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Among the more illuminating parts of Manchester City’s recently released, fly-on-the-wall documentary was Pep Guardiola discussing his fears about playing Liverpool, and in particular its prolific front three.

“They scare me,” a pensive-looking Guardiola told two members of his technical staff as he paced around a locker room inside the stadium of Liverpool’s Merseyside neighbour, Everton.

And with good reason.

City made two trips to Anfield last season and they proved to be uncomfortable experiences in every sense.

The first was in January, when a 4-3 loss ended its quest to become the second “Invincibles” of the Premier League after going 22 games unbeaten. City conceded three goals in a dizzying nine-minute span in which Guardiola’s players looked rattled for the first time all season.

The second was in April, when a 3-0 loss in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals virtually ended City’s chances of winning the biggest prize in European soccer for the first time. That night started with City’s team bus getting smashed up on its way to the ground by beer cans and bottles chucked by Liverpool fans, and it didn’t get any better on the field.

The architects behind those two big wins for Liverpool were Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, a front three of pace and perpetual movement that so clearly worries Guardiola. They scored five of Liverpool’s seven goals in those games, with Salah and Firmino also scoring in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals that Liverpool also won en route to reaching the final.

So it’s not unreasonable to suggest Salah, Firmino and Mané have been occupying Guardiola’s thoughts this week ahead of his team’s latest visit to Liverpool and its storied, atmospheric stadium – where City has not won since 2003.

Sunday’s match is between the top two teams in the Premier League, tied with 19 points and both unbeaten after seven games. Liverpool finished 25 points behind first-place City last season but looks to be the champion’s biggest title rival this time after a net spend of about US$200-million in the off-season.

What will be telling this weekend is if Guardiola has learned from those Anfield defeats of last season and adjusts his tactics accordingly. He is well-known for his unwavering belief in a possession-based, attack-minded approach that comes with obvious risks, given that it involves his goalkeeper and defenders playing the ball out from the back and also two playmakers in a midfield three.

That plays into Liverpool’s hands – Juergen Klopp’s high-energy game plan often relies on pressing from the front and then counterattacking at pace – and Guardiola knows it. Klopp has won seven of his 14 meetings with Guardiola over the years, losing only once in six while both have been in English soccer.

Guardiola tried something different in April, playing an extra midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan instead of a winger, Raheem Sterling, in a bid to exert more control. By the time Gundogan trudged off after 57 minutes to be replaced by Sterling, City was trailing 3-0.

Will he rein in his fullbacks this time? Leave out one of his playmakers and play a more defensive centre midfield to better protect the defence? It goes against Guardiola’s philosophy but he realizes something has to change.

Guardiola also acknowledged City got too “involved in the environment” at Anfield last season, and that was borne out in Liverpool scoring three goals in nine minutes in the first game and three goals in 19 minutes in the second. City, in essence, simply folded after conceding and took too long to recover.

It makes the first goal so crucial on Sunday. Liverpool versus Man City almost always lives up to its billing as one of the most entertaining matches on the English calendar, especially now that Klopp and Guardiola are in the respective dugouts.

City has a score to settle after its pair of Anfield humiliations. Liverpool wants to make another early-season statement that it is a genuine challenger for its first title since 1990.

Expect it to be gripping viewing.

Chelsea, the other unbeaten team heading into the eighth round of matches, visits Southampton on Sunday.

Manchester United, in 10th place, looks for a first win in five matches across all competitions when it hosts Newcastle on Saturday.

Here’s what to watch in other European soccer leagues this weekend:


Winless in three Spanish league matches and with its defence faltering, first-place Barcelona visits a Valencia side that held Manchester United to a goalless draw in the Champions League in midweek.

Barcelona has conceded seven goals in four games, including two in Wednesday’s win at Tottenham in the Champions League. Valencia ended a seven-match winless streak last weekend.

Real Madrid, behind Barcelona on goal difference, visits sixth-place Alaves on Saturday still reeling from a Champions League loss at CSKA Moscow on Tuesday. That made it three straight games without scoring for Madrid, after a home draw against Atletico Madrid and a 3-0 loss at Sevilla.

Alaves has yet to lose at home and has been one of the early surprises in Spain.

Third-place Sevilla, one point behind Madrid and Barcelona, hosts struggling Celta Vigo on Sunday. Sevilla has outscored its opponents 17-4 in its past four matches, and forward Andre Silva is the league’s leading scorer with seven goals.


Bayern Munich bids to end a three-game run without a win in a home match against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Bayern lost the league lead last weekend to Borussia Dortmund, which faces Augsburg on Saturday. Augsburg was the side that ended Bayern’s seven-game winning start to the season.

Third-place Hertha Berlin visits Mainz on Saturday, when Schalke will look for another win at Fortuna Duesseldorf after ending its five-game losing start last weekend.

Bayer Leverkusen visits Freiburg on Sunday, when Leipzig hosts promoted Nuremberg.


Given how sloppy Lyon’s defending has been at times this season, a trip to free-scoring Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday is hardly what the club needs.

Lyon’s weakness at the back was exposed in the Champions League on Tuesday, when it fell 2-0 behind at home to Shakhtar Donetsk before rallying to draw 2-2.

A 6-1 rout of Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League took PSG’s tally of goals to 35 in 10 games over all. Neymar has 10 goals in his past eight games.

Victory against Lyon will set a new French record of nine straight league wins.

All is going well for PSG’s new coach, Thomas Tuchel, but the pressure is mounting on Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim, who needs a home win against Rennes on Sunday with his side languishing in 18th place and star striker Radamel Falcao out of sorts.

Second-place Lille – the season’s surprise package after almost being relegated last season – hosts fourth-place Saint-Étienne on Saturday.


Juventus can extend its perfect start at Udinese, while second-place Napoli hosts Sassuolo looking to build on its Champions League victory over Liverpool in midweek.

On a weekend without any standout matches, Roma visits Empoli, AC Milan hosts Chievo Verona and Inter Milan visits Spal in the eighth round of fixtures.

In a game featuring two sides that have shown flair in the early weeks, third-place Fiorentina visits seventh-place Lazio.

Krzysztof Piatek, who leads the league charts with eight goals, will look for more as Genoa hosts Parma.

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