Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admires and respects Manchester City but knows Pep Guardiola paid them a “huge compliment” by changing their tactics at Anfield last season.
When the pair met in 13 months ago, with the two clubs level on 17 points, City set up more conservatively than at any other time in Guardiola’s reign and left with their first goalless draw and clean sheet on the ground since 1986.
They could have actually snatched victory had Riyad Mahrez not missed an 85th-minute penalty but it was far from a performance associated with a team who had won the league the previous season with 100 points.
It was to prove crucial, however, as City won the return fixture 2-1 – memorably after Sadio Mane’s shot failed to cross the line by 11 millimetres – and went on to pip their rivals to the title by a single point.
This season City arrive at Anfield with a six-point deficit to Klopp’s Premier League leaders and there is a debate about whether Guardiola can afford to adopt similar tactics to last year.
“You can see it’s a compliment, but for sure it is not meant as a compliment! It’s just a game-plan,” said Klopp of his rival’s approach last time out at Anfield.
“I don’t admire other teams, I respect them and I like a couple of things. The character of the team and the manager is pretty good, but the combination of speed and technique is always impressive in football.
“They have quite a few players who are good at that, organisation is pretty good. It’s a good football team.
“City are the team in the Premier League. If you want to climb, you have to come closer to the top spot. That’s what we did. The improvements the boys made are obvious.
“For us it’s a good sign that we can become closer, it’s an important part of our development.
“There were games which we won where City had much more of the game than we had, but we scored the goals in the right moments.
“The result is the thing which stays in your mind, but the games were really good.
“We have to play our best game, everybody in the stadium has to be in absolutely top shape. The guy who sells the hot dogs has to be in the top shape!”
City, by their own high standards, are not at the level they have been for the last couple of seasons when they racked up 100 and 98 points in winning back-to-back league titles.
They have had to contend with more injuries to key players than Liverpool, whose one main absence was goalkeeper Alisson Becker for the first two months of the season.
City have won just once – May 2003 – in their last 28 league visits to Anfield but Klopp is paying no attention to their injury list or poor form on Merseyside.
“We all have problems. Last year (Kevin) De Bruyne couldn’t play against us, one of the best players in the world, and they still got results. That shows the quality of Man City,” he said,
“Do I like talking about Man City all the time? No. I am more than happy with what we did in the last couple of years but getting 100 points, then 98 points, and looking still greedy, that’s a really big strength.
“We all have to deal with setbacks and injuries, and they did pretty well. It’s not about comparing the team from last year, it’s about how do they deal with the situation and that’s quite impressive.
“I don’t think about the City team of the last few years, I think about the City team of the moment, and that’s good enough for a proper game.”