Jurgen Klopp has admitted that Liverpool are looking for a knockout blow reminiscent of the Rocky films as Liverpool aim to halt Manchester City’s charge for the title at Anfield today, needing a shock run of poor results to end.
Klopp has called upon a cinematic call to arms ahead of a crucial showdown for his stuttering side, observing that the clash between arguably the two most attacking teams in the English top flight is “so intense” that neither side can “afford to relax for the most fleeting of moments.”
The reigning champions have been on the ropes in recent weeks, losing their 68-game unbeaten home run against lowly Burnley last month before suffering another unlikely defeat against underdog visitors when Brighton beat them on Wednesday.
City are well ahead on points approaching the later rounds of an unpredictable season, sitting seven points ahead of the Reds with a game in hand and an eight-goal superior goal difference ahead of the first bell this afternoon.
🗣 “13? that’s a good number I think it should stay on 13.” Rolling on the floor laughing🗣 “They won’t sit there and think ‘Oh my god, Liverpool is in a bad shape, best moment to get them’ the respect is too big”Jurgen Klopp on the prospect of facing Manchester City pic.twitter.com/fpJ1AwcuP9
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) February 7, 2021
Liverpool will need the spirit of Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone’s Balboa at his most resurgent if they are to floor Pep Guardiola’s team, who are on an imperious 20-match unbeaten run and won their 13th consecutive game in all competitions with a 2-0 win at Burnley on Wednesday.
“I know it’s often portrayed that City and ourselves have driven each other’s improvements over the past few seasons,” said Klopp, recalling how the heavyweights went on remarkable winning runs in the second half of the 2018/19 season as City edged the title by a point after the race went to the last day of the season.
“There have been moments where it’s felt like a scene from a Rocky film where Balboa and Apollo Creed are just trading punches but neither will go to the canvas.
“My only issue with this notion is that for us, with our situation, to stand any chance at all of achieving the things we dream of, we have to be entirely focused on ourselves. This is more important than ever right now.
“City are flying. We have had mixed fortunes. It is what it is and it won’t matter when the whistle goes and the ball starts to roll.
“The key message for us today is to simply attack the contest with all we have. The only team to worry about and concentrate upon is ourselves.
“Focus on being us. That’s always been enough for me and always will be with these incredible men.”
Despite their formidable financial clout and immensely talented squad, City’s run has still been something of a surprise.
Guardiola has cut a perplexed figure at times since they won that neck-and-neck finale almost two years ago, watching as performances faded sufficiently badly for Liverpool to finish 18 points ahead of them as they gained revenge last season.
Everyone knows what City are capable of at their best, but they lost meekly to the likes of Tottenham and Leicester earlier in the campaign, both of whom were considered stronger contenders for the title before City entered machine mode.
Phil Foden has said Liverpool are still dangerous contenders for the title race 🏃City take on the former PL champions tomorrow afternoon. pic.twitter.com/EFpbAK6XdV
— Goal Asia (@Goal_Asia_) February 6, 2021
Cup final day for @LFC today if they are to have any chance of retaining the title. A win for @ManCity would put 10 pts between the teams & city with a game in hand. Will Hendo start in Midfield, will Mané start?Let’s hope yes to both and plenty of #heavymetalfootball please!!
— Glenn Sheridan (@glennpsheridan) February 7, 2021
“We must view every opponent as standing in our way – having the points that we want – not just one,” urged Klopp, alluding to the unexpected identity of the teams to have troubled them since a 7-0 win at Crystal Palace in December that had some pundits suggesting the defense of their title would be little more than a formality.
West Brom, Newcastle and Manchester United have taken a point from games with Liverpool since then, and Southampton have also beaten them during a slump that has yielded two wins in eight league games amid an injury crisis and a sharp downturn in form from the likes of Mohamed Salah, who has scored twice in the Premier League since Christmas.
“Enjoy the drama and focus of a head-to-head battle when it comes,” added Klopp. “But we must not lose sight of the fact that our progress comes from making sure we squeeze the maximum out of ourselves each and every day and then being at peace with what that brings us.”
Part of the uncertainty around Liverpool’s prospect lies in the knowledge that two of the hastily-arranged signings added to their depleted squad, defenders Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak, have negligible experience at the highest level.
Kabak is a 20-year-old on loan from rock-bottom Bundesliga side Schalke, and Davies has never played above the second tier in England, signing on the strength of impressive performances for Championship club Preston.
“The expectations will be exactly the same in both dressing rooms because the standards that City and ourselves have set in recent years have been incredibly high,” said captain Jordan Henderson, warning Liverpool to focus on the “dirty work” and “nuts and bolts” while conceding that they were “not as organised as we should have been” in the build-up to Brighton’s winning goal in midweek.
“What shouldn’t be overlooked is the commitment of both teams to do the basics, starting with work-rate and effort.
“If we’re not at it and our intensity isn’t at its usual level – which was the case when we played away at City last season – then it’s highly likely that we will suffer.”
Liverpool lost that trip to Manchester 4-0 in July, although the result did little other than restore a much-needed element of pride for City in a game that few will remember after the beaten visitors had already secured the title.
The idea of being able to drop points and still win the league is a distant idea for Liverpool now. Even with 15 matches left after today, anything other than victory would leave them looking like long shots to recover the ground.