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Man City hunts down Liverpool: How Pep outplaying Klopp (& LFC's Boot Room)

COMMENT: How did it happen? Just how is Liverpool on the brink of surrendering the Premier League leadership tonight? Some say it's nerves. Bottle. Maybe as dramatic as mental disintegration. Or how about they've simply been run down by one of the great modern clubs of our time?

By rights, going into the game with Everton, Manchester City shouldn't be close to the leadership. And really, Liverpool can have no complaints should they jump ahead of them on goal difference by 10pm tonight.

Shorn of Kevin de Bruyne for much of their season. Of Gabriel Jesus. A mix-and-match back four, where the likes of Fabian Delph - and even Fernandinho - have had to step in. But somehow Pep Guardiola has managed to keep things together. Not just staying within touching distance of the leadership. But now ready to take it over.

And credit Guardiola. By his own admission, he's breaking new ground. This season the first where's he managed a team chasing the leadership.

Nothing's been won yet. But for Guardiola it's another opportunity to silence those of us who had our doubts about the Catalan. Could he handle the intensity of English football? The attrition. The 24 hour spotlight? Well, the league winner's medal in his trophy room is answer to that. Burning off his great nemesis, Jose Mourinho, in the process - another personal triumph. Now he's hunting down Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Another new experience. One to meet. To conquer.

“I'd prefer it to be like last season! But this is a new experience and a new challenge for me and the team," declared the City manager, this remark coming just days after the Newcastle United setback.

And as much as Guardiola is getting things right on the pitch, he's also outplaying Klopp in the press. The Catalan has been calm. Assured. Even canny with his observations. In contrast, his Liverpool rival is rowing with managers. With match officials. And even prompting - almost goading - the media to question him about titles nerves. His players' mentality. And their experience in such situations.

Guardiola, however, has been quick to always deflect. And we say canny as he's managed to expand the race. Make a headline.

"I never said Tottenham are not there," he said yesterday. "I never put out [of the race] all five or six teams and United is making this run of victories every single week. They will be there to fight for the Premier League.

"If Chelsea win games in a row they will be a contender too to win the Premier League. Everybody is there."

In other words, don't just talk about City. Look at United. Spurs. Chelsea. Just hours after Klopp was complaining about the match officials and taking incoming fire from Manuel Pellegrini, the West Ham manager. Guardiola was creating a headline about United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - and in the process guiding his City players under the radar on their way to Gwladys Street. There's no screaming 'bottler' stories regarding City today. Guardiola knows what he's doing, something which is acknowledged by the players.

"Pep is a winner," says Guardiola's Brazilian fullback Danilo. "He won a lot of titles with his previous teams so that helps us every day, every game. Every situation is completely different even for him but his experience can help us."

Meanwhile on Merseyside, James Milner has hinted there is tension inside the dressing room. After the West Ham result, he was on radio reminding his teammates to appreciate what they have.

"I've been fortunate enough to win titles and I have been unfortunate enough to get relegated as well," said the veteran. "So, I've experienced it and these are the things you should be enjoying."

That's from inside the locker room. Outside and it's all beginning to fray. Paul Ince has told the players to dump social media. Graeme Souness says they're "defensively vulnerable". And Jamie Carragher? Well, he's now claiming Manchester United the better squad. And all this has just come in the last 24 hours. Just imagine their response if City beat Everton tonight? With friends like these...

But no matter the result at Goodison Park, thanks to Guardiola, this title race is alive. And he's managed to do it quietly. Efficiently. And all the while breaking new ground as a coach.

Hunting down Klopp's Liverpool at this stage of the season another doubt scrubbed by the Catalan.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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