Pep Guardiola described Anfield as the toughest stadium in the world to visit right now, but insisted Manchester City are not out of the Premier League title race if they lose to Liverpool on Sunday.
The build-up to the mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash has been dominated by talk of diving and tactical fouls, although City boss Guardiola and Reds counterpart Jurgen Klopp have done their bit to ease the tension.
Last season City took four points from the Reds, a return that proved decisive as they pipped Liverpool – who lost just once in the league – to the title by a solitary point.
Guardiola described the triumph as one of the greatest of his career and recognised the difficulty of playing at a stadium where Liverpool have not lost any of their previous 45 league games.
“As a manager, I said last season when we won the league, they’re the best contender I ever faced in my career to win this league,” he said.
“It was the biggest achievement, or one of the biggest achievements, as a club. It remains the same. Probably right now they’re the strongest team in the world.
“They are an exceptional team. Of course, the history is there for itself. It’s something special, I think more for the quality of the team of what they do, quality of players they have, quality of manager they have, I believe more in that, in the team, than the scenario [atmosphere at Liverpool].
“Right now it’s [Anfield] one of the toughest ones, right now in Europe it’s the toughest stadiums to go there.”
Unbeaten Liverpool can open up a nine-point gap over City with victory on home soil, but Guardiola insists defeat will not mean the end of their title aspirations.
“I don’t know to be honest, I think in November it never ends. I think we have a lot of games still to play,” he added.
“My experience in sport is you have to play until the end, are we going to win Champions League? Your favourite question! I don’t know the answer.
“They lost one game last season, this season they are unbeaten so I think they won’t lose many but the season is long.”
PEP In November, it is not the end. I don’t know what will happen but there are a lot of games. Experience in this sport says we have to fight until the end.
You ask if we will in the Champions League in February… I don’t have the answer.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 8, 2019
Guardiola this week sought to clarify comments he made about Liverpool forward Sadio Mane and “diving”, which drew a retort from Klopp bringing up previous accusations the Catalan’s teams are guilty of “tactical fouls”.
But Guardiola gave a prickly reply when the issue was brought up again, saying: “I said in Italy, no comment.
“Ask the other managers. I know exactly what I said to my players in the last 11 years about what we have to do. I know exactly.”
It was put to Guardiola that his rivalry with Klopp could potentially stand up to the one between legendary Manchester United and Arsenal bosses Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But Guardiola said it is far too soon to draw such comparisons.
“Well, I will wait [to see] if my hair grows in the next 20 years because they were more than 20 years together,” he said.
“I think we cannot compare anyone with the rivals of Ferguson and Wenger. Absolute legends in their clubs, they were more than one or two decades there.”