Relentless Reds have lured Pep into distracting mind games

Relentless Reds have lured Pep into distracting mind games

Have Liverpool got into Guardiola’s head?

Pep Guardiola is not a manager used to employing mind games. He has typically won his league titles at a canter.

If his Champions League record since leaving Barcelona has been disappointing, those deficiencies have usually been down to Guardiola’s missteps rather than because an opposition coach has gotten into his head. Guardiola is the ultimate ‘process’ manager.

Take care of the process and the process will take care of you. There’s no need to worry what anyone else is doing.

But Liverpool have had Manchester City’s number since Guardiola was appointed, particularly at Anfield.

Their relentlessness in the Premier League this season, establishing a commanding lead over City, leaves Guardiola actively seeking to gain the pre-match edge. That reflects the magnitude of the fixture, and how much the result will determine the success or failure of City’s season.

Suggesting that Sadio Mane has dived to win Liverpool matches was a distinctly un-Guardiola thing to say.

Jurgen Klopp has deflected the accusation, but he will be secretly delighted to provoke such a reaction from his rival. It demonstrates Guardiola is worried about the challenge.

[h2]Can Liverpool rediscover their defensive solidity?/h2]Liverpool are hardly defensively calamitous (they possess the third best defence in the Premier League), but Klopp will still be irked by the manner in which his team are being punished for lapses in concentration, positioning and decision-making. They regularly looked uncomfortable against Norwich City, Sheffield United and Genk.Klopp’s team have now gone eight games without a clean sheet in all competitions.If balance comes with the knowledge that they haven’t conceded more than once in a league game since last season, they haven’t faced an attack as prodigious as Manchester City’s over that run.Defend as they have been doing in recent weeks, and it is hardly controversial to suggest that Liverpool might be punished more by City than they have recently. Their ability to rediscover their defensive resolve might well decide their result on Sunday.[h2]Will Sterling delight in the space on the left?/h2]Trent Alexander-Arnold has become arguably the best attacking full-back in Europe by the age of 20 and after only 100 club appearances. His chance creation and intent to overlap Mohamed Salah and deliver crosses into the box has increased significantly even from last season’s numbers.But it will be interesting to see how Klopp instructs Alexander-Arnold to play on Sunday. Will he allow him to roam forward as he might against any other opponent at home in an attempt to overpower City before half-time, or be more wary of their visitors’ counter-attacking threat?If it’s the first option, we might be in for some wonderful entertainment. With Guardiola likely to start Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva as well as a centre-forward, Sterling will have licence to drift left and delight in the space that Alexander-Arnold leaves behind. The neutral should pray for end-to-end, basketball-style, chaos theory football.[h2]Do Liverpool need Salah at his peak?/h2]Salah should take this mild criticism as a compliment, but in this campaign he is yet to match the extremely high standards set across the previous two. Missing chances is the curse of every striker at every level, but Salah is snatching at shots as if trying too hard to find his touch. That has been combined with the occasional heavy or clumsy touch.The notion that Salah is still suffering from the effects of an ankle injury carry some weight, as does the theory that semi-constant football around two injuries over the last two years has caused some accumulated fatigue.The question is whether Liverpool need Salah at his absolute peak to overcome Manchester City, given that Sadio Mane has shouldered responsibility magnificently and they scored twice against Aston Villa last weekend after Salah had been removed.Divock Origi has made a habit of wonderful late salvos; another one on Sunday?

Can Aguero break his Anfield hoodoo?

There are not many stadia in the world where Sergio Aguero may be fearful of playing, but Anfield has long been his bogey ground.

In only one ground has Aguero played more than six times without scoring. At Anfield, it’s an 11-game drought. That rails against Aguero’s reputation as the best big-game goalscorer in the Premier League.

Like Salah, there is a suspicion Aguero is not entirely fit. Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni claimed Aguero joined up with his squad last month already carrying an injury, and Gabriel Jesus has started two league games over Aguero in recent weeks.

It would be a surprise if Guardiola sacrificed Aguero at Anfield given the magnitude of the match and the fact that City will surely have to score at least twice to win it, but stranger things have happened.

If Aguero does start, he must improve on his recent record against the league leaders.

He will be more than aware of his Anfield drought. Such things play on the minds of even the best strikers.

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