(Reuters) – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said Liverpool are their “biggest challengers” for the Premier League title despite the Merseyside team trailing his side by 13 points ahead of Sunday’s game at Anfield.
City, who have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League, are second in the league table on 23 points after nine games, one point behind leaders Arsenal.
Liverpool have won only two of their eight league games and are 10th, but Guardiola said his opinion about them has not been changed by their league position.
“I know the quality they have, they know the quality we have. If this was with three games left, I would say they could not catch top of the league but, with so long left plus a World Cup, anything can happen,” Guardiola told reporters on Friday.
“It’s always difficult in the years since we have arrived here together, it will be a tough game and I don’t expect anything else.
“The game will be dictated on the pitch, not by the table, because we are in front of them or behind, not because of those kind of things.”
City have been one of the most consistent teams in world football this season, with the team yet to lose a game in any competition.
“This is our biggest achievement as a team,” Guardiola said.
“Everything can change. A few months ago Liverpool were competing for a prestigious situation in English football, four titles, they had more shots, possession, everything in the final and they lost.
“This is the same team, same manager, things can happen. It’s part of the nature of the competition. I don’t look at good moments or bad moments I analyse as a team always expecting the best of them.”
Guardiola said that Kyle Walker (groin), Kalvin Phillips (shoulder) and John Stones (thigh) are still sidelined and he does not know if they would be fit to play for England at the World Cup.
He added that striker Erling Haaland will play in Sunday’s game after he was an unused substitute in their Champions League match in midweek.
The Spaniard also discussed his own contract extension negotiations, saying he is “not thinking one second” about it. His current deal is set to expire in 2023.
“We have two or three weeks until the World Cup and this is an important time. After that, we have plenty of time to talk about that,” said Guardiola, who has guided City to four Premier League titles, four League Cups and the FA Cup.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)