Ilkay Gundogan has spent quite a few spells of his career recovering on the treatment table, but there’s been no doubting his talent. Klopp was the man who first spotted it, signing his fellow German for Borussia Dortmund in 2011 from Nuremberg, and the midfielder was instrumental in Klopp’s two title-winning seasons at Dortmund. So it was no surprise in 2016 when Klopp, now at Liverpool, tried to bring Gundogan to Anfield.
But the lure of Guardiola and Manchester City proved too much.
Nah Gundogan is too much pic.twitter.com/9xmxmywkqC
— Nono (@senoufo223) January 6, 2018
“I spoke with Jurgen about different things,” Gundogan said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail. “He always liked me as a player and I would be a liar if I said he didn’t try.”
“But when I had the opportunity to join City and work with Pep, it was quite clear that I wanted to come here. When I was a little bit down because of my injury, he was quite sure he was still going to try to buy me. That showed me it could never be the wrong decision to join this club.
“They are both great managers, great characters and very ambitious. I’ve been lucky.”
Klopp and Gundogan are set to be reunited on Sunday, albeit on opposite sides as the Premier League-leading City take on Liverpool at Anfield, a venue where City haven’t won in nearly 15 years. But with the Manchester side having yet to lose a Premier League game this season, this visit will be different than others.
“It could be a big moment for us,” Gundogan said. “Anfield is one of the hardest stages in the world and on good days Liverpool are able to beat any team in the world.
“It’s more exciting for everyone when you have two top teams who try to attack and try to create chances.
“I can imagine it’s not attractive for the spectators when we play teams with 10 players around their own box, just defending and hoping for a set-piece or throw-in, anything.
With a 15-point lead in the Premier League, one foot in the final of the Carabao Cup, a status as one of the contenders for the Champions League and among the favourites for the FA Cup, there has been talk of an unprecedented Quadruple, along with matching the feat of Arsenal’s Invincibles squad by going through the entire league season unbeaten. But Gundogan isn’t taking anything for granted.
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) January 6, 2018
“It’s difficult,” the 27-year-old added.
“If I say ‘yes’ now, I would disagree with the manager, and that wouldn’t be so smart!”
“We have a lot of games to go, and a lot of hurdles to take, but everything is possible. We are in a comfortable situation and enjoy being on top. Having that gap also gives us confidence. This season is special as we are winning and winning and winning. We will try to go all the way. Maybe we will lose one day and maybe we won’t.
“We always feel safe. In games where we don’t score many goals, we still feel quite sure we won’t concede much. And in games where we concede one or two, we feel we can score a lot more.
“At this point, it just fits automatically. It’s just there. We don’t think about it much. On the field, everyone knows exactly what we need to do. Sometimes it’s strange.
“I have never felt at any time this season there is a safe first XI, just players who play more and some who play less. There is even more potential in this team.
“We didn’t play badly last season but it was more up and down. This season, we are just on a wave and it’s very hard to get us off this wave.”
On Sunday, that wave could carry them to a rare Anfield victory.
Manchester City travel to Liverpool on Sunday as they look to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table, as well attempt to keep their unbeaten run going.
The two sides met back in September with Pep Guardiola’s side cruising to a comprehensive 5-0 win at the Etihad Stadium.
With that in mind, we look at some of the tasty key battles which will be on the menu.
EMRE CAN VS KEVIN DE BRUYNE
Kevin de Bruyne has been the stand-out player in England this year with a series of glittering displays.
The Belgian has taken his game to new heights – with six goals and nine assists in 22 Premier League appearances this term – and few players have proven to be as influential on and off the ball as the 26-year-old.
His ability to orchestrate proceedings has added another layer of quality into a City attack already boasting plenty of firepower – and if he’s allowed to dictate the game with such aplomb then Liverpool will struggle.
This is where Emre Can can stamp his authority on the game – using his combative style to limit the former Chelsea man’s influence.
The German never shies away from battle and if he can get on top early then this will curtail the impact of the Sky Blues’ pacy midfield.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK V SERGIO AGUERO
Virgil van Dijk looked a towering presence during Liverpool’s win over Everton in the Merseyside derby last week, and will be looking to continue his thrilling start to life at Anfield when he comes up against Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine striker has been a thorn in Guardiola’s attack over the past two seasons – scoring 33 league goals since September 2016 – and is always a danger when City foray into the opposition half.
At 6’3, Virgil has a solid aerial ability and is strong in the tackle – and this could be a vital ingredient in denying Aguero as he goes in search of extending his record as the club’s all-time goal scorer.
The Dutchman will no doubt be focusing on his own game and look to command the Reds defence again – but he will need to be at his absolute best to stop the impact of City’s dominant attack.
This is set-up to be a cracker of a battle.
SADIO MANE V KYLE WALKER
Walker has been instrumental since arriving from Tottenham last summer, and based on his current run of form, few are more composed in his position around the world at present.
The Englishman looks at the prime of his footballing and physical ability and will be tasked with closing down the elusive Sadio Mane when City step out against Liverpool on Sunday.
When the side’s last met in September, Mane was red-carded after 37 minutes for a challenge on goalkeeper Ederson – with the Sky Blues running out commanding 5-0 winners.
As a result of the Senegalese’s early dismissal, both players didn’t get a chance to go head-to-head and this sets up for a mouth-watering clash down the left flank this weekend.
Mane’s pace, movement and crisp passing ability makes him a menace for any defender, and this is sure to be Walker’s most significant test in over a month – since facing Tottenham and Man United.
Pep Guardiola has urged Manchester City to underline their intention to make history this season when the runaway Premier League leaders travel to Liverpool on Sunday.
Guardiola’s side have turned the title race into a lengthy coronation party after powering 15 points clear of second placed Manchester United and 18 ahead of fourth placed Liverpool.
Barring an epic collapse, City will spend the rest of the season focused on the historic implications of their remarkable campaign.
If unbeaten City can leave Anfield unscathed, they will have only 15 more matches in which to avoid defeat as they aim to emulate the achievements of Arsenal in 2003-04 and Preston in 1888-89, who both went an entire top-flight season without losing.
“Of course if you want to achieve something that’s good and win titles you have to win these kind of games,” Guardiola said.
“This season at Stamford Bridge we were able to do that but still we have to go to Anfield, to Emirates and against Tottenham.
“We still have tough teams away, there is still a lot of things to do. For us it’s a real test, going to Anfield, one of the most prestigious stadiums and teams in the world so we’ll try to put on a good performance, it’s a big game for us.
“Liverpool is such an important game, to realise again if we are able to do big things in this season, in important stages, in the Champions League.”
Becoming England’s third top-flight “invincibles” isn’t the only milestone fuelling City’s charge.
There have only been five longer unbeaten streaks in the top flight than City’s current run of 30 matches.
Arsenal’s 49 games in 2003-2004 is currently top, followed by Nottingham Forest’s 42 in 1977-1978, Chelsea with 40 in 2004-2005, Leeds’s 34 in 1968-1969 and Liverpool’s 31 in 1987-1988.
City, still in the hunt for four trophies this term, could also become the first team to win a top-flight match at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in the same season since Wimbledon in 1986-87.
But to do that City must end their wretched run at Anfield, where they are without a win since 2003, a run of 16 matches in all competitions.
Asked about City’s Anfield curse, Guardiola said: “I don’t believe in these kind of things, but of course the last time City won was 15 years ago, so it means a lot in terms of how difficult and complicated it is to play there. But records are always there to be broken.”
Since losing to Tottenham on October 22, Liverpool are unbeaten in 17 matches in all competitions and 13 in the league, their best run under Jurgen Klopp.
Their 5-0 thrashing at City earlier in the season was Klopp’s heaviest defeat in all competitions as Reds boss, and his joint-heaviest ever managerial loss.
City’s visit will provide evidence of whether Liverpool can cope without Philippe Coutinho following the Brazil forward’s sale to Barcelona.
While Coutinho’s departure brought the curtain down on his role in Liverpool’s attacking ‘Fab four’, Klopp’s three remaining big hitters will ensure the Reds pose a major threat to City’s unbeaten record.
Crucially for Liverpool’s chances of derailing the leaders, Egypt winger Mohamed Salah, who missed the last two matches with a groin problem, is fit and available for selection.
“It’s interesting to play against City. They play really good and if you don’t respect that, you have a problem,” Klopp said.
“But if you are not brave in your game, you will also have a problem. You need to show up.”