LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool could hardly be in higher spirits as they set out on the short trip to Manchester City on Saturday hoping to make a strong case for their Premier League title prospects.
Pep Guardiola’s City and neighbours Manchester United, together with champions Chelsea, have already been installed as the trio most likely to contest the title, but optimism is surging on Merseyside after a free-scoring August.
A 4-0 thrashing of a compliant Arsenal side before the international break means Juergen Klopp’s side have seven points from nine during an opening period in which they also safely negotiated a Champions League playoff against Hoffenheim.
What is more, Liverpool’s transfer window business has been hailed as some of the best amongst the leading clubs.
Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah was rated by number-crunchers at the CIES Football Observatory as the bargain of the summer after arriving in a deal worth a reported 36 million pounds ($47.01 million) from Roma and a goal on his debut plus strikes against Hoffenheim and Arsenal have quickly endeared him to Anfield’s faithful.
The deadline-day signing from Arsenal of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain — a player Klopp believes can become a Liverpool great — adds more firepower to an attack already boasting Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and which will soon be further boosted by the return from injury of Adam Lallana.
The rising stock of midfielder Jordan Henderson, who has captained England twice in the past week, and a superb goal for teenager Ben Woodburn on his Wales debut means the continued uncertainty surrounding Phillipe Coutinho and his desire to join Barcelona is a manageable distraction.
No wonder pundits are taking Liverpool seriously.
“I didn’t fancy Liverpool before the season started but they’ve made some decent buys and kept Coutinho which is a boost for them,” former Manchester United great Ryan Giggs conceded this week. “After the business they’ve done I’ve probably changed my mind and they will be in the mix.”
Liverpool have a strong recent record against City — winning four of the last six league clashes between the sides — and last lost to them in the league three years ago.
Last season, Klopp’s side took 20 points from their matches against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, City, United and Arsenal — more than any other club — and the recent demolition of Arsenal maintained their form against the big clubs.
City, who also have seven points, have match-winners everywhere though, even if they will be without former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling who was sent off for over-celebrating a last-gasp winner against Bournemouth last time out.
While Sterling’s absence will be a blow, Guardiola’s options are so numerous that Sergio Aguero was only a substitute against Bournemouth and he is likely to return.
Defensive worries remain despite a huge summer outlay and 50-million-pound right back Kyle Walker will return from suspension with the unenviable task of trying to stop the rampaging runs of Mane — a battle that could determine which of the two title rivals will be celebrating.
Leaders Manchester United, who have a 100 percent record and are yet to concede a goal while scoring 10, travel to Stoke City for Saturday’s late kickoff.
Promoted high-flyers Huddersfield Town, who have also kept three clean sheets and are level on points with Liverpool and Manchester City, play at bottom side West Ham United on Monday.
Arsenal, who have lost their last two games, should avoid slumping to three defeats in a row when they host Bournemouth on Saturday.
Champions Chelsea are at Leicester City on the same day.
Editing by Clare Fallon