Jordan Henderson believes it is Manchester City who set the standards in the Premier League and Liverpool will have to keep up with Pep Guardiola’s men if they are to stand of chance of winning back the title.
Liverpool welcome City to Anfield on Sunday in what Henderson feels is undoubtedly the biggest match of the season so far for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The Reds can return to the summit with a win after Chelsea knocked them off top spot by beating Southampton 3-1 on Saturday.
Historically Liverpool boast a good record against City, having not lost consecutive home games against them since 1937 and losing just one of their past 18 meetings at Anfield.
But that solitary defeat came via a 4-1 thrashing in February as City cruised to the title, and although Liverpool are on the longest unbeaten run (16) in the top four tiers of English football, City’s quality is not lost on Henderson
Writing in his programme notes, Henderson said: “There’s no doubt that this game is our biggest of the season so far. The Premier League table tells us this, recent history and the aims of the two clubs tells us this.
“As an opponent, Manchester City are as strong as they come and we welcome them to Anfield in the knowledge that having got a great result at Chelsea last weekend they will be looking for another one today.
“City’s record under Pep Guardiola speaks for itself. From a Liverpool perspective, they set the standards that we had to live up to before we could become champions and any team which wants to win the league this season will know that their chances of doing so will be maximised if they finish above City.
“They are the reigning champions and someone will have to take their crown because City won’t be handing it over.”
Henderson then turned his attention to talk of “respect”, which could possibly be seen as a veiled message to supporters after Guardiola pleaded for Liverpool fans to not attack the City bus, eager to avoid a situation similar to that prior to their Champions League clash in 2018.
“There is a lot of talk about the rivalry between our two clubs, but for the most part this is built on respect and competition,” he added. “You can’t slug it out as we have in recent seasons and not have a rivalry, that wouldn’t make sense.
“But by the same token, if you go toe-to-toe with a team like City it would be ridiculous if you didn’t recognise their quality and respect them for it.
“Yes, there will be headlines, stories and flashpoints because all of this is part and parcel of elite sport in which one team is vying with another, but I can guarantee that when the game kicks off the overriding factor will be respect.
“It is only by having this kind of approach that you give yourself the best possible chance of being successful on the day. If you don’t know how good the opposition are and respect that, how can you possibly beat them?”
The Liverpool captain also spoke of his bemusement at some of the criticism directed at City earlier in the season, and he felt there were similarities with the reaction to the Reds’ shock 3-3 draw with Brentford last weekend.
“The mad thing is it’s only a couple of games ago that reactionary questions were being asked of City after a home draw against Southampton,” Henderson continued. “Honestly, that baffles me. This Man City are without question one of the most consistently successful teams of the modern era.
“But it is the world we live in now I suppose. A result and performance in isolation is analysed to death, ignoring wider context.
“The flip-side to that sort of reaction is it speaks volumes about the standards being set. It was similar for us last weekend when we drew at Brentford. Was it the perfect result? No. Did we want a better one? Of course.
“But the reality is that every team will play games throughout the season when points will be dropped against opponents whom you’re supposedly favourites to beat, because that is just what the Premier League is like.
“There were positives, but these were undermined by individual and collective shortcomings at key moments and this cost us two points. This is why it was so important that we responded in the manner that we did against Porto in midweek. It is one thing to have an off-day, it is another thing to allow it to turn into two or three.”