Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp won't be facing each other on the touchline for the first time after their battles in German football, but it will be the first where there is no clear advantage for Guardiola. The former Bayern Munich and Barcelona head coach has found the Premier League challenging with five teams averaging at least two points per game so far. Even relative laggards Manchester United are at 1.83 points per game after winning their past three games in a row.
Chelsea's 12-match win streak has propelled the West London side to the top of the league, but Guardiola believes that Liverpool are part of a group fighting for Premier League honours this season. It’s not an outlandish thing to say nor part of what many tend to hastily label as mind games, and at this stage, the focus should be on accumulating points and momentum rather than engaging in unnecessary prattling.
"Yes, [Liverpool] are definitely a contender for the Premier League," Guardiola said. "It was a good game I saw. I saw Liverpool this year many times. But it was my day off, my family was not here and I decided to take a car. Thank you Liverpool for inviting me, for the tickets. I saw the game and that's all.
"I was lucky to play before against Jürgen and I think we know each quite well. There are six teams fighting for the title, especially for the first four positions fighting for the next Champions League. I saw the contenders and they are really tough teams. So it will be a good fight until the end of the season."
In short, Liverpool aren't cannon fodder. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United are all pushing at the top end of the Premier League. These teams will finish in the top six positions at the end of the season barring any catastrophic breakdown in form. Liverpool and Manchester City have the opportunity to step forward as a potentially credible rival to Chelsea with a final flourish in 2016.
With the way this season has progressed, a defeat for Klopp won't be as damaging to his reputation as defeat for Pep. Any attempts to place pressure or expectations elsewhere would appear somewhat hollow given that Manchester City have spent £150 million in the summer to welcome a coaching phenomenon that has won six league titles in seven seasons on the touchline.