When Liverpool met Manchester City in the autumn, they played out an unexpectedly cagey draw at Anfield, the two favourites focused more on stopping their nearest rivals for the title from earning three points than in earning three points themselves.
When the two sides face off at The Etihad on Thursday in the season’s second meeting, the game could look an awful lot different. At least if you take Pep Guardiola at his word, as the City manager has said that his side will have no choice but to attack.
“With the position of Liverpool, if we drop points it’s over, finished,” Guardiola said following his side’s 3-1 victory over Southampton on the weekend. “It would be almost impossible. Of course I think they’re going to drop points, but not too many.
“If we want to be there until the end, we have to win games. The problem is the other team is fantastic. Maybe the best team in Europe or the world right now. When Liverpool is seven points in front it’s because they don’t lose, they don’t concede.”
When Liverpool faced City last time, they were the challengers and City the favourites. But a rough month for City and Liverpool having seemingly found something like their best form as the season rolls into its second half has changed the equation.
Now, Liverpool are favourites. Now, Liverpool are ahead in the table—by seven points. Now, if City end Thursday’s match even with that gap unchanged, making it up over the final 17 league games will look a very, very difficult task for them.
It’s not that Liverpool won’t be expected to drop points but that, should the gap remain, they will need to drop seven more than City the rest of the way—and City will be expected to drop at least a handful of points here and there, too.
Both City and Liverpool’s results over the past month have given the Reds breathing room; room to make a mistake or two. And the only way for City to make the gap look manageable is by narrowing it to four by beating them on Thursday.
Or at least that’s what Guardiola’s saying, and the reality of the table suggests he isn’t being anything but honest and straightforward. City need a win; they need to attack. In turn, that will likely give Liverpool chances, but for City it’s a necessary risk.
“They started in incredible form,” Guardiola added. “Top players, all together four or five years with Jürgen. You have to accept it. All we can do is do our job, play our games, and after that we will see.”