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Josh Barker: Liverpool can challenge Manchester City if they keep one player fit


Since Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City in 2016, one of the greatest Premier League rivalries has played out between the Spaniard and Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp.

Pep has gotten the better of Klopp the majority of the time, winning five Premier League titles compared to the German’s one, but Liverpool have still been the side to challenge Manchester City the most over the last seven years.

Liverpool finished a point behind Man City in 2018/19, won the league in 2019/20 and were once again a point off top spot when the Sky Blues clinched the Premier League in 2021/22.

Things did not go too well for the Merseysiders last term, though, with Klopp and co. forced to settle for a fifth-placed finish and Europa League football, while Guardiola picked up his fifth Premier League crown.

A number of factors led to Liverpool’s downfall in 2022/23, including a massive drop in form from Trent Alexander-Arnold and their ageing midfield simply not being up to par anymore.

This season, though, things are looking much more positive for the Reds. Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have been moved on, with four new central midfielders brought through the door. Dominik Szoboszlai has looked especially impressive for Liverpool, while loanee Ryan Gravenberch is also beginning to find his feet after being somewhat of an outcast at Bayern Munich.

This new lease of life at the heart of Klopp’s side has seen Liverpool win seven, draw three and lose one of their 11 Premier League games so far this term – with their only loss coming in that rather controversial clash with Tottenham.

Liverpool are also scoring more and have improved their defensive record despite not signing a new centre-back.

All of this points toward Liverpool once again breathing down Manchester City’s neck come the back end of the 2023/24 campaign.

However, there is one factor that is being somewhat overlooked surrounding Liverpool’s success this term and their downfall in 2022/23 – the impact of Luis Diaz.

Last season was Liverpool’s worst since the early years under Jurgen Klopp, and it is no coincidence Diaz missed around half of the campaign due to injury. Liverpool lost seven Premier League matches while the Colombian was sidelined, yet when he was fit, they fell to just two PL defeats (vs Manchester United and Arsenal).

While some may dismiss this stat, it is hard to ignore the impact Diaz has had on Liverpool since his switch from FC Porto. Eight of Luis Diaz’s 11 Premier League goals have either drawn his side level (four) or put them one goal ahead (four).

And it is worth pointing out that Liverpool have lost just one game in 2023/24 with Diaz starting and even that match (vs Tottenham), saw Diaz score before it was wrongly ruled out for offside. Had it stood, Liverpool may still be unbeaten and Diaz would once again have likely secured at least a point for his team.

Mohamed Salah is, and often rightly so, seen as Liverpool’s MVP. But there is no denying the effect Diaz continues to have on his side, and if Liverpool can keep him fit for the majority of this season, they should once again be in title contention come May.

Diaz will be especially crucial for Liverpool in early 2024 when Salah leaves to take part in the African Cup of Nations.

Josh Barker

Josh Barker

Middlesbrough fan from the North East of England. @JoshBarker979 on Twitter.