Liverpool Storm Etihad to Begin Title Chase

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The English Premier League resumes this weekend after the international break and the stand-out fixtures is today’s early kickoff between Manchester United and Liverpool.  With both teams on the same points, victory for either side would overtake league leaders-Manchester United, before the Red Devils’ trip to Stoke later in the day

L iverpool could hardly be in higher spirits as they set out on the short trip to Manchester City this afternoon hoping to make a strong case for their Premier League title prospects.

Pep Guardiola’s City and neighbours Manchester United, together with champions Chelsea, have already been installed as the trio most likely to contest the title, but optimism is surging on Merseyside after a free-scoring August.

A 4-0 thrashing of a compliant Arsenal side before the international break means Juergen Klopp’s side has seven points from nine during an opening period in which they also safely negotiated a Champions League playoff against Hoffenheim.

What is more, Liverpool’s transfer window business has been hailed as some of the best amongst the leading clubs.

Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah was rated by number-crunchers at the CIES Football Observatory as the bargain of the summer from Roma and a goal on his debut plus strikes against Hoffenheim and Arsenal have quickly endeared him to Anfield’s faithful.

The deadline-day signing from Arsenal of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player Klopp believes can become a Liverpool great adds more firepower to an attack already boasting Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and which will soon be further boosted by the return from injury of Adam Lallana.

The rising stock of midfielder Jordan Henderson, who has captained England twice in the past week, and a superb goal for teenager Ben Woodburn on his Wales debut means the continued uncertainty surrounding Phillipe Coutinho and his desire to join Barcelona is a manageable distraction.

No wonder pundits are taking Liverpool seriously.

“I didn’t fancy Liverpool before the season started but they’ve made some decent buys and kept Coutinho which is a boost for them,” former Manchester United great Ryan Giggs conceded this week. “After the business they’ve done I’ve probably changed my mind and they will be in the mix.”

Liverpool have a strong recent record against City, winning four of the last six league clashes between the sides and last lost to them in the league three years ago.

Last season, Klopp’s side took 20 points from their matches against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, City, United and Arsenal – more than any other club and the recent demolition of Arsenal maintained their form against the big clubs.

City, who also have seven points, have match-winners everywhere though, even if they will be without former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling who was sent off for over-celebrating a last-gasp winner against Bournemouth last time out.

While Sterling’s absence will be a blow, Guardiola’s options are so numerous that Sergio Aguero was only a substitute against Bournemouth and he is likely to return.

Defensive worries remain despite a huge summer outlay and 50-million-pound right back Kyle Walker will return from suspension with the unenviable task of trying to stop the rampaging runs of Mane, a battle that could determine which of the two title rivals will be celebrating.

Meanwhile, City face an injury concern with the club’s medical team concerned over a fresh problem for Vincent Kompany.

The City captain has been stricken with a series of calf problems over the last three seasons and was limited to just 11 appearances in the Premier League in Pep Guardiola’s first season in England last term.

The worst of those injury woes could be over however with the Belgium international starting and completing each of City’s opening three games of the new campaign.

However, the 31-year-old was absent from training with his club on Wednesday as a result of a calf problem picked up while on international duty. While City’s medical staff do not see it as a serious problem, they are wary of his injury history and will continue to assess the centre-half ahead of the lunch-time kick-off at the Etihad Stadium.

Kompany remains a hugely important player for Guardiola following City’s failure to bring in another centre-half during the summer transfer window. While the club spent £130m in strengthening their options at full-back, the club’s interest in West Brom’s Jonny Evans, Southampton captain Virgil van Dijk and Real Sociedad’s Iñigo Martinez amounted to nothing, leaving City with the options of Kompany, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala as their only senior centre-halves.

Doubts over Kompany will act as a major boost to Liverpool’s chances of leaving the Etihad with something. While they have their own problems in attack, their front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino has already proved to be a deadly combination with Kompany’s organisational skills in the City backline vital to keeping the trio quiet.

Guardiola has experimented with playing three at the back and a flat back four this season with Kompany, Stones and Otamendi all featuring as the first choice combination.

Leaders Manchester United, who have a 100 per cent record and are yet to concede a goal while scoring 10, travel to Stoke City for today’s late kickoff.

Promoted high-flyers Huddersfield Town, who have also kept three clean sheets and are level on points with Liverpool and Manchester City, play at bottom side West Ham United on Monday.

Arsenal, who have lost their last two games, should avoid slumping to three defeats in a row when they host Bournemouth today.

Champions Chelsea are at Leicester City on the same day.