As Manchester City travel to Anfield for arguably their most important fixture of the season so far, we caught up with Phil Blundell of The Anfield Wrap, in order to gauge his feelings towards the game and the two sides in general.
Hi Phil, thanks for joining us. Liverpool’s start to the season has been very impressive and they currently find themselves sat in second place in the Premier League table. Are you surprised by how well your team have started, or was a title challenge always on the cards in your mind?
To be honest I thought we’d challenge. The signs were there last season that we’d be a good side this season and you take away the ‘distraction’ of European Football and give Klopp a full pre season (which was something he would bang on about all season last season) and there was always going to be scope for huge improvement. I didn’t think we’d be above you on New Year’s Eve, but I also didn’t think we’d be 6 points behind Chelsea. We’re probably a bit ahead of where I thought we’d be while being a bit behind where I thought we’d be if that makes sense.
Jurgen Klopp has captured the hearts and minds of many football fans with his entertaining style of football and unique personality. Just how highly do you rate him?
He’s brilliant. He’s taken the core of a side that looked a pretty disorganised mess and sorted them out, and added his brand of football and a couple of players to it and improved us hugely. I know James Milner has a history of having played everywhere on a pitch but he’s genuinely influencing games from left back while most left backs will get up and down and defend their flank. It’s little things like that and moving Henderson to where he’s playing now that are what sets him apart. Anyone who’d suggested Milner would be left back and Henderson a holding midfielder a few months ago would have been laughed at. But it’s worked.
Liverpool have received plenty of stick in the past for their transfer policy but it has certainly paid dividends recently. Were you happy with the business conducted in the summer window and can you see the club dipping back into the market in January?
I thought we had a very good summer. I also think if you look back at the previous summer, with the exception of Benteke, we’ve signed well both of the last two summers. Wijnaldum was right out of the left field but he’s come in and surprised pretty much everyone, firstly by being really good and secondly by playing in a position no one thought he’d play in. Then there’s Klavan who looks a snip and Joel Matip who could play centre back the best part of ten years. Sadio Mane’s pace has been something we just didn’t have as well and his output energy and all round game are perfect for this side. We’ll miss him next month when he goes to the African Nations.
I suspect we won’t buy anyone next month just because I think Klopp has very strong ideas about who and what he wants, isn’t interested in a short term measure and the players he wants just won’t be there in a January window. I’d love it if we could add someone as I think it brings everyone on but I think it’ll be more of the same for the last 4 months.
On to Manchester City now. What are your perceptions of the Blues as a club, both past and present?
As a club in the past you were a bit of a joke weren’t you? Please don’t take that the wrong way but ‘That’s City that’ was a phrase we all knew what it meant. A bit like Everton. But luckily for you, you definitely aren’t Everton any more. You’re probably the best team on paper in the league and given the time to get his ideas, and players, Guardiola will win league titles and quite probably European titles as well. I think it was going to be tough for him early just because of how competitive this league is. He doesn’t get many chances for his side to just have half an hour off because they’re 4-0 up in England like he did with Barca and Bayern, so this season was an obvious year of adaptation for him. If you get beat on Saturday it’ll be tough because outperforming Chelsea by 10 points over 19 games would be a massive, massive ask. Similar for us with 9. It really is a huge game.
If you could have one City player join Liverpool, who would it be and why?
I think it has to be Aguero. We probably lack a 25 goal a season striker, well we have one but he’s broken, so adding him would be huge for us.
Goals are to be expected in a game where both teams enjoy attacking and seem to dislike defending. Where do you see the match being won and lost?
I think it comes down to who has more of the ball in dangerous areas. Our defending is a bit better than people give us credit for. We don’t give away many chances but it tends to be that when we do you get a real chance of scoring. If we can keep you away from our goal and play football and push you back I think that’s key. If you can stop Henderson getting the ball and moving it quickly that’ll be key for you.
Finally, please can we have your predicted Liverpool XI and your prediction for the final score on Saturday?
I think we’ll be unchanged from the other night unless Matip is fit. That might be why he didn’t play against Stoke but I don’t know for certain. It seems to be a real bogey ground for you with no win since 2003 and one point in five games or something? I can see this continuing with us winning 2-1. The big winners are going to be Chelsea though because I think a loser basically can’t win the league.