Kevin de Bruyne could return from injury as Manchester City bid to inflict Liverpool’s first Premier League defeat of the season and put pressure on them in the title race, City manager Pep Guardiola said on Wednesday.
The return of De Bruyne would boost City’s hopes of beating Liverpool and reducing their lead at the top to four points.
It would also be a filip to their title defence which suffered a serious blow with three defeats in their last five league matches.
The 27-year-old Belgian midfielder, City’s player of the year, has endured an injury-affected campaign, restricting him to just six league appearances.
He was out of action from August until late October with a knee injury, then suffered a calf problem in early November that sidelined him for more than a month.
Having returned again in mid-December, he suffered a muscle problem during the defeat at Leicester on Boxing Day.
Guardiola, though, is hopeful De Bruyne can feature on Thursday as City look to drag themselves back into the title race.
“He trained today,” said Guardiola at his eve of match press conference.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) we need another check in the morning but he is much better.”
– ‘The best team in Europe’ –
In contrast to City’s indifferent recent league record Jurgen Klopp’s side have won nine league matches in a row, and have the best defensive record, conceding eight goals in 20 matches this season.
During that nine-match winning run, Liverpool have kept six clean sheets and conceded just three goals, and Guardiola acknowledges his own team have to improve their defensive record, as well as becoming more ruthless in attack.
“You have to see how many chances we concede,” said Guardiola.
“We are the second-best team in Europe in terms of the chances we create, so we are not precise enough.
“In the past few games, we have conceded more goals than usual but the number of chances we have conceded is not too much.”
Guardiola has tried to play down suggestions defeat on Thursday would effectively end City’s chances of retaining the title they won with a competition record of 100 points last May.
“The reality is clear. We are seven points down, but it is the second game of the second half of the season, so there are a lot of points to play for,” said Guardiola.
“I have the feeling it is a big opportunity for us to reduce the gap.
“Everybody is asking what will happen if we lose but we are going to try to win.
“It is our chance to fight for the Premier League, to go as far as possible,” added the 47-year-old Spaniard.
Liverpool have dropped just six points all season, and Guardiola believes they are currently the most consistent team in Europe.
“It is Liverpool, the best team in all England in history.
“We can beat them. I know today nobody trusts us but it is what it is.
“They are in the moment the best team in Europe, in their consistency, the way they control the details in their game.”