It will be all eyes on Anfield this Sunday, as Manchester City face Liverpool in the Premier League for the first time this season.
The two heavyweights have dominated English football in recent years, but have been subject to vastly differing fortunes in the early stages of their respective top-flight campaigns this time around. Whereas City sit just one point behind league leaders Arsenal with an unbeaten record still intact, the Reds have notably faltered since the new season got underway in August, and lie 10th, with just 10 points to their name after eight matches. The gap between the two sides is already a daunting 13 points, albeit with a game in hand for Liverpool, and City will be aiming to widen their advantage this weekend.
Likely to play a significant role in any positive result for Pep Guardiola’s team, should he feature, is goal-scoring sensation Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has already registered 20 strikes and three assists in just 13 appearances across all competitions this season, and has taken the English game by storm since signing from Borussia Dortmund in the summer transfer window.
And the 22-year-old’s all-conquering start to life in the Premier League has not gone unnoticed on Merseyside. In an individual clash that is likely to garner more than its fair share of attention, Haaland will almost certainly come up against Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk at Anfield - and the Liverpool talisman is certainly aware of the threat he poses.
Speaking to told TV2 in Haaland’s home country, the centre-back said: “It’s definitely not easy – he’s been on fire, you can’t say anything else. I remember after the Community Shield where a lot of people have been writing him off, I remember I was saying, ‘Listen, this guy is going to cause so many defenders nightmares’. He’s shown it, he’s been showing a consistent level and obviously in a team like City where chances will always come.
“We have to try to stop the balls going to him, defend at the highest level, and be at our best, and that’s what we always have to be against City and that’s not going to be any different on Sunday. It’s something we should look forward to, it’s definitely not me against him, it’s all of us versus all of them. It’s the outside world that creates battles, one versus one and all this stuff. We want to stop them scoring, regardless of who it is on the pitch. But we know he’s quite good.”
Likewise, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has spoken highly of the stunning impact Haaland has had at the Etihad.
Speaking ahead of the most recent round of midweek Champions League fixtures, the German said: “Nobody in the world can cope with the Haaland situation in the moment. It’s crazy what he’s doing. How he shook his head when he scored the second one in the Champions League: ‘Obviously I can do what I want, the ball bounced in front of my feet’.
“But he’s an exceptional player in an exceptional team, so it obviously works pretty well together and I don’t think you could compare now, in this moment, anybody with that.”
Klopp also reiterated his admiration for the forward during his Friday pre-match press conference, adding: “Like always, when you play against, at the moment, the best striker in the world, you have to make sure he doesn’t get too many balls, and that’s what you have to prepare before you go into the challenge with him.
“That’s what we will try, but obviously the problem against City is if you close Haaland down with too many players then you open up that for all the other world-class players. It’s a challenge and we hope to try and find solutions.
“It’s the combination of being really physical and technical and [having] sensational awareness; his orientation on the pitch is exceptional, he knows always where spaces are. Barely offside, he reads that really well. There are so many things.
“At City he has some of the best players in the world around him in setting up goals and finding the right passes; Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, they are all really good at that. That’s a perfect fit, no doubt about it.”