In Manchester, the kings are dead. In Liverpool, however, long live the kings.
The passing of the Premier League title assured, Liverpool will accept their first guard of honour as champions from the previous winners the last two seasons Thursday when they face Manchester City in a top-two clash at the Eithad.
The red part of Merseyside has been in delirium since the final whistle of Manchester City’s 2-1 loss at Chelsea on July 25 that gave Liverpool (28-2-1) an insurmountable 23-point advantage with seven matches remaining. The Reds have been celebrating their first Premier League title and first league title since winning the First Division in 1990, their season-long dominance culminating in an unrivaled catharsis that included losing last season’s epic title race by one point to City (20-3-8).
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win a trophy like that,” striker Mo Salah told the team’s official website. “To win the Premier League after long years for the club and the city, it’s unbelievable. I can’t describe with words, it’s so hard to say that [how it feels]. When I came here, I said I wanted to win the Premier League – it’s my first thing in my head, I want to win the Premier League and the Champions League. People said, ‘If you could choose one…?’ But now I can say that I’d choose both!
“The Premier League, I can say now after we won it, for the city it is something else. Everybody is crazy about the result, everybody is crazy about the Premier League.”
After a cagey scoreless draw at Everton in the Merseyside Derby, Liverpool finally ran through their gears on June 24, putting Crystal Palace to the sword in a 4-0 hiding at Anfield. Salah staked the Reds to a 2-0 lead right before halftime and turned playmaker for Sadio Mane’s goal on 69 minutes. In between those, Fabinho provided a sumptuous strike, and defender Trent Alexander-Arnold opened the scoring on a free kick in the 22nd minute.
With no other trophies to play for, Liverpool are now angling for history as the 19-time champions will take the field as champions for the first time in a staggering 10,650 days. They also set a record for the earliest clinching of a Premier League title by two matches.
Now within reach is joining Manchester City in the centurion club – of which City are the lone members following their 100-point campaign in 2017-18. Perhaps more impressive is Liverpool could conceivably blow by that mark and finish with 107 points if they win out as they enter this contest five points ahead of City’s record-setting pace.
“I’m not sure if I ever got one but it’s long ago that we won something in Germany. I don’t know if it’s a German tradition as well but it’s an English tradition, a Premier League tradition,” Klopp said regarding the guard of honour at his Wednesday press conference. “We take it, it’s a nice gesture, 100 per cent. I wouldn’t need it, to be honest, because we go there and want to play a football game and either way we want to win the football game.
“I saw City play now already three times. I think they have played more often but I saw them playing three times and that looked like how City looks – massively dominant, making the pitch big, using direction, preparing direction, mix up of long balls to prepare the smaller space and the other way around.”
After recording a domestic treble last year in winning the FA Cup and Carabao Cup in addition to the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side can deliver a Cup trophy treble this term as they have repeated as Carabao Cup champions, reached the FA Cup semifinals and are still in the Champions League knockout rounds.
Throw in the seemingly interminable wait of finding out if the Court of Arbitration for Sport will uphold UEFA’s two-year ban from European play for financial irregularities on top of seeing the team that dethroned them domestically, and City clearly will not lack for motivation.
“In sport you have to prove (yourself) every time. We are satisfied with what we are doing but the past is the past,” Guardiola declared at his presser Wednesday. “What we have done remains in our soul and memories. Now we must go on… it’s a new chapter in our lives and you have to live it.
“The winner does not want to be beaten and we are going to try to fight with Liverpool and the other opponents for the next chapters in the Premier League.”
Guardiola must again do without top striker Sergio Aguero, who is out for at least the remainder of the domestic season after undergoing ankle surgery. Fernandinho will sit due to suspension, though centre back Eric Garcia could make a return after missing the last two matches due to concussion protocol. Guardiola is expected to continue rotating his squad with an eye on cup competitions, but a near full-strength first XI is expected.
Liverpool will be without defender Joel Matip, while midfielder James Milner is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
The Reds made quick work of City in the reverse fixture, declaring their title ambitions with a comprehensive 3-1 win at Anfield in mid-November. Fabinho and Salah struck in the first 13 minutes, and Mane put the match out of reach shortly after halftime.
City’s win at the Etihad in last season’s corresponding fixture sparked their sprint to the tape and is one of just two losses Liverpool have suffered in their last 49 league matches (41-6-2). The Reds have not done the double over Manchester City since 2015-16 but did sweep them in their two-legged Champions League quarterfinal in 2018.