KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Jurgen Klopp has never made a secret of the fact that he hates finding Liverpool slotted into the early kickoff on a Saturday. He will be even more upset that the lunchtime menu for his team this week, of all weeks, is playing away to treble-holders Manchester City.

The stakes could not be higher even in this first half of the Premier League campaign. City are top of the table, one point ahead of Liverpool who lead Arsenal on goal difference. The Gunners thus have an extra five hours to prepare for their evening hosting of Brentford. If City and Liverpool draw then Arsenal can overtake both of them by winning their latest London derby.

So there is pressure for points in every direction in the fixture which has emerged in the past eight years as an English clasico. Not that anyone thinks about comparisons with Real Madrid v Barcelona. Such is the self-importance and financial power of the Premier League that the latest managerial duel between Pep Guardiola and Klopp is considered the ultimate club contest all of itself.

Klopp arrived in Liverpool in October 2015 and Guardiola landed in Manchester, 50km miles along the East Lancs road (officially the Liverpool–East Lancashire Road) linking the cities, in the summer of 2016. Before that Liverpool’s duels with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United had been the most important ‘derby’ in the Premier League.

Guardiola’s success with City has changed all that. Ferguson’s retirement saw United fall out of the picture. Not that even Liverpool have made it much of contest: Guardiola’s City have finished the season above Klopp’s Liverpool six times and behind them only once. Not so much a classic, more a rout.

The early kickoff adds to Liverpool’s status as outsiders. It has become a phobia. Liverpool have been handed early kick-offs after all four of this year’s international breaks. Klopp says: “The problem is the lack of recovery time when the players all come back late in the week. It’s not a problem if you have a normal week but TV doesn’t worry about player welfare.”

The decision to schedule City v Liverpool for an early kick-off was influenced by previous incidents between the fans. This also prevented a Saturday evening kick-off. Moving the game to Sunday was not possible because of City’s Champions League home tie on Tuesday against RB Leipzig.

Injuries

The managerial skills of not only Klopp but also Guardiola will be tested by a rash of injuries. Goalkeeper Ederson hurt an ankle near the end of the 4:4 draw with Chelsea while 13-goal league top scorer Erling Haaland suffered a minor foot injury on international duty. Late fitness tests will also be needed for Mateo Kovacic, Nathan Ake and Matheus Nunes. Kevin de Bruyne, John Stones and Sergio Gomez are long-term absences.

Liverpool’s worries centre on defence with Ibrahama Konate and Joe Gomes both doubtful and Andrew Robertson out until the new year with a shoulder injury. Konate has not featured since the 1:1 draw against Luton at the start of November. He was rested in Toulouse then missed the win against Brentford. His second hamstring problem of the season saw him miss France’s World Cup qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece.

At least in midfield Ryan Gravenberch and Curtis Jones are expected to have recovered from minor injuries while Alexis Mac Allister is back after suspension.

Liverpool’s other long-term casualties are midfielders Stefan Bajcetic and “forgotten man” Thiago Alcantara. The latter has not started a match for Liverpool since February and has not played as a substitute since April because of a hip injury.

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