On January 15th 2017, Manchester City travelled to Merseyside and succumbed to one of their most humiliating days in recent history.
They weren’t just destroyed, but the Pep Guardiola experiment in English football sunk to its lowest ebb. City were beaten, torn apart and they had no answer. And scorers on the day included maiden goals in Everton shirts for both Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman.
Just a day short of one year later, Guardiola’s City were a different team. They were top of the Premier League, unbeaten, and looking invincible. And they travelled back to Liverpool, this time to take on Jurgen Klopp’s Reds at Anfield.
Another four goals later, City were beaten again. And after 2017’s turning point which was marked at Goodison, another turning point might well be have been birthed at Anfield, just a day short of a round turn of the calendar later.
Guardiola’s side will still more than likely win the Premier League. A defeat won’t halt their inexorable march to the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss’s first league title in England giving him a foot in the door as one of the greats in three different countries. In fact, it might well make them more likely to win it and other competitions – there will be no temptation to attempt to finish the entire season unbeaten, and players can be rested in the league for Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup commitments. If anything, this probably makes them even more dangerous.
The turning point at Anfield, however, probably didn’t come for City this time. Rewind back to a year ago, and Liverpool were themselves in a similar position to City.
On the same day that Guardiola took his side to Goodison, Klopp took his team in the opposite direction to face Manchester United at Old Trafford. That game ended 1-1, and is perhaps best remembered to Reds fans as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s first league start. To the rest of us, it’s the game which saw Paul Pogba trot around the pitch like an amateur on the very day Twitter decided to turn the Old Trafford advertising hoardings into a promotional tool for the then-world’s most expensive player, bestowing upon him his own hashtag and his own emoji.
A draw at Old Trafford is always a creditable result, of course, but this marked the second game in a run of seven matches without a win Liverpool would suffer in January and February. That coincided with Sadio Mane’s international involvement at the African Cup of Nations, and the Anfield side’s subsequent fall from the title race, where they looked like Chelsea’s only challengers for the Premier League crown come the turn of the new year.
Indeed, by this stage, Liverpool look to be in a similar position to the Manchester City team who failed to hit their target in Guardiola’s first season in charge. Klopp’s side are stunning in attack on their day, but also prone to slip-ups at the back. They lack a goalkeeper whom they can trust, and they are still clearly a few signings away from being the finished article.
Virgil van Dijk will help, though there’s probably more to come.
For City, however, it wasn’t a full-on defensive overhaul which did the trick. This time last year, John Stones didn’t look like a £50m central defender, whilst Nicolas Otamendi was simply a liability. By now – their performance at Anfield notwithstanding – they’re part of a record-breaking side and one which is still fighting to win every competition open to them at the start of the campaign. Certainly that’s a huge improvement from some players like Otamendi and Fabian Delph who were considered ready for the scrapheap by many.
Liverpool could find themselves in the same boat. In order to bring about that change, City had to signed Kyle Walker and Ederson. They did much more than that last summer, but the back-four and goalkeeper now looks fairly settled, and they are the only two new faces: the rest were just improved, either by the manager or the competent presences of the new additions.
This January, Klopp has added Van Dijk, and in the summer you’d like to think a new goalkeeper will arrive, too. There’s still time for Naby Keita to join the Anfield outfit in January, but if not he’ll help a more disciplined midfield screen the defence from next season onwards. Perhaps a new left-back will be on many Liverpool fans’ wish lists, but that’s already a good start.
Liverpool like to play football in a similar way to Manchester City, and they’re scarily similar in the way they’ve fallen short in the defence and goalkeeping departments over the last few years. Last year, mid-January marked a turning point as Pep Guardiola’s side travelled to Liverpool. Will this year see the same thing happen to a different club?