reached its peak.

Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner saw Bayern down BVB 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley – a game played out against a backdrop of Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Gotze agreeing terms to move to Bavaria.

In hindsight, Klopp's gegenpressing machine – winners of back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – were coming off the top of their curve, having finished 25 points behind a relentless Bayern domestically that season.

The decline continued over the next two seasons. Dortmund were remarkably in relegation trouble halfway through 2014-15, before a post-Christmas recovery preceded Klopp's emotional farewell.

Nevertheless, there was still time for telling blows to be landed. Guardiola's first competitive game in charge saw Bayern beaten 4-2 in the 2013 DFL-Supercup at a delirious Signal Iduna Park.

Stung by that loss, Guardiola sprung a notable surprise in the first league encounter between the sides that November, where he broke Dortmund's rabid press by playing Javi Martinez as an attacking midfielder and repeatedly targeting the rangy Spain international with long balls.

The high priest of tiki-taka (a label Guardiola famously loathes) had presided over "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from a Bayern team, according to Klopp, who bristled after Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller added to Gotze's inevitable second-half opener in a 3-0 win.

A depleted Munich were similarly reactive when they won the DFB-Pokal final 2-0 in extra-time, even if flooding midfield numbers was a more recognisably Guardiola tactic.

Diverting from his dizzying 4-3-3 of swirling triangles has remained something the Catalan tactician has frequently done across his meetings with Klopp, and not always with the success he enjoyed in Germany.

HOLLOW VICTORIES AND THE PHONEY WAR

Klopp ended his homeland head-to-head against Guardiola with three victories, making it back-to-back Supercup triumphs in 2014, having claimed a 3-0 Bundesliga result at Allianz Arena earlier that year – the authority of which was dimmed by the fact Bayern had already cantered to the title.

Guardiola had four victories to his name, with one draw ultimately falling in Dortmund's favour as Bayern failed with all four of their penalty attempts in a 2015 DFB-Pokal semi-final shoot-out.

However, Klopp was denied a glorious farewell as his team lost in the final to Wolfsburg and the fact Robert Lewandowski had followed Gotze to Munich by this point underlined a deck stacked against him.

Liverpool came calling for Klopp in October 2015 and he helmed helter-skelter runs to the EFL Cup and Europa League finals. Manchester City and Sevilla prevailed respectively.

That was Manuel Pellegrini's final honour as City boss as he made way for Guardiola, who collected a third successive Bundesliga title in 2015-16. Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund finished closer in terms of position and points (second, 10 behind) than Klopp's version had managed when in direct competition.

With the stage presumably set for renewed hostilities between Guardiola and incoming Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, the similarly newly installed Antonio Conte did not read the script as Chelsea romped to 2016-17 Premier League glory.

Klopp got the better of his head-to-heads with City as a Georginio Wijnaldum goal sealed a 1-0 New Year's Eve win at Anfield before Sergio Aguero rescued a point for the hosts in the return game.

Guardiola laid it on thick after that 1-1 draw, declaring it to be "one of the most special days of my life".

"He is Spanish. They are a little bit more emotional than the Germans," Klopp chuckled in response.

TON-UP BUT NOT INVINCIBLE AND THE ROAD TO KIEV

Liverpool beat City three times in 2017-18, when most other teams could barely lay a glove on Guardiola's record-breaking side.

But the game where City prevailed, an unusual 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium where Liverpool subsided meekly after Sadio Mane's red card for clattering Ederson with a high boot, arguably had the biggest influence on the campaign.

When that game was 11 v 11, Guardiola's back three was horribly exposed. Aguero's opener arrived against the run of play, with an unusually wasteful Mohamed Salah having tormented Nicolas Otamendi.

City never used 3-5-2 in the league again that season, reverting to a swashbuckling 4-3-3 that churned out 19 consecutive wins and made the second half of the schedule a virtual procession.

Liverpool halted their designs on invincibility however, claiming a raucous 4-3 Anfield win in January. Klopp hailed "pressing from another planet" by his front three as Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah were all on target in a euphoric nine-minute spell after half-time.

Guardiola had again seen a swift avalanche of goals bring the roof in during a big match and his tweak to a 4-4-2 diamond, eyeing avenues around those Liverpool pressing lanes, backfired in that season's Champions League quarter-final.

A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield, with all the goals arriving during the first half, left City with a mountain to climb and a death-or-glory approach in the return fixture – deploying a formation probably best described as 3-CHARGE!!! – eventually ran out of steam in a 2-1 loss.

But it was Liverpool who came up short in the Kiev final on Loris Karius' nightmare outing against Real Madrid, while City sauntered to a 100-point haul as dominant Premier League champions. Sitting 25 points back in fourth, the Reds had a considerable gap to bridge.

CHASING PERFECTION

Despite that deficit, their efforts in going blow-for-blow with City over 90-minute periods left the impression Liverpool were the best placed of the pretenders to overthrow the champions.

Both teams reconvened on Merseyside undefeated in October 2018 and remained that way as the free-flowing nature of recent meetings gave way to a cagey 0-0 draw.

Reprising the theme of those early Klassiker meetings, Guardiola took his foot off the throttle as City played at a controlled tempo – an approach that would have ended the club's Anfield hoodoo but for Riyad Mahrez's ballooned late penalty.

Fire and brimstone returned the following January, though, with a wobbling City recovering their poise and avoiding a 10-point deficit at the top. Aguero and Leroy Sane were on target either side of Firmino in a bravura display, where Aymeric Laporte took on the unfamiliar role of left-back to stifle Salah.

That was Liverpool's only loss of the season as they finished on 97 points, agonisingly one shy of City. However, their subsequent Champions League final win over Tottenham improbably propelled them further along.

Just as Guardiola has tempered some of his more cavalier tendencies when faced with Klopp, the challenge of an unrelenting City also forced the Liverpool boss into subtle and decisive tweaks.

In bringing in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, he spent big for what many see as the finest goalkeeper and centre-back on the planet. Their very presence means risk can be reduced.

Heavy metal football has given way to a steady pulsing beat that never wavers. In the city of Merseybeat, Klopp has gone electro.

Amid their steamrollering of the opposition this season, Liverpool have 19 wins by a solitary goal in all competitions. They are frighteningly and ruthlessly clinical. A profligate City trail in their wake, although Guardiola has used this relative freedom from pressure to thumb intriguingly through his tactical playbook in 2020.

Both men have inspired the other to reach beyond their comfort zones and the result is the two best teams in world football. With Klopp contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and Guardiola talking up an extended stay, the thought occurs that they are each other's motivation for sticking around. There is nowhere better to measure their greatness than against one another.

Frank Lampard insisted Chelsea have a lot of hard work ahead to reach the level of Premier League champions Liverpool and Manchester City following their shock loss at lowly West Ham.

Chelsea suffered a surprise 3-2 defeat to West Ham, who moved three points clear of the relegation zone thanks to Andriy Yarmolenko's 89th-minute winner at the London Stadium.

Willian's brace was not enough for Chelsea to secure at least a point away from home – the result ending the club's six-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

Chelsea remain fourth in the table, just two points clear of in-form Manchester United and Wolves with six matches remaining in the race for Champions League qualification.

Asked if he was concerned that Chelsea had a mental issue following their inconsistent form in 2019-20, head coach Lampard told reporters: "It's something that has happened a few times this season.

"We've had opportunities to close gaps and jump over teams because of other results or whatever situation.

"But we haven't done it and that's a sign of where we are. We know we have a lot of hard work to do to get where we want to be and the reason the rest of us are chasing Liverpool and Man City is because of the consistency that develops over time. That's what we have to work towards.

"It's obviously frustrating but if we're in that position it's how you bounce back, how you move forward. We have Watford now at the weekend and games after that to try and carry on.

"We have to realise the position we are in in terms of fighting for the Champions League places and move forward."

While Chelsea – who will welcome relegation-threatened Watford to Stamford Bridge on Saturday – lost their 10th game of the campaign, Christian Pulisic was a shining light against West Ham midweek.

Pulisic earned the 42nd-minute penalty which Willian converted before winning the free-kick that was also put away by his Brazilian team-mate with 18 minutes remaining.

"A big positive," Lampard said. "He's playing really well, as we can all see. Him and Willian as well. Willian gets his two goals. But with Christian I think it's more like earlier in the season when he had a patch in the run up to Christmas where he was playing towards his level.

"Then he got injured and has been out for a long time. It's nice to see him back, fresh and hungry, and playing with the quality he has. He's a young player with great talent."

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