Guardiola's City slickers primed to end wretched Anfield hoodoo vs. Liverpool
Manchester City face what is probably the toughest Premier League assignment left open to them this season when they travel to Anfield on Sunday to face Liverpool.
Having already won at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, the trip to Liverpool represents possibly the last really tough challenge on Pep Guardiola's itinerary. With visits to Arsenal, Tottenham and Burnley still to come, there are plenty of banana skins lined up, but Anfield is by far the most treacherous one of those left to play.
Someone, somewhere at some point will get the better of a team only beaten once since the FA Cup semifinal against Arsenal last April and even that was a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk, who needed points to go through while City were already qualified.
City's progress this season has been unremitting. There have, however, been small hiccups. Teams of differing stature and with a variety of approaches have tried to block City's smooth procession towards this season's glittering prizes. Notable in their success have been second tier Wolves and Bristol City, admittedly both strong possibilities for next season's Premier League, but nevertheless punching well above their weight.
Both sides set up to contain and attack whenever they could, unlike some of their more illustrious top flight brethren, notably Newcastle, who performed a hedgehog defence system on their own ground, rolling themselves into a tight ball and refusing point blank to come out.
It is unclear what works best against City. Those teams that received a proper pasting seemed to fall between two stools. In conceding six at home and seven at the Etihad, Watford and Stoke respectively were ill-prepared and awestruck by the wall of blue attackers driving towards them.
One team who arrived in Manchester with attacking intention was Liverpool. The early season clash between the Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp philosophies was looked forward to with the same levels of anticipation building for this weekend's clash.
That Liverpool's brave plan to fight it out toe-to-toe came crashing around their ankles was perhaps down to a key turning point when the marauding Sadio Mane was sent off. It must not be forgotten, however, that City were already in front at that stage and Liverpool's attacking had been intensified because they were chasing the game.
That the match ended 5-0 was a surprise. Not since 1925 had City handed Liverpool such a severe hammering. In addition to underlining the seriousness of City's challenge this season, the match also highlighted another crucial factor in the club's meteoric progress: Mane's challenge saw goalkeeper Ederson Moraes stretchered off with a rip to his face. His display in the first half against Liverpool had been the best exhibition of goalkeeping seen by City fans for well over a year.
The Brazilian's quick recovery and continuing mastery of his area and beyond has been one of the major factors in City's incredible surge.
One element stands in City's way this weekend, however. Their record in modern times against Liverpool is unparalleled in its direness. Anybody who had the dubious pleasure of following the club in the 70s, 80s or 90s will have been lucky to have seen more than one or two victories over Anfield's finest in that time.
The regularity with which Liverpool stuck four or five past City in the 80s was akin to the workings of the best Swiss time piece. Liverpool on their way to Manchester? Batten down the hatches and prepare for embarrassment.
As modern times have ushered in City's most successful era ever, the club's record against Liverpool at Anfield has steadfastly refused to budge. Home victories over Liverpool have begun to trickle through in recent times but City's last win at Anfield came in 2003, inspired by ex-Kop favourite Nicolas Anelka.
That is dire -- a 15-year hiatus despite coinciding with City's elevated status in the modern football world. But try searching for the next win before that. The record books will take you snakelike through a long list of years until the eye alights on the year 1981.
By any accepted football standards two wins at a venue in nearly 40 years represents some kind of psychological hurdle to jump. In City's case, this might just be the moment to do it. The League Cup final victory two seasons ago -- albeit snatched on penalties in desperately nerve-wracking circumstances -- began the healing process.
This side, apparently fearless at what an opponent might attempt, represent the club's best chance yet of putting a small but significant dent in that truly miserable Anfield record.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.