Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola seemed primed to go off Sunday.

His squad lost 3-1 to English Premier League-leading Liverpool at Anfield, and the reigning champions fell behind early following a disputed decision.

Bernardo Silva's pass intended for Raheem Sterling in the box instead hit Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm, leading to the Reds' counter-attack that Fabinho capitalized on with an outside-the-box screamer.

Guardiola took issue with the call, and another handball much later in the match. Both appeared to be on his mind when he, uh, passionately thanked the referees after the match.

But the Spaniard insisted during his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he was not being sarcastic with the officials.

"No way," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "I congratulated them. I'm so polite. I didn't say anything here [either]."

Indeed, in Guardiola's interview and post-match press conference with reporters, he didn't take the bait when asked about Alexander-Arnold's handball, which VAR subsequently upheld as not a foul on a check of the goal. Guardiola told Sky Sports to "ask the referees" about the decisions and instead focused on his own team's performance.

"We tried to do our job," Guardiola said. "I would like to talk about our performance, it was so good. So, I know when teams come here and the way they play [with respect for] Anfield, and from the opening, with the problems we have in the squad, the way we played was awesome. One of the best performances we have played. We played in the way, the reason we are back-to-back champions. That is the point.

"At the end, there's still seven months, and if Liverpool win, I will be the first to congratulate them because we cannot deny how good they are."

Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 at halftime, despite controlling possession and out-shooting Liverpool in the first half. But the Reds were clinical, scoring on each of their first two shots of the match. 

Liverpool's first-half performance reminded Guardiola of Manchester City's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss at Anfield two seasons ago, when the Cityzens dug a 3-0 first-half hole in the first leg at Anfield. Guardiola was happier with his squad Sunday, pointing to City's various injuries as Leroy Sané, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko all have missed significant time this season.

"What happened today, we showed why we are the champions," Guardiola said. "In this stadium, the way we played was incredible. So, I'm so proud of my team more than ever. [An] incredible performance in this stadium against the strongest team in Europe, and the way we played ... I am so proud. So proud. We played so good."

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Perhaps Guardiola was just trying to be positive following some very visible outbursts, and the frustration stemming from both calls -- or, lack thereof, if you're a City supporter -- is understandable. But as strong as City looked, Guardiola's comments ring of moral victories and are oddly defeatist, especially considering where he and the club stand in global soccer's pecking order.

Guardiola arguably is the greatest club manager of all time, and oil money-backed City has the kind of financial might that only a handful of clubs in the world can match, let alone exceed. City trails Liverpool by nine points in the Premier League table, but don't mistake them for underdogs.

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

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AP

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

The English Premier League season really begins Sunday. 

Though Manchester City is in fourth ahead of a visit to league-leading Liverpool FC at Anfield, the reigning champions' place in the table is merely a technicality. City and Liverpool are, full stop, the two best teams in the Premier League, just as they were last season. 

That's not meant to disrespect party-crashing Leicester City and Chelsea, who sit second and third after 2-0 wins Saturday. It's merely a reflection of the Premier League's reality. Liverpool accumulated more points last season (97) than any other team that failed to win the title, but the Reds picked up a UEFA Champions League crown for their troubles. The Cityzens, meanwhile, won a second straight title last season and both of England's domestic cups en route to the treble. 

Liverpool enters Sunday's match with a six-point lead over City and a chance to create real separation in the title race. City, on the other hand, can prove that the Premier League is far from a foregone conclusion. Here's why both teams can win -- and who will -- in Sunday's massive match.

Why Liverpool can win

Liverpool has been waiting for this. Yes, a sixth European title is more than a consolation prize, but the Reds have had more than enough close calls in their 30-year league title drought to make last season's second-place Premier League finish sting. Add the record point total to a list that already features Steven Gerrard's fall in 2014 and finishing as runners-up to arch-rival Manchester United in 2009. 

The timing is right for Liverpool to beat City and ultimately win the club's first Premier League title, considering how strong Jurgen Klopp's squad is. Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané form the Premier League's most prolific attacking group, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the league's best fullbacks, Virgil van Djik is the best center back in the world -- you get the idea. 

Anfield also is a fortress. Liverpool has not lost a league match at home since April 23, 2017. Klopp also is 8-2-7 all-time against Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in all competitions, surely replacing José Mourinho as the former FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich gaffer's biggest rival. 

Why Manchester City can win

Manchester City are the best team money can buy. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are singular talents to be sure, but the Cityzens' petroleum-fueled depth is what separates them from the rest of England -- and Europe, frankly. On any given week, (at least) one of the three most expensive right backs in the sport's history sits on the bench, and Guardiola's squad has the depth to contend, not just compete, on four fronts. 

The Cityzens arguably have played better than any other club this season. City have scored the Premier League's most goals (34) and easily generated the most expected goals (32.5), according to StatsBomb's data. For reference, Leicester beat Southampton 9-0 earlier this season ... and the Foxes are still three goals behind City in terms of goal difference. City's goal difference (plus-24) and expected-goals difference (plus-20.1) are far ahead of Liverpool's (plus-16 and plus-11.0, respectively).

The tide might be turning in the Guardiola-Klopp rivalry, too. City picked up four of a possible six points against Liverpool last season, and the draw Guardiola's side earned at Anfield arguably was the result the title hinged upon last season. If Liverpool wins that match, the title drought already is over.

[RELATED: Why Kerr admires Liverpool manager Klopp's passion, joy]

Prediction

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Liverpool has a slight edge in form and will be boosted by Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson's absence, but the Reds' league results have been too close for comfort. Klopp's squad earned points from losing positions in each of their last three matches, winning two and losing one.

Of course, City had to do the same against 19th-place Southampton last week, proving that trap games do, indeed, exist across the pond. The Cityzens also haven't exactly been tested this season, drawing struggling Tottenham Hotspur in their one other match against a traditional "Big Six" club. 

But even that draw came in what arguably was the single most dominant display of the Premier League season, as City outshot Spurs 30-3. City's dominance has flown under the radar due to losses to Norwich City and Wolves, but a two-time defending champion losing focus -- and lacking luck -- against lower sides isn't a new phenomenon. 

City has been better than Liverpool this season, and that will bear out with a win Sunday at Anfield.