MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Liverpool’s early-season woes looked to have dented their chances of being able to go toe-to-toe with unrelenting champions Manchester City again on Sunday, but a timely return to form has raised hopes of more breathless brilliance to come.
Last season, two 2-2 draws between eventual champions City and close runners-up Liverpool were both high-quality affairs. Both sides held nothing back, attacking at every opportunity in encounters which swung one way to the other.
The two teams were at the peak of their powers, as City went on to win a fourth Premier League title in five years, while Liverpool, second by a point, won two trophies and reached the Champions League final as they went close to an unprecedented quadruple.
Another thriller in this season’s Community Shield curtain-raiser in August, which Liverpool won, whetted the appetite for another campaign in which these two new rivals would face off for the title.
City have done their part, unbeaten after nine league games, having scored a colossal 33 goals, one point off Arsenal at the top of the standings, but Liverpool have neglected their end of the bargain.
Despite strengthening their squad with the big-money arrival of Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez, and tying Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah down to a new contract, Liverpool have suffered their worst start to a domestic season in a decade.
Their 10-point return from eight matches is their worst start to a league season since 2012-13 under Brendan Rodgers, when they went on to finish seventh.
Conceding first in six of their eight league matches has not helped matters. The same happened again in the Champions League at Rangers on Wednesday, but what followed gave hope that they had turned the corner.
Liverpool scored seven goals at Ibrox, with Salah, one of a multitude of high-profile members of Juergen Klopp’s squad to have struggled to get going this term, netting the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history, off the bench.
“It changes the mood, definitely,” Klopp said after the win. “It is completely different.
“That is good but we all know who we are welcoming on Sunday and this will be a different game. But it’s better to go into the game feeling like we do tonight.”
Defensive issues still persist, but Liverpool, and Salah especially, could not have picked a better time to find their goalscoring touch.
ARSENAL STILL OUT IN FRONT
Before Liverpool and City tussle on Sunday, league leaders Arsenal can extend their advantage at the top of the table with victory at Leeds United, where the hosts are unbeaten at home so far this term.
Arsenal have won eight of their nine league games this season – only in 1903-04 (in the second tier) have they won as many as nine of their opening 10 games to a league campaign.
Goals have flowed for the Gunners too, scoring three in each of their last three league games.
Another improving London side Chelsea travel to Aston Villa, where the pressure is mounting on manager Steven Gerrard following the Midlands club’s disappointing start to the season.
Graham Potter is still new to the coach’s role at Chelsea, but has already overseen better results, with his side having won four and drawn one in all competitions since he took charge.
Manchester United who have enjoyed a mixed start to the season face a tough test on Sunday as they host high-flying Newcastle United, where a win for the visitors will see them climb above their opponents in the standings.
Elsewhere, third-placed Tottenham Hotspur welcome Everton to the capital on Saturday looking to make it three wins in a row in all competitions.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)