Three things learned: Liverpool v. Man City

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LIVERPOOL – It was billed as the best game of the season so far as the two title favorites locked horns at Anfield.

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A 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City ensued in a cagey encounter where both teams kept their unbeaten record intact for this season, while Riyad Mahrez smashed a penalty kick over the bar late on as City almost snatched all three points.

Here’s what we learned from Anfield.


CITY’S DEEP LINE SHOWED LIVERPOOL TOO MUCH RESPECT

Manchester City passed the ball between their goalkeeper Ederson and two center backs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte time and time again in the first half. They deliberately held a deep defensive line to stop any threat from Liverpool’s rapid forwards in-behind them. That frustrated Liverpool no end, but also diminished City’s presence as an attacking unit. It showed plenty of respect for Liverpool and after being beaten three times in their last four outings against Klopp’s side, you could hardly forgive Guardiola’s pragmatic approach.

City didn’t waver too far from their usual possession-based philosophy, but there was enough of a diversion from their norm to suggest that showed supreme caution as to what Liverpool could do to them. City had just 51 percent possession, which is their lowest amount in a PL game since Guardiola took charge. Even when Gabriel Jesus came on in the second half it wasn’t to give Aguero some much needed support. Yet Guardiola’s team controlled large spells of the second half and they ground Liverpool down with Mahrez twice coming close before he wasted a glorious opportunity by smashing a penalty kick high into the Anfield Road end. City will be happy with a point at Anfield given the fact that Guardiola had lost on both of his previous visits to Liverpool. But maybe, just maybe, Man City gave Liverpool too much respect.


PK CALLS GO LIVERPOOL’S WAY IN EDGY ENCOUNTER

Mahrez wasted City’s biggest chance from the penalty spot but City could have easily had three penalty kicks with Virgil Van Dijk handling in the box in the second half (although a foul on him was belatedly given) and Dejan Lovren clumsily bundled over Sergio Aguero in the first half. The breaks went Liverpool’s way in a tight, tense game. Aside from the penalty debates, there were enough late challenges, clever fouls and angry reactions on the sidelines to suggest this rivalry is growing into something special. Yes, this game wasn’t a classic compared to Liverpool’s 4-3 win last season at Anfield, but that is because these two teams are so evenly-matched and have so much respect for one another that they failed to take risks and didn’t divert from their gameplan during the game.

They each swapped a striker for a striker instead of going for it and Guardiola and Klopp will both be happy enough with a point from this encounter before the two-week international break. Liverpool’s unbeaten run at home is now stretched to 25 PL games, while they haven’t lost in their last 14 games against the so-called “top six” which dates back to January 2016. These two next do battle at the Etihad Stadium on Jan. 1 and we can expect a similar encounter with both teams atop the table. They now sit level on 20 points atop the table with Chelsea and those three are your favorites to win the Premier League. The title race is on.


SALAH’S RUST REMAINS

Mohamed Salah just can’t shake off the rust which has encased his 2018-19 season so far. He had a field day against Man City last season, missing several chances in his first-ever game against them and was then involved in five goals (three goals, two assists) in his next three encounters against City. In truth, he didn’t look dangerous all afternoon at Anfield. In the 63rd minute he cut inside on his left foot and like last season, he curled a shot in on goal. Unlike last season the ball didn’t fly into the top corner as he wheeled away in disgust as Ederson easily saved. We’ve seen that frustrated, almost tormented, look on Salah’s face far too often this season. We saw it again six minutes later as Andrew Robertson played a long ball up to Salah but his first touch was a little off and he skied his effort over the bar and into the Kop. That just about sums up Salah’s season so far as he’s scored three goals in 11 games in all competitions. It was always going to be impossible for him to replicate the season he had in 2017-18, yet the reasons for Salah’s are plentiful. Goalkeepers now know where he wants to finish and defenders understand his movements and runs better. Add in his shoulder injury at the end of last season and the fact that he rushed back to play for Egypt at the World Cup, and there could also be a general lack of sharpness rolled in there.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Man City

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Here we go!

Liverpool and Manchester City square off for the first time since the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, this time dueling for first place in the Premier League at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Struggling Trent Alexander-Arnold is on the bench for Liverpool, with Joe Gomez going to right back and Dejan Lovren playing centrally with Virgil Van Dijk.

For City, Benjamin Mendy starts and Riyad Mahrez gets the nod over Leroy Sane.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Milner, Henderson, Mane, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Fabinho, Keita, Sturridge, Shaqiri, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.

Man City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy, Fernandinho, D. Silva, B. Silva, Mahrez, Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Muric, Danilo, Kompany, Sané, Otamendi, Jesus, Foden

Liverpool issue injury update on Virgil van Dijk

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Life is pretty good at Anfield right now.

Liverpool made it six wins from six to open up the Premier League campaign — they have seven wins on the spin in all competitions to set a new club record for wins at the start of a season — as Jurgen Klopp‘s side eased past Southampton thanks to three first half goals.

[ MORE: Wolves draw at Man United ]

Yet the one negative was the fact that former Saints star Virgil Van Dijk came off in the second half with a rib injury.

With a pivotal stretch of games coming up in the League Cup, PL and UEFA Champions League, it seemed like Liverpool didn’t want to risk any further damage to their star center back.

Speaking about VVD’s injury after the game, Klopp told BBC 5 Live that Van Dijk “has a bruise on his rib, he’s uncomfortable but I don’t think it’s much more.” And Klopp also told Sky Sports that the center back had an injury in the same spot last week and that it isn’t anything too serious.

It will be intriguing to see if Virgil van Dijk is risked for the League Cup third round game against Chelsea at Anfield on Wednesday, especially with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip around and Dejan Lovren recently returning to training.

VVD has been influential in turning Liverpool’s defense into a stingy unit in recent months, with the Reds keeping eight-straight clean sheets at home in the Premier League. They last conceded at home in the PL to West Ham in February. Van Dijk arrived in January for $100 million, a world-record fee for a defender.

That is exactly why Liverpool won’t risk his fitness.

Smart move from Klopp to whip him off on Saturday as Liverpool have bigger fish to fry this season in all four competitions as their perfect start continues.

PL Preview: Liverpool vs. Southampton

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  • Southampton has not scored a PL goal vs. Liverpool since 2016, a run of 4 games
  • Liverpool has never won its first 7 matches in a season in club history
  • Southampton has not won vs. any of last season’s PL top 6 teams in 24 games

Liverpool finally showed a weakness. Liverpool was finally human.

Until they weren’t.

When the Reds toppled Paris Saint-Germain in the 91st minute on Tuesday, it struck fear into the hearts of the rest of Europe. Can anyone actually stop this whirring machine? Sure, you might score some goals against Liverpool, but can you score enough?

[ WATCH LIVE: Liverpool vs. Southampton on NBCSports.com ]

Southampton visits Anfield hoping to avoid becoming Liverpool’s next victim Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The Saints have been a mixed bag so far this season, but coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Brighton last weekend was a less than ideal way to send the team off to Anfield. Not only that, but they’ll have to match the Reds without top scorer Danny Ings, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.

That thrusts strike partner Shane Long into a solo role, or forces Mark Hughes to bring on the misfiring Manolo Gabbiadini to pair with Long, although the Italian is struggling with a hamstring injury himself and will require a late fitness test to make the squad. Either way, it appears a daunting task for the visitors to Merseyside.

For the Reds, Roberto Firmino is fully healthy, having recovered completely from his eye injury suffered last weekend against Tottenham. Adam LallanaDivock Origi, and Dominic Solanke are all out injured but otherwise the squad is nearly complete. Only Dejan Lovren remains on the sidelines, but even the Croatian is nearing a return from his pelvic injury.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on playing at home: “Are we ready to create the best atmosphere of all games? That would be cool. We need to show Southampton how difficult it is to come to Anfield.”

Southampton manager Mark Hughes on playing Liverpool: “It’s a game that is going to test us because the team we are facing looks on top of their form in terms of individuals and the collective functioning really well.”

Prediction

Southampton has looked promising this season in spurts, but this isn’t the game where they put it all together. Liverpool is a nearly unstoppable force at home, and there’s no reason that should change. The only concerning bit of information for Liverpool heading into this match is last season’s record following Champions League games, when they won just once while losing once and drawing four, but this year has proven Liverpool has a new gear. The Reds will win 3-1, with things shaky for some time down the stretch until a late insurance goal puts the game away.

Liverpool’s Lovren charged with perjury in Croatia

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Dejan Lovren has been charged with perjury in his native Croatia, according to a Wednesday report from the state-sponsored television network.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

Lovren is alleged to have given false testimony about financial deals with a former Dinamo Zagreb director. Zdravko Mamic was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for embezzlement and tax fraud. The Liverpool defender is accused of lying about lying on documents relating to his transfer from Zagreb to Lyon in 2010.

Lovren, along with fellow Croatian superstar Luka Modric, testified in the case in September 2017. Lovren has been charged in the same case as Modric, with those charges filed earlier this year. The charges against Modric also relate to his transfer from Zagreb, which occurred in 2008.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

The pair of 2018 World Cup finalists could face time in prison, if convicted.