Their title hopes dwindling, Manchester City face another tough assignment when Premier League action resumes this weekend as they welcome Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium.

The back-to-back English champions lost 3-1 away to Liverpool in their most recent outing and find themselves fourth in the table, nine points adrift of the unbeaten leaders.

Saturday's visit of Chelsea is far from ideal for Pep Guardiola, then, with Frank Lampard's in-form side sitting a point better off than City after winning six league games in a row. 

Chelsea's youngsters are firing on all cylinders while City's big hitters have seemingly gone off the boil, but the Blues have lost three of their last four top-flight trips to City, including a 6-0 thrashing in this corresponding fixture last season.

CHELSEA PUNCHING ABOVE THEIR WEIGHT

The loss of Eden Hazard, coupled with a transfer ban that, as things stand, will stretch into a second window, was supposed to spell the end of Chelsea's top-four aspirations.

That has been far from the case, however, with Lampard being given freedom to turn to youth in his debut campaign as a Premier League boss.

A 26-point gap separated the sides last season, yet with nearly a third of the current campaign played it is Chelsea who are better positioned.

The obvious question, of course, is whether they can last the distance and maintain their push for silverware on multiple fronts.

Chelsea were also third after 12 games last season, but the mood is far more positive around Stamford Bridge compared to 12 months ago when Maurizio Sarri was in charge.

The shift to focus on youth has yielded dividends, with Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount thriving, but there is one major flaw to this Chelsea side - an inability to defend.

They have conceded 17 league goals so far - no side in the top nine has let in more - and shipped four at home to Ajax in the Champions League earlier this month.

City, too, have had defensive issues of late, highlighted in the defeat at Anfield that saw their makeshift back four opened up countless times.

Guardiola's men have registered four clean sheets in their last 11 league games, contributing to three defeats already this term - one fewer than in the whole of their title-winning campaign last time out.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: SERGIO AGUERO V TAMMY ABRAHAM

Keeping out the opposition has been a problem for both sides, but they have certainly not lacked goals of their own.

No Premier League team has scored more goals than City's 35 this term, with Sergio Aguero responsible for nine of those.

Aguero tends to fare well in this fixture, too, having scored 10 top-flight goals against Chelsea - only versus Newcastle United (15) and Tottenham (11) has he managed more.

The Argentina international has found the net eight times in his last six league appearances against the London outfit, including a hat-trick in the 6-0 thrashing nine months ago.

Only two players have scored more Premier League goals than Aguero in 2019-20, one of those being Tammy Abraham, who will lead the line for Chelsea.

Abraham has netted in back-to-back top-flight fixtures and has opened the scoring in five different league games this term - at least two more than any other player.

Nine of his 10 goals have been scored from open play inside the box - eight with his right foot and one with his head - while Aguero has six open-play goals inside the area.

Both players have two assists to their name, showing that there is more to their game than just finding the back of the net.

FORM GUIDE

City have been beaten by Norwich City, Wolves and Liverpool in their last eight league matches - as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 26 games in the competition.

The 2-0 loss to Wolves came at the Etihad Stadium on October 6 and Tottenham drew 2-2 there in August, but City have won 13 of their 15 home league matches in 2019.

Chelsea beat Palace 2-0 last time out to make it six successive Premier League wins, a feat they last achieved in May 2017 when winning the title under Antonio Conte.

Away from home, meanwhile, Lampard's side have won five in a row, scoring 18 goals in those matches at an average of 3.6 per game.

HISTORY SAYS...

City were penalty shoot-out winners when the sides met in last season's EFL Cup final following a goalless draw and tend to perform well in this fixture.

The reigning champions have won three of the last four Premier League meetings between the sides, keeping three clean sheets in the process.

Chelsea have collected just two victories from their last 10 league trips to City, winning 1-0 in February 2004 and 3-1 in December 2016.

They shipped six goals in the most recent league encounter and have kept only one clean sheet in their last 12 visits to the Etihad Stadium.

Jose Mourinho was on Wednesday named Mauricio Pochettino's successor at Tottenham.

It's a remarkable return to English football for one of the game's most successful, and controversial, managers.

A quick look at the fixture list shows the Portuguese will have to hit the ground running if he is to turn Spurs' season around - the north London side are 14th heading into the weekend clash at West Ham, 11 points adrift of a Champions League spot.

After the cross-capital clash on Saturday, Mourinho will have to plot a route through a congested fixture list that also sees clashes with some old friends and foes.

A DERBY DATE FOR STARTERS - WEST HAM (A), SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Fittingly, Mourinho opens his Tottenham tenure against a West Ham team managed by someone he has clashed with previously.

Mourinho fired a succession of barbs at Manuel Pellegrini after succeeding him as Real Madrid boss in 2010, repeatedly and deliberately calling him "Pellegrino" before claiming "if they [Real] get rid of me, I will go to a big club in the Premier League or Serie A," when Pellegrini went to Malaga.

Further verbals were traded when the pair were at Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, and there is no doubt Mourinho would relish the opportunity to push his rival closer towards the sack.

West Ham have not won in six Premier League games and suffered a humiliating 4-0 thumping at League One side Oxford United in the EFL Cup in September.

 

AN EARLY GREEK TRAGEDY? - OLYMPIACOS (H), TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26

Spurs may have struggled domestically this season, but it has been a different story in the Champions League and victory over the Greek side will guarantee them a place in the knock-out stages.

Pochettino guided the club to their first Champions League final last season, where they lost to Liverpool, an amazing feat Mourinho will do well to replicate.

He could not ask for better opponents for his first home game, however. Olympiacos prop up Group B having taken just one point from their four games - against Spurs in Piraeus - while conceding 10 goals in the process.

OLD TRAFFORD RETURN - MANCHESTER UNITED (A), WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 4

It will be fascinating to see what kind of reception Mourinho receives when he takes Tottenham to Manchester United.

While the Portuguese regularly flagged his achievements before arriving at Old Trafford, his two-and-a-half-year spell in Manchester was mixed.

He claimed EFL Cup and Europa League titles, but it was a reign characterised by acrimony with key players in his squad.

His successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also struggled and Mourinho will see this as a wonderful opportunity to make a statement.

 

A PRE-CHRISTMAS CRACKER - CHELSEA (H), SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22

Mourinho faces another of his former clubs when Chelsea visit Tottenham Hotspur Stadium three days before Christmas.

The 56-year-old enjoyed enormous success across two spells at Stamford Bridge but was roundly jeered on his last visit with Manchester United.

In response, Mourinho held up three figures to signify the number of Premier League titles he won with the club, in addition to an FA Cup success.

If the love affair was on the rocks then, Mourinho's move to Chelsea's London rivals means it is now officially over.

HOLA PEP! - MANCHESTER CITY (H), SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1

Two of the game's most successful managers - and perennial rivals - over the past 10 years, Guardiola and Mourinho continue to slug it out at the highest level.

From undignified rows when at Real Madrid and Barcelona to a more peaceful co-habitation of Manchester, the latest chapter promises to be equally engaging.

By early February, City will likely be in the title race while Spurs' push for a top-four finish could be in full swing.

Either way, this promises to be another intriguing encounter.

Xabi Alonso has revealed he left Real Madrid for Bayern Munich because he was "curious" to find out Pep Guardiola's coaching secrets.

The 37-year-old swapped clubs in 2014 after five seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he won six major trophies.

Alonso left Madrid three months after helping them to Champions League glory and went on to spend three years with Bayern before announcing his playing retirement.

Explaining his reasons for wanting to leave the Spanish giants, Alonso told The Athletic: "I was so curious to find out [Guardiola's] secrets.

"He has a relentless natural enthusiasm. Football seasons are long but right until the very end, Pep never seemed to be tired. 

"He was alert, always ready. For the players, maybe this gave us an extra few metres in our legs when it mattered most."

Alonso, who took over as Real Sociedad B head coach in June, also praised the work of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

The former Spain international, who played against Klopp's Borussia Dortmund side during his time at Madrid and Bayern, said: "I didn't enjoy playing against them because they made it so intense, you'd almost break.

"It was like he wanted you to be in a cage. He wanted to trap you. There was an organised pressure. I was under pressure all the time. 

"I enjoyed the mood around those games because they were so important but the challenge of beating Dortmund was immense."

Bayern Munich's new president has praised Pep Guardiola and vowed the club will target the best possible candidate for the vacant head coach position.

Herbert Hainer formally succeeded Uli Hoeness as president at Friday's AGM, assuming the role amid the search for a full-time replacement for Niko Kovac.

Hansi Flick will continue in a caretaker capacity for at least the rest of 2019 while the Bundesliga champions weigh up their options.

Guardiola - along with Erik ten Hag and Thomas Tuchel - is one of three men being considered, according to Sport Bild, and Hainer has great respect for the Catalan, whose contract with Manchester City runs until 2021.

"The board of directors will try to get the best coach for Bayern Munich," Hainer said, as quoted by Sport1.

"When I say the best, it means, on one hand, a coach who we want to have and, on the other, one who is available.

"Pep Guardiola is a great coach but he has a contract with Manchester City.

"For now I would say, let's wait until the board comes to us. Then we will deal with the options. But in principle, we want to have the best coach at Bayern Munich."

Guardiola spent three seasons in charge of Bayern before leaving for Premier League side City in 2016.

The Bavarians won three Bundesliga titles and lifted the DFB-Pokal twice during his time at the helm.

Joachim Low sees similarities between Germany's youthful squad and the exciting 2010 vintage but does not consider his team a leading Euro 2020 contender.

Victory over Belarus in Monchengladbach on Saturday and anything less than a win for Northern Ireland against Netherlands would confirm Germany's place at next year's tournament.

A developing Die Mannschaft have won five of their past seven matches and are starting to build momentum after a rocky post-World Cup period.

Just one member of the squad, captain Manuel Neuer, is over the age of 30 and Low compared the potential of the team to the one that reached the semi-finals in South Africa almost a decade ago.

But the long-serving head coach moved to temper expectations of a serious challenge for silverware.

"As of today we have a very talented, ambitious, hungry team with a lot of potential, comparable to the team for the 2010 World Cup," Low said.

"But we will not be among the absolute top favourites. For that, many players have to be even further along in their development. We're working on it.

"France, England have been playing with the same players for years.

"There's the Dutch, Spain… to play for a title is incredibly difficult. But the guys are really good, we have a good base."

Neuer, 33, will start in goal against Belarus, with Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen to take over for Tuesday's final Group C clash at home to Northern Ireland.

Low confirmed two more Bayern Munich regulars, Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry, would be in the starting XI this weekend following their impressive performances in the club's recent Bundesliga win over Borussia Dortmund. 

The Bundesliga champions, still without a full-time head coach, are now being linked with an audacious bid to bring Pep Guardiola back to Allianz Arena.

Asked about that scenario, Low replied: "Pep Guardiola was very good for the Bundesliga.

"He is one of the best coaches. I don't know if he will come back and whether he wants to [return] is just speculation. I don't know what Bayern are planning, that's their business."

Joshua Kimmich says he would not be against the return of Pep Guardiola to Bayern Munich.

The Manchester City manager is being linked with a possible return to the Allianz Arena at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Guardiola, who was a rumoured target for Juventus before they appointed Maurizio Sarri, is said to be one of Bayern's top candidates as a permanent successor to Niko Kovac, who left in the wake of the 5-1 Bundesliga defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Although Hansi Flick appears likely to stay on as interim boss for the time being, and perhaps until the end of the season, Kimmich would not be averse to Guardiola's return next year.

Speaking at a news conference while on Germany duty, the Bayern full-back said: "Regarding Pep Guardiola. I have no idea what Bayern's plan is with Hansi Flick.

"At first you thought that we would get a new coach after the international break. Now, we won both games with Flick and it sounds like he will stay until winter or even the entire season. What happens then is the business of the club – we players have nothing to do with it.

"But of course, I know [Guardiola] and have a lot to thank him for. He took me from the second division and let me play in the Bundesliga. We won the double together and after that season I became a player for Germany. So, of course, I won't be against him coming back."

Kimmich joined from RB Leipzig ahead of 2015-16, Guardiola's final season in charge of Bayern, and won the domestic double.

In total, Guardiola guided Bayern to three Bundesliga titles, two DFB-Pokals, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup in his three years in charge.

He could not deliver the Champions League, though, losing to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the semi-final stage in each of his three seasons in Germany.

Rodri believes Pep Guardiola is pushing his game to new heights at Manchester City.

Spain midfielder Rodri became City's record signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid for £62.8million in July.

The 23-year-old has operated predominantly at the base of Guardiola's midfield – a key position in City's system and the role the coach himself occupied during his playing days at Barcelona.

Rodri has produced some eye-catching performances but also started each of City's three Premier League defeats this term, including his return from a hamstring strain for Sunday's 3-1 loss at Liverpool that leaves the reigning champions nine points shy of the runaway leaders.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of his country's concluding Euro 2020 qualifiers against Malta and Romania, Rodri conceded he is enduring a fairly steep learning curve.

"I haven't been there much time, but since the beginning of the season I have added a lot of new knowledge," he said.

"[Guardiola] is how he shows himself in front of the cameras. He has a competitive edge, this desire to put pressure on the rivals, to study and analyse how to harm them. He is a workaholic, he dedicates the 24 hours of the day to his players, to himself and to find the way to win matches.

"At an individual level, it has helped me a lot that he played in the same position than me. He gives me lots of advice on how he sees football. I am growing a lot, not only tactically, but individually in many aspects I wasn't aware that a central midfielder should have, like driving the ball – something that is demanded in the Premier League.

"Obviously there are more factors than the coach that have an influence, but we have the best coach in that sense."

Injuries to the specialists in Guardiola's squad also saw Rodri pressed into action as an emergency centre-back for consecutive games against Crystal Palace and Atalanta last month.

"I am discovering myself also as a player. Guardiola asked me how I see myself there [as central defender] and I decided to try because the team needed me," he explained.

"Obviously there is always a time of adaptation, but because of my physical and technical characteristics, I also think that there is something in common with my normal position, apart from certain new aspects.

"It is true that the new position is a bit more delicate, but with time I think I could perfectly adapt myself.

"My virtues make me shine more as central midfielder, but with time I could also do well as central defender."

For now, Rodri is ready to continue the challenge of establishing himself as an influential midfield presence in a league noted for its frenetic pace.

"The Premier League is, along with LaLiga, the most competitive league," he added.

"This football is more vertical and makes you learn because you are not used to it. I am a more complete player.

"There are great teams in England that make you compete at the maximum level, the same as here in Spain. I feel I have a big room for improvement."

Manuel Neuer would not be drawn on a potential reunion with Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, saying only that "things are going very well" under Hansi Flick.

Bayern are without a permanent head coach following Niko Kovac's sacking, with former assistant Flick in caretaker charge for impressive wins over Olympiacos and Borussia Dortmund.

Manchester City manager Guardiola, Bayern coach from 2013 to 2016, could potentially make an incredible return, according to Sport Bild.

Thomas Tuchel, at Paris Saint-Germain, and Erik ten Hag, at Ajax, have each reiterated their commitment to their current clubs, while the report claims Guardiola "does not seem happy" at City, where he has won back-to-back Premier League titles.

The seemingly unlikely prospect of Guardiola linking up with Bayern again was put to goalkeeper Neuer while on international duty with Germany.

The Bayern stalwart preferred to focus on Flick's fine start, though, saying: "Of course, I can't comment on the rumours.

"We are now here with the national team, I hear [about Guardiola] for the first time. You will see what happens and how those responsible decide.

"At the moment, things are going very well. In the last six days, Hansi Flick has invested everything with his coaching team. We have been very successful twice.

"The people in charge will take a stand [by appointing Guardiola instead] if they want to."

Guardiola won the Bundesliga title in each of his three seasons with Bayern but, having twice triumphed in Europe at Barcelona, failed to deliver the Champions League.

Bayern had been European champions when he arrived in Munich in 2013, replacing Jupp Heynckes.

Neuer was speaking ahead of Germany's Euro 2020 qualifying double-header against Belarus and Northern Ireland, where they will hope to secure their place in next year's finals.

Various scenarios could see Germany through after the first match but Neuer said: "Of course, we want to win the home games and get six points. That's our clear goal."

Liverpool's unbeaten Premier League season continued in some style as they turned on the style in a 3-1 win over Manchester City, who they have not lost to at Anfield in the top flight since May 2003.

Meanwhile, it was another tough weekend for Premier League fans across North London, with Arsenal and Tottenham both dropping points as the dark clouds continue to gather around both clubs.

Arsenal's defeat at high-flying Leicester City left the Gunners winless in their last four top-flight outings, while Spurs are without a victory in five attempts after their 1-1 draw at home with Sheffield United.

With Arsenal failing to win, Manchester United had the opportunity to narrow the gap between sixth and seventh to just one point and they did just that, bringing Brighton and Hove Albion's two-game winning streak to an end in a 3-1 victory.

All four games produced a feast of milestones and telling stats, the best of which are brought to light below.

DEFEAT LEAVES GUARDIOLA WITH LOWEST CITY POINTS HAUL

Trips to Liverpool have rarely been kind to Pep Guardiola during his time at Manchester City and Sunday's defeat was his fourth during his time in the Premier League.

City have amassed 25 points this season - Guardiola's lowest return after 12 games of a Premier League season - and he is more than three points behind the league leaders for the first time at this stage of a season.

Liverpool sit eight points clear of second-placed Leicester City and only Manchester United in 1993-94 have been further ahead after 12 games in the Premier League era.

The Reds prospered courtesy of goals from Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, the latter scoring at Anfield in the league for the 22nd time since August 2018.

No other top-flight player has scored more at a single venue in the same period.

RASHFORD REVELS IN UNITED'S HOME IMPROVEMENTS

Marcus Rashford gave the Old Trafford crowd a rare moment to savour in a difficult season when his shot ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar to put Manchester United 3-1 up against Brighton.

It was the 22-year-old's 30th goal on home turf for the Red Devils, six of which have come in 2019-20, and he needs three more to equal his best goal return in home matches (nine in 2017-18).

Rashford's form has been key to United's recent upturn in fortunes at Old Trafford, where they are unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches and their last seven across all competitions - their longest run under the same manager since March 2018 (eight unbeaten under Jose Mourinho).

Solskjaer named his youngest Premier League starting line-up of the season, averaging 23 years and 350 days, and his side extended Brighton's miserable run on the road against the top flight's "big six": the Seagulls are winless in 15 such games.

ARSENAL IN WORST START FOR 37 YEARS

Unai Emery might be running out of chances after a 2-0 loss to Leicester City condemned Arsenal to their worst record at this stage of a top-flight season since 1982-83.

The Gunners accumulated 17 points from 12 games in 2014-15, as many as they have now, but could at least lay claim to a positive goal difference of +5 at that time, unlike the -1 that resides next to their disappointing points tally this term.

Saturday's trip to the King Power Stadium marked Emery's 50th Premier League match in charge and his 13th defeat.

He has overseen 25 victories and led the club to 87 points, two fewer than Arsene Wenger accrued over his final 50 matches as manager.

The contrast could not be greater to electrifying Leicester, who have now won five successive Premier League home games and boast one more point (26 in total) than they did at this point of their title-winning 2015-16 campaign.

SON SHINING BUT SPURS STILL STUCK IN DARKNESS

If there is some comfort to be found for Arsenal, it is in the malaise affecting north London rivals Tottenham.

Mauricio Pochettino's men could only draw 1-1 with Sheffield United, who became the third promoted side – after Blackburn Rovers (1992-93) and Nottingham Forest (1994-95) – to go unbeaten through their opening six away games of a Premier League season.

George Baldock's goal earned a share of the spoils and means Spurs have dropped a league-high 12 points from winning positions this season.

Worse still, the Champions League finalists have banked only 14 points, their lowest tally after 12 games since 2008-09, a season that cost Juande Ramos his job.

Son Heung-min, scorer of the opener, is one player pulling his weight. The South Korea star has netted five times in his past five appearances in all competitions.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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