As recently as January, few would have looked at Manchester City versus Liverpool on 10 April as being quite such a huge game in the title race.
When City beat Chelsea 1-0 on 15 January, they moved 14 points clear at the top and, although the Reds had two games in hand, it looked as though Pep Guardiola’s side were seemingly running in a one-horse race.
But since then, Liverpool have won every Premier League game they have played and victory over Watford on Saturday lifted them to the top of the table, albeit briefly.
Indeed, Klopp had barely taken his seat in the post-match news conference when City had opened the scoring in their game against Burnley to return to the summit in the as-it-stands table.
“So City have already killed one of your questions, huh?” quipped Klopp as he sat down, aware that a large focus of journalists’ questions would be about the upcoming match with City, rather than the Watford win.
The professional view is that the game is huge, too. Former England captain Alan Shearer, ex-Wales captain Ashley Williams and former Scotland striker James McFadden have all suggested next weekend’s game is critical to the destiny of the title.
“Whoever wins that, I think will win the title,” McFadden told BBC Sport.
It is now impossible to hide from the enormity of next Sunday’s title match-up at Etihad Stadium. Just one point separates the two going into the fixture, with both sides having played the same number of games.
It would be understandable if Guardiola felt frustrated at seeing the healthy advantage his side once had chopped down – but instead the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss is relishing the challenge.
“We will fight,” he said.
“The opponent is so tough and good but they said we will make a proper battle and we accept that.”
However, he knows Manchester City cannot afford any off days – even suggesting they will have to win all eight of their remaining games to defend the Premier League title.
“Hopefully Liverpool are going to lose against us, but apart from that I don’t think they are going to drop points,” Guardiola added.
“You have to handle it [the pressure]. We did it in the past when we had to win 14 games in a row [to beat Liverpool to the title in 2019]. Now we have to win eight games – otherwise we will not be champions.”
While City are chasing a possible treble and a fourth league title in five seasons, Liverpool – who won the Premier League two years ago – are in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple.
They have already won the Carabao Cup and, as well as the league title race, they are also in the hunt for Champions League and FA Cup success.
“I really appreciate the situation we are in,” Klopp added.
“I told the boys yesterday, if somebody would have told us in the summer that end of March, early April [we would be] in the situation we are in – in all competitions, won one trophy and a full squad available – we all would have taken it, absolutely.
“The only better situation would have been – because in the cup competitions we couldn’t be further – if we are 20 points ahead of City, but that’s not possible actually.”
‘A flip of the coin in the title race’
Such was the advantage Manchester City had in January that even many pundits had all but given up on the prospect of a title race.
“I remember thinking the title was done and dusted,” former Wales captain Ashley Williams said.
“For me, Liverpool were in a position where they had nothing to lose. The pressure was off them. But the pressure has changed a bit now in terms of they do have something to lose.
“What an ending we’re in for this season!”
Former England and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer also thought the title race was over – but now feels there is so little in it that predicting a winner is effectively a guessing game.
“Liverpool have got a really good opportunity to put some pressure on Manchester City,” he said.
“When you consider where they were two months ago, it looked all over. They’ve done incredibly well to get themselves back into contention.
“I think it’s a flip of coin in the title race. It’s all going to boil down to next weekend.”
What is the run in like?
After hosting Liverpool next weekend, Manchester City finish the season with games at home to Brighton, Watford, Newcastle and Aston Villa while they will travel to Leeds, West Ham and Wolves.
Liverpool, meanwhile, host Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham and Wolves at Anfield and have away games at Newcastle, Southampton and Aston Villa.
“It looks like Manchester City have the better run of fixtures compared with Liverpool, but they have two games against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in there too,” said former Scotland striker James McFadden.
“It’s a tough run initially for City, but after that it’s a kinder run of fixtures than for Liverpool.
“I think it’s down to next weekend, though. Whoever wins that, I think will win the title – I don’t see either team slipping up after that.”
SOURCE: BBC SPORT