Pep Guardiola expects his Manchester City players to be on top form when they take on title rivals Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
Having been nip and tuck with Jurgen Klopp’s side throughout the first three months of the season, City suffered an unexpected wobble with defeats by Crystal Palace and Leicester and go into Thursday night’s game trailing the Reds by seven points.
City did get back to winning ways against Southampton last weekend but were not entirely convincing while Liverpool completed a month in which they won all eight games with a brilliant 5-1 crushing of Arsenal.
Guardiola said: “If we lose, it will be because they’re better and we were poorer than them. But I don’t have the feeling the players don’t have confidence. They know exactly what they have to do.”
Klopp has been described as Guardiola’s Kryptonite, and Liverpool have won three of the last four meetings between the sides, although City did win last season’s home Premier League game 5-0.
Guardiola insisted he enjoys taking on Klopp’s teams, saying: “It’s an incredible pleasure. I’m a manager to play these kind of games to see what we can do on the big stage with a lot of people supporting us in our stadium.
“It’s a dream to play these kind of games. It’s when I’m most calm, more relaxed. I know the players have the responsibility and will give the best performance they can.”
If City are to secure the win they desperately need, they will have to get past Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk who, a year on from his record transfer, has been arguably the league’s most important player.
“He’s an exceptional player,” said Guardiola. “When a player costs whatever it costs and it works, it is well worth it. When you pay less and it doesn’t work, it is so expensive. If he can play every three days with no injuries and play consistently, it is well worth it.”
The two managers were both keen to talk up their opponents, hailing each other’s as the best team in the world.
Klopp is eager to put all the talk and predictions to bed, saying: “Yes, with the record we had in December, we had a good moment and we have a very, very, very good football team.
“That’s why we have the amount of points, that’s why we had the results. But
we prepare for one game.
“A couple of weeks ago we were a point behind and then (the talk) was if we
lose, then it’s four points, can you close that gap. It’s all only talk. It has
nothing to do with the reality.
“A big part of the football world is talking about it before it happens. But
we are there to let it happen. We are very excited because it’s a very
interesting game, we’re looking forward to it, but apart from that it’s a normal