Pep Guardiola insisted his post-match greeting of referee Michael Oliver was not sarcastic as sought to avoid blaming the match officials for Manchester City's 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

City face a tall order to win a third consecutive Premier League title after goals from Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a resounding 3-1 win on Sunday.

Liverpool are eight points clear of Leicester City and Chelsea at the top of the table and nine better off than Guardiola's City, who lie fourth.

City were aggrieved to see a handball claim against Trent Alexander-Arnold inside the Liverpool box go unpunished immediately before the counter-attack for Fabinho's stunning opener, while further marginal penalty claims during the second half fell on deaf ears.

Raheem Sterling went down following an arm in the back from Sadio Mane before chipping the ball into Alexander-Arnold's hand.

After the full-time whistle, Guardiola was seen saying "thank you very much" to Oliver and his assistants in exaggerated fashion but looked to steer clear of any further controversy in his post-match news conference.

"It would not be nice [to take about the referee] after we lose," City manager Guardiola said.

"Ask Mike Riley [general manager of English referees body PGMOL] and the big bosses about that, don't ask to me.

"It was not sarcastic, it was, 'thank you so much'. I said the same in the Tottenham game at home [when Gabriel Jesus had an injury-time winner ruled out after a VAR review].

"Most of the time when I go to the referees and my colleagues, always I say 'thank you so much, good luck'. It's uncomfortable for me because it looks like 'ah, Pep complains' - congratulations Liverpool, 3-1.

"I don't know what happens in the future, if this or that happens in the game. We never know what happens in the future. But on the decisions, ask the big bosses. The guys who understand everything of that game."

One factor culpable for the loss very much under Guardiola's control is the threadbare composition of City's defence.

Long-serving captain Vincent Kompany left at the end of last season and the decision not to replace him with a specialist centre-back option has been compounded by Aymeric Laporte's meniscus injury.

Holding midfielder Fernandinho again lined up in the heart of defence alongside John Stones at Anfield, whose own fitness struggles have run parallel to Nicolas Otamendi's form dipping considerably.

Angelino made a second Premier League start, with the injury-ravaged Benjamin Mendy deemed unavailable by his manager. The left-back attacked promisingly throughout and hit the post, although he and Fernandinho were both arguably culpable for Salah's 13th-minute goal from Andy Robertson's searching cross.

"Mendy could not train yesterday due to some problems, so I decided for Angelino," Guardiola said. "Mendy is not injured, he goes to his national team now. We played so good.

"Of course we have a young player like Angelino, Fernandinho is helping us playing that position, John Stones comes back after a long injury; their back four is the same all the time but we have to move it for many reasons."

Nevertheless, Guardiola insisted he did not regret an expansive approach that saw his side have more shots, win more corners and enjoy the majority of possession against their victorious opponents.

"We decided to play the way we did because it's the way we won two Premier Leagues in a row, seven titles in three seasons, and sometimes the people say 'oh we like to watch Manchester City play football'," he added.

"The teams who come here to play, they know how difficult it is, the way we do it. Of course, we have to improve in the box and be more solid. Hopefully we can improve in the future."

Jurgen Klopp dismissed any idea that Liverpool opening up an eight-point buffer at the top of the Premier League will crank up the pressure on his unbeaten Reds side.

Liverpool produced a clinical performance to defeat Manchester City 3-1 in front of a delighted Anfield on Sunday, with Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on target in a pulsating affair.

Pep Guardiola's champions are now nine points adrift of Liverpool, with Chelsea and Leicester City each eight back. 

Such a commanding lead in the table by November has led several pundits to suggest the title is now Liverpool's to lose.

Klopp is uncomfortable with such a suggestion but is adamant his team are prepared for what is to come.

"We don't feel any pressure, to be 100 per cent honest," he said.

"The things that will now come up, we know about. If you are with us, then nine points is a positive. There's a long way to go.

"Other people will 100 per cent say, and have said already, that from now on Liverpool can only lose it.

"That's a very negative approach, but you can see it like this. But we don't care. I can promise you that we don't care.

"Today we were completely focused on this game and not the situation in the table and how many points we are ahead of City in the table.

"That's crazy. Nine points ahead of City, you cannot imagine that something like this would happen. But it's not important because who wants to be first in November? You want to be first in May.

"It's only November. We all know that but don't have to say it as it's clear. We will try and see what happens in the end.

"The pressure or whatever is not there yet. It will come, but at the moment it's just opportunity and go for it and do the work, throw all in what you have and let's see what happens."

Liverpool only lost once last season en route to being pipped to the title by a solitary point and are yet to suffer defeat in the league this term.

Asked if Liverpool are thinking about going through the season unbeaten, Klopp replied: "Not at all.

"We just don't think about it. What I thought after the game was a word I'm not allowed to say and then the boys go now all over the world, play for their countries and hopefully come back healthy and two days after we are back it's Crystal Palace. That's what I am concerned about.

"You saw again today, the hardest work is needed to win any football game but a game like this particularly. I'm really happy for tonight, but that's it."

"THANK YOU SO MUCH! THANK YOU SO MUCH!"

Pep Guardiola's gargantuan sarcasm when he greeted referee Michael Oliver and his officials at full-time certainly matched the magnitude of a ferocious and frenetic Anfield encounter.

The Manchester City manager had long been in a righteous funk at missed chances and rejected penalty appeals as Liverpool closed out a 3-1 victory that puts them eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.

That's right, eight. Not nine. They're nine points clear of fourth-placed City.

Guardiola probably reached the midway point of his tether as early as the sixth minute. Trent Alexander-Arnold handled in the Liverpool box – the fact Bernardo Silva inadvertently did so just beforehand probably saving the England right-back in the final VAR analysis – and Liverpool played to the whistle to a greater extent than their opponents.

Ilkay Gundogan's clearance was as wretched as Fabinho's strike from outside the box was magnificent.

City picked themselves up off an all-too familiar Merseyside canvas and got back on the front foot. Kevin De Bruyne's deliveries were not to their usual standard but Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero both probably should have scored from them. City's two world-class attacking figureheads are still yet to find the net on this ground.

The 13th minute brought a brutally brilliant second, displaying one the key facets of Liverpool's triumph. Alexander-Arnold toiled under Sterling's examination at times, but his cross-field pass to fellow full-back Andy Robertson was glorious.

Those diagonal balls tested City's makeshift defence all day and Robertson's cross found Mohamed Salah lurking between career midfielder Fernandinho and greenhorn left-back Angelino to head gleefully home.

Guardiola repeated how proud he was of his team's performance after the match and, even if this was primarily a was to avoid an FA ban by giving his own take on Oliver's efforts, it was understandable.

City continued to plug away, Angelino often to the fore in tandem with Sterling down the left and prodding a typically immaculate De Bruyne pass against the post.

But they were vulnerable in the transition as they chased the game and this is Klopp's domain. As in the riotous 4-3 win over City in January last year, Georginio Wijnaldum was magnificent – an indomitable cocktail of power and intelligence, as deft as he was destructive.

Then there was Jordan Henderson, who will surely see this season as a failure if he does not lift the league title Liverpool supporters have pined for over an interminable three decades.

Shifted to the right flank after the break, Henderson's cross for Sadio Mane's third made sure of victory and City's persistent threats during the final half hour, when Bernardo Silva pulled a goal back, were notable for coming after James Milner replaced his captain.

Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might sit on the bench as more technically astute footballers than Henderson, but they will never exceed his worth to Klopp's cause.

Guardiola was left to lament "the boxes" in his post-match interview following Liverpool's clinical clinic. It was something he pondered often during his first season in charge of City, before back-to-back titles, 198 points, five major trophies and all that.

Another relic of that time, Claudio Bravo, was back. The veteran Chile international was helpless when beaten by Liverpool's first two shots on target - even if Klopp's admission that he encouraged his players to shoot from distance felt telling – but his reaction to Henderson's teasing 51st-minute delivery was atrocious.

Selecting such a strong side to face Atalanta in midweek, losing Ederson in the process, damaged City's chances. As did the decision not to reinforce at centre-back after Vincent Kompany's departure, while rushing back Rodri to protect a patched-up backline he is yet to show he can adequately screen since signing from Atletico Madrid was another questionable move.

Calls made before this weekend went a long way to sealing Guardiola's fate as City's wait for an Anfield win goes on. Liverpool's relentlessness is magnified by the fact his side have slipped slightly and significantly from the peerless heights of the past two seasons.

All it takes is a few mis-steps in these circumstances, so maybe this title race isn't over. But if City do make it three in a row, Guardiola should be bellowing thanks all over again. Liverpool faltering decisively from this position would amount to delivering gift-wrapped glory to Manchester.

Jurgen Klopp acknowledged Liverpool's pulsating 3-1 win over title rivlas Manchester City was "pretty wild".

The clash between the warring teams at Anfield lived up to its billing as a match full of thrills, spills and controversy saw Liverpool emerge victorious to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Fabinho's sixth-minute thunderbolt came shortly after City were incensed not to be awarded a penalty for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane goals put Liverpool in command before Bernardo Silva's 78th-minute effort for City set up a frantic finale.

Liverpool boss Klopp revelled in taking the points at the end of a barnstorming fixture.

"The intensity of the game was incredible. Pretty wild. For us, it's not too unusual that the game is wild," Klopp said. 

"City usually control the game more - it was not possible against us today, but they were good, oh they were good. We had to defend with all we had. And we scored incredible goals. 

"I really have to think about what I say before the game, because today I asked for finishes from outside the box. I should ask that [more often]. It's my fault that it's probably the first goal from outside the box this season. But Fabinho, what a goal. 

"Then what a counter-attack, what a pass from Robbo [Andy Robertson], what a header from Mo. Giving the game this kind of direction is incredible. It was so tough to play - you saw that - of course the intensity of the game kills you. 

"It's a little bit too long, a football game. We put all that in against an opponent like City. But it was all worth it, eh? It was all worth it. Really great."

City, who are now nine points adrift of Liverpool, turned the screw after Silva's strike and threatened more than once to produce a late revival.

Klopp conceded he was concerned by City's threat but says it was always to be expected.

He added: "Look, we saw the City situations they had. They passed the ball from outside, Raheem Sterling, what a player. The thing is how did we defend him until then? How good was that?

"You see the moment we don't defend him anymore what happens immediately. They are great players, that's just how it is. They do so many good things. 

"But the boys were completely focused, concentrated, really composed. It was just so good to see. It's the only way we can beat City. Maybe some teams can do it a different way - I don't think a lot of teams can do it - but this is the way we can. What the boys did today is just incredible."

Pep Guardiola said he was "not a magician" when asked about Manchester City's title chances after his side were beaten 3-1 by Premier League leaders Liverpool.

The defeat was City's second in five top-flight matches and left the champions nine points behind Liverpool, who remain unbeaten after 12 games this season.

Fourth-placed City will entertain third-placed Chelsea in their first game back after the international break and Guardiola said he hoped his side would maintain the level of performance they showed at Anfield.

Asked whether Liverpool could be caught, Guardiola said: "I don't know, I am not a magician. I cannot know the future.

"Hopefully after the national team, people come back and then [we face] Chelsea at home.

"What happened today is we showed why we are the champions. In this stadium we played incredible.

"I am proud of my team more than ever against the strongest team in Europe. I am so proud. We played so good."

Guardiola was incensed on the sidelines as key decisions went against his side, with City's pleas for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold waved away when they claimed for a penalty.

He refused to discuss the decisions after the game, and insisted - with tongue firmly in cheek - his thanks to officials while shaking hands at the final whistle were genuine.

To the suggestion of sarcasm, Guardiola replied: "No way, I congratulate them. And I didn't say anything here.

"It would not be so nice after a defeat to complain about the referees, so ask the referees. Ask the referees, please not me.

"Ask [referees chief] Mike Riley and the guys in the VAR and the other ones.

"I would like to talk about our performance. As an opponent, with the problems that we have, it was one of the best ways we played.

"We played in the way that is why we are back-to-back champions. We showed that many times.

"There are three teams in front that have more chances to be champions than us but we are going to try.

"In football, you can't always win in here in Anfield. I am so proud of my team."

Trent Alexander-Arnold conceded he feared a VAR intervention for handball prior to Liverpool's opener in their crucial 3-1 over Manchester City at Anfield.

City's players and manager Pep Guardiola were left seething when referee Michael Oliver did not award a penalty against the Reds full-back, who appeared to handle in the area, early in the blockbuster contest at Anfield.

Fabinho rifled Liverpool into a sixth-minute lead shortly after, before Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane goals took the game away from City, who earned a consolation through Bernardo Silva.

Asked by Sky Sports if he feared the worse, Alexander-Arnold replied: "Obviously, yeah you know there's VAR, I think it has hit me arm, but I think it's hit Bernardo Silva's first. 

"It's one of those you have to carry on playing, we went down the other end and punished them. They complained but you have to keep on playing."

Liverpool's win sees them head into the international break with an eight-point lead at the top of the table, while the gap of nine to champions City is potentially more significant.

The Reds earned 97 points last term and were still pipped to the title by City and Alexander-Arnold says Liverpool will need similar levels of astounding consistency to triumph this time around.

"We're on a good run, we are still unbeaten, at home we have the advantage with the fans so every time we are here we want to pick up the three points we feel we should," he added.

"We picked up a lot last season to get to 97 points and it wasn't enough and we know we have to do something similar this time."

The end of the match became a little terse between the rival teams but Alexander-Arnold says that is to be expected in a game of this magnitude.

"It was always going to be a feisty contest," he said. "It was just about desire at the end of the day because both teams wanted to win." 

Liverpool ruthlessly dispatched title rivals Manchester City 3-1 in a barnstorming clash at Anfield to open up a commanding eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League.

Fabinho rifled the Reds into a sixth-minute lead moments after the visitors were left seething when Trent Alexander-Arnold was not punished for a seeming handball in the penalty area.

Mohamed Salah doubled the lead in a pulsating start and Sadio Mane completed the ransacking early in the second half as Liverpool's hopes of ending 30 years of title pain earned a monumental boost despite Bernardo Silva's 78th-minute strike giving the visitors late hope of a revival.

Liverpool – who are now unbeaten in 17 Premier League contests with City at Anfield – have an eight-point lead over Chelsea and Leicester City but perhaps far more significant for Jurgen Klopp's men, is the cushion of nine they have over Pep Guardiola's defending champions.

City were outraged not to be awarded a fifth-minute penalty for handball against Alexander-Arnold and their sense of injustice was exacerbated less 60 seconds later when Fabinho picked up Ilkay Gundogan's poor clearance and lashed home an unstoppable 25-yard thunderbolt.

Despite the setback, the away side continued to press the issue but Raheem Sterling wastefully headed wide from Kevin De Bruyne's whipped free-kick and City were made to pay.

Alexander-Arnold's exquisite cross-field ball found Andy Robertson, whose sublime left-wing cross was nodded home by Salah.

Sergio Aguero tested Alisson and surprise inclusion Angelino clipped the post in an action-packed first half, while Roberto Firmino and Salah drew good stops from City's stand-in keeper Claudio Bravo.

The game was essentially put to bed six minutes after the restart when Jordan Henderson hung up a wonderful cross from the right that Mane gleefully headed in at the far post.

Sterling and Alexander-Arnold were both denied penalties before City game themselves a glimmer of hope when Angelino's low centre was drilled home, via a slight kiss of the post, from Silva.

City had Liverpool on edge again shortly after but Gabriel Jesus failed to make clean contact when Sterling had seemingly laid one on a plate.

Another claim for handball against Alexander-Arnold went unheard and Jesus wasted another golden opportunity as Liverpool saw it out to lay down a huge marker.


What does it mean? It's a long way back for City

Talk of diving and 'tactical fouls' dominated the build-up to this blockbuster clash but any thought Liverpool may have been rattled by the perceived attempt at mind games was quickly dispelled. Last term, City took four points off the Reds which proved vital in pipping Klopp's men by the narrowest of margins. It is too soon to say City's chances of a third straight title are over, but there is now absolutely no room for error for Guardiola's side.

Fabulous Fabinho justifies Klopp's gamble

With four yellow cards to his name this term, Fabinho has been walking the fabled 'disciplinary tightrope'. Klopp opted to rest the Brazil international in last week's late come-from-behind win at Aston Villa in order to avoid him being banned against City. It was a gamble that paid dividends, with the defensive midfielder lashing home the opener and doing his part to shackle City's midfield. 

More Anfield woe for Aguero

For a player with Aguero's incredible scoring record it is remarkable he has now failed to score in eight appearances at Anfield. The Argentina striker had plenty of opportunities to break that duck but was uncharacteristically poor before being hauled off for Jesus in the 71st minute.

What's next?

Liverpool take a sizeable lead at the top of the table into the international window and resume Premier League duties at Crystal Palace on November 23. City face a tough task at home to Chelsea on the same day.

Rodri made a surprise return to the Manchester City starting line-up for Sunday's blockbuster Premier League clash against Liverpool, with Claudio Bravo replacing injured goalkeeper Ederson as expected for the champions.

Spain midfielder Rodri has not featured since suffering a hamstring injury during City's 5-1 Champions League win over Atalanta last month but makes an ahead-of-schedule return at Anfield, where leaders Liverpool are aiming to extend their six-point advantage over Pep Guardiola's side.

A fitness setback during this week's return versus Atalanta might have the greatest impact upon City's prospects, with Ederson's thigh problem heralding a first top-flight appearance since May 2018 for Chile international Bravo, who was sent off after being introduced as a substitute at San Siro on Wednesday.

Angelino is the other eyebrow-raising inclusion in the City XI, with fellow left-back Benjamin Mendy not in the matchday squad.

David Silva, who limped out of last weekend's 2-1 win over Southampton, makes the bench.

By contrast, Liverpool line up as expected – Dejan Lovren partnering Virgil van Dijk at centre-back in Joel Matip's continued absence, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's impressive Champions League outings have not been enough to dislodged either of Jordan Henderson or Georginio Wijnaldum in central midfield.

Fernandinho lines up at centre-back once more for Manchester City and, along with John Stones, the captain must lead the defensive effort to contain Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Raheem Sterling – against his former team – and Bernardo Silva will flank Sergio Aguero in the City attack, with the club's all-time record scorer still searching for a first Anfield goal.

Unai Emery reached the milestone of 50 Premier League matches in charge of Arsenal on Saturday in the 2-0 defeat at Leicester City, but an overriding sense of disappointment is all he has managed to establish at the club.

Emery arrived in 2018 as Arsene Wenger's replacement, with the Frenchman ultimately paying the price for going 14 years without winning the title.

In fairness to Wenger, spending at the club was significantly reduced in the wake of their move to the Emirates Stadium, particularly when compared to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool over the same period.

It was hoped Emery's introduction would bring a fresh approach and winning mentality after years of stagnation at Arsenal. However, despite his trophy successes in previous spells with Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain, some – justifiably – had doubts about the Spaniard's style of play and training methods often criticised as boring.

After reaching 50 Premier League games, it is difficult at present to see him lasting much longer and his record compared to the division's best highlights the gulf in class.

Going backwards after Wenger

Emery's Arsenal have averaged 1.74 points per game across his 50 matches in the top flight. Of those in charge of the traditional 'big six', that figure is only better than Mauricio Pochettino (1.7) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (1.30) over their 50 most recent Premier League games – though the latter's figures are obviously skewed by his spell at Cardiff City.

That's where the positives end in terms of points per game for Emery, however.

Jurgen Klopp (2.62) and Pep Guardiola (2.52) are way out in front over their past 50 matches, while Frank Lampard – who has only taken charge of 12 in the Premier League – has accumulated a respectable 2.17 points per outing.

Similarly, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has done significantly better, averaging 1.84 points per game across his last 50 matches in the Premier League with Liverpool and the Foxes.

But the real kicker is the comparison with the much-maligned Wenger, whose 1.76 average means he too collected more points over his final 50 games at Arsenal than Emery has in his first 50.

Way behind the most prolific scorers

Wenger's Arsenal also scored more than Emery's side. During the Frenchman's final 50 games, they scored 96 times, seven more than they have with the Basque coach.

City have set the bar in terms of scoring over the period in question, netting 130 times, 12 more than Liverpool.

Defensively it is the other way round. While City's record of 33 allowed is exceptional, Liverpool's is even better at just 31.

Arsenal's defensive woes have been well-documented under Emery, with Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Sokratis Papastathopoulos hardly convincing.

As such, they have conceded 68 times since the start of last season, more than double both City and Liverpool and four more than in Wenger's final stretch.

Emery's already had enough time to solve issues

Emery can at least point to the fact he has lost fewer matches (13) than Wenger (16) did over the periods highlighted, though it's a pretty hollow victory.

Klopp and Liverpool again set the standard here, having lost just one of their past 50 Premier League matches, though even Rodgers has been beaten fewer times than Emery over his 50 most recent games, losing 12.

The overarching issue for Arsenal and Emery is a complete lack of identity, something one can certainly argue they still had even in Wenger's latter days.

While these statistics highlight how far behind the Premier League's leading pair Arsenal are, their lack of a discernible style and direction is arguably the main problem, one Emery probably will not get much more time to fix.

After all, there is little doubt they have regressed under his stewardship.

Here they are again: Liverpool and Manchester City. The Premier League's leading protagonists primed for another high-paced, highly important battle, both determined to make a statement ahead of an international break.

It is 10 months since these two previously lined up against each other in the league. Back on January 3, the Reds went into the fixture at the Etihad Stadium knowing a win would open up a double-digit lead at the summit.

Success would not have secured the crown, of course, but it would have left their rivals with substantial ground to make up and with less than half a season remaining. City knew as much too, leading to a performance full of spirit to go with their undoubted skill.

"We knew that it was a final today, if we lose it is almost over," Pep Guardiola said after a hard-fought 2-1 triumph secured by Leroy Sane’s 72nd-minute goal.

For Jurgen Klopp's side, it was a first defeat in their 21st league outing. It also turned out to be the only one, yet they still could not end the club's long, agonising wait for title number 19.

So near, yet so far.

Victory in the Champions League final helped soften the blow to a degree, but the league is undoubtedly the trophy the fanbase craves the most. Their bread and butter, as the legendary Bill Shankly once so wonderfully described it. Liverpool have been starved of it since 1990.

They have gone close on three occasions to ending the drought in the Premier League era, finishing second to Manchester United under Rafael Benitez in 2009, then missing out again five years later during Brendan Rodgers' reign, City on that occasion pipping them to the post. Those second-place finishes offered hope, albeit history shows they were false dawns in terms of climbing back on their perch.

There were reasons for the pessimists to fear the same might happen again this season, too. International commitments led to a disjointed return to club duty - Sadio Mane did not make it back until August 5, four days before the opener against Norwich City – while the transfer window was all about trimming the fat from the squad, rather than making major additions.

But, if anything, the disappointment of coming up short just a few months ago has fuelled a determination among a group of players clearly inspired by their manager.

Familiarity has not led to a lack of focus. The heavy metal football may have been toned down, yet Klopp has ingrained in them a cold, steely edge. No cause ever feels lost - just ask Barcelona from last season's European semi-final second leg, as well as Leicester City and Aston Villa more recently. These Reds have developed a ruthless, relentless streak, something that will be required if they want to stay ahead in a gruelling race.

These are the same faces, only this feels different. Fabinho was a second-half sub at the Etihad at the start of the year, a big-money signing still bedding in. Now he is a key cog, the anchor surrounded by attacking intent. There are few - if any - better than the Brazilian in the defensive midfield role across Europe. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, was not involved. He is quickly getting up to speed again after his lengthy injury lay-off, adding an alternative option to slot into the engine room. As for the defence, Klopp has the kind of options available to him that his opposite number would welcome right now.

While there is still time for tiredness amid a crowded fixture list (enjoy the Club World Cup, everybody!) to kick in, this not-new-but-still-improved Liverpool have charged out of the gate with such ferocity that City are left trying to hang on to their coattails again. The going will get tougher, but a sizeable lead would give them some much-needed breathing space.

So, with a six-point cushion and with home advantage this time around, Klopp's warriors get a chance on Sunday to do something they could not quite manage at the start of 2019.

As was the case in Manchester, this weekend’s clash at Anfield will not decide the destiny of the trophy, despite the hyperbole surrounding it. While City have shown signs of vulnerability with two defeats on their record already, it should not be forgotten that they had also lost twice just prior to the previous meeting.

On that occasion, the fine margins that can define a football game amounted to 1.12 centimetres, the distance John Stones had to spare when clearing Sadio Mane's goal-bound effort with the score at 0-0.

This time, Liverpool will hope to get across the line against City. If they do, the early front-runners will become the firm favourites, even if there are still plenty of hurdles to clear.

Virgil van Dijk claimed Liverpool do not feel fear and have no interest in holding Manchester City to a draw in their top-of-the-table Premier League encounter.

Liverpool hold a six-point advantage over title rivals and defending champions City going into Sunday's highly anticipated showdown at Anfield.

Preserving that buffer would ordinarily be seen as a reasonable outcome but the Premier League leaders will be wary of repeating the missed opportunities of last season.

Liverpool earned a stalemate on Merseyside in October then lost 2-1 in the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium as City pipped the Reds to the title.

Now, with the chance to surge further clear in first, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are not entertaining the prospect of settling for a point.

"That's something we are not going to think about, or discuss now whether a draw is good enough," star defender Van Dijk told reporters.

"We want to win every game that we play and so it is Sunday of course, and they want to win as well. So we will see.

"I have no fear. You should not have fear when you go out on the pitch. That's not something that we feel.

"We know we have the quality to win games, but we have to be more than at our best at times, and hopefully for the full 90 minutes, and try to grind out games as well.

"I think we have been doing it in some games this season."

Liverpool bounced back from last season's domestic disappointment by claiming a sixth European crown with their triumph over Tottenham in the Champions League final.

Netherlands international Van Dijk believes both events have helped forge a stronger Liverpool side.

"A lot of experience we had last year, winning the Champions League, getting so close to the Premier League, it's always going to benefit us in a good way," the centre-back said.

"Winning the Champions League can get you up in the clouds but the manager, the staff, the players have the right mentality at the moment that we want to do it again, like other teams.

"Everyone knows how difficult it is but we are just going to go for it and see where it brings us at the end of the season.

"If it doesn't bring us what we want it to be, we will just try again next year. That's the mentality we have."

Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City will not feel like underdogs heading into Sunday's Premier League blockbuster against Liverpool.

City amassed 198 points over the course of their title triumphs in each of the past two seasons.

Their bid for three in a row has been compromised by Liverpool's unbeaten start this time around and Guardiola's men head to Anfield six points behind the leaders.

Goalkeeper Ederson joined influential defender Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, David Silva, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Rodri in the treatment room this week, but their manager insists he is not contemplating defeat on a ground where City last won in 2003.

"What does it meant to be an outsider? For the people in the media and the people outside [the club] saying you are outsider or not outsider; you are underdog or you are not underdog," Guardiola said.

"I never went into one game feeling like an outsider or feeling I am not going to win the game. I never felt it. Never.

"But, of course, the position is six points ahead and they are playing fantastic all season and in previous seasons. We have many problems in some departments of the players.

"I am not going to take a bus on Sunday to Anfield thinking I am going to lose the game. I never have in my career.

"Always I have to think that, if we do some special things we have planned to do, we have the chance to win."

Asked whether City would need their best performance of the season to prevail, Guardiola agreed.

"We know it. To win these kinds of games you have to be at the top level, definitely. We cannot be half-half," he said.

"The way Liverpool play they demand in 90 minutes an incredible attention to all the details.

"I am pretty sure that if there is a chance to win in Anfield it is when you believe you are going to win the game.

"The only chance we have is to play like we are and try to create chances to score goals. That is the only way I believe we can do it – not just in Anfield but in all the stadiums around the world."

City had only 51 per cent possession during the corresponding fixture last season, with Riyad Mahrez's late penalty miss meaning the game finished goalless.

That is an unusually low number for a Guardiola side, with similar statistics returning as the Premier League champions won the Community Shield on penalties in August, when Liverpool had 52.8 per cent of the ball.

"It is not adapting, it is because they are good," Guardiola said, having also flagged up a 3-0 win over Jurgen Klopp during their respective spells at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, when the former Barcelona boss was forced to adopt a direct, counter-attacking approach.

"Normally in my career at the clubs I was at, all the time we control the possession. We believe when you have the ball you can create more and concede less.

"When that happened [having less possession] it's the same [reason]. Dortmund in that period was a good team and Liverpool is a good team. In the way they play they have the quality to do that."

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."

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