For the past three years Manchester City and Liverpool have dominated the Premier League to an extent never seen before in English football.
But after three seasons in which the title winner has averaged 99 points, neither side carries the same fear factor in an unpredictable campaign that offers a series of challengers hope of winning the league.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men have already dropped more points in seven games than they did in their opening 27 in romping to the title last season.
Of more lasting damage to their title credentials, the Reds have also lost the towering presence of defender Virgil van Dijk at the least the majority of what remains of the season.
Even when the giant Dutchman was still present, Liverpool suffered a historic 7-2 humiliation to Aston Villa a month ago that leaves them with still the worst defensive record in the league
“We just have to make sure we get through very intense periods, line up the fittest players and play the best football we can. In this case it is against Man City, which is obviously one of the most difficult games to play in the world.”
After a two-week long pre-season due to their Champions League commitments in August, Pep Guardiola’s men won just two of their opening five league games, including a 5-2 thrashing at home to Leicester.
Injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have left City often without a natural striker, while Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan also missed matches due to positive coronavirus tests. City starts the weekend down in 10th, albeit just five points off Liverpool and with a game in hand.
But they face stiff competition with Chelsea and Tottenham significantly strengthening for a title challenge, while Guardiola warned of the threat posed by Leicester and Arsenal.
Guardiola admitted earlier this year that Klopp’s Liverpool is “the toughest rival I have faced in my career. “But City have never lost at home to Liverpool in the league since the Catalan arrived in Manchester, including a 4-0 thrashing of the newly-crowned champions when they last met in July.
A thrilling 2-1 win for Guardiola’s side in January 2019 was Liverpool’s only defeat of the season in which they still missed out on the title despite amassing 97 points.
Last season it was Liverpool’s 3-1 success early in the campaign that opened up a nine-point lead between the sides that City never recovered from.
This time, though, Guardiola believes it is too early to make conclusions this time, much like another battle for power this week.