Liverpool’s quest to end a 30-year wait to reclaim the domestic crown that once took almost permanent residency in Anfield’s trophy room reaches a defining moment on Sunday.
If Jürgen Klopp’s side beat Manchester City it will give them a nine-point advantage over the reigning champions at the top of the table, and put them eight clear of both Leicester and Chelsea.
That would effectively mean a Liverpool side that has lost only one of their past 50 league games would need to lose at least three of their next 26 to let City back in.
It is not inconceivable as Liverpool had a 10-point lead over Pep Guardiola’s side last season after they had played 20 games, although City had played a game fewer.
This season, however, Liverpool seem propelled by an unstoppable momentum.
For all the mind games, the downplaying of expectations and consequences, Klopp’s side have an opportunity to strike what could be a decisive blow in the title race.
Liverpool have had near misses before, notably when Steven Gerrard’s fateful slip against Chelsea let City in at the end of the 2013-14 season, but win on Sunday and they will feel an irresistible force is with them, even as early as November.
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All logic suggests, given Liverpool’s form over the past 18 months, that victory and that increasing gap would simply not give Manchester City – or anyone else – enough wriggle room to claw it back.
The stakes could not be higher in the Premier League context, with extra colour being added to the backdrop by what appears to be an increasingly fractious relationship between the two clubs on course to conduct English football’s greatest rivalry, fought out at home and abroad, for years to come.
Manchester City will have plenty to say about this, despite being underdogs and suffering from a series of key injuries, the latest being to goalkeeper Ederson. The Brazilian, not only an outstanding keeper but a key figure in City’s possession game, will be replaced by 36-year-old Chilean Claudio Bravo, who has not featured in the league for 18 months.
If City feel some of their achievements have been undervalued while lavish praise has been showered on Klopp and Liverpool after their Champions League triumph, then they have a valid point.
City’s excellence under Guardiola has almost been taken for granted in some quarters. They made history by winning the league in 2017-18 with 100 points then retained it last season, staying ahead of Liverpool by putting together 14 successive wins to maintain a one-point advantage.
And this was also a team that made history by winning an unprecedented domestic treble of the league title, Carabao Cup and FA Cup. It is remarkable that this achievement seems to have been downplayed given its scale.
It is a tribute to City’s growth and consistency under Guardiola that it could be argued they have not had the credit they deserve for this feat.
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This is why, despite common sense and current form pointing towards Liverpool at Anfield, Manchester City must not be discounted.
Liverpool, though, are a magnificent side driven by a self-belief that not only fuels Klopp’s team but has sown the seeds of doubt and fear in opponents, as shown at Villa Park last Saturday when a 1-0 deficit after 86 minutes became a 2-1 win by the final whistle. In the league at least, they have forgotten how to lose.
And with City stripped of Ederson and Aymeric Laporte, Liverpool will believe the attacking trident of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino can cash in.
Liverpool’s recent record is beyond formidable, both in the Premier League and also against City at Anfield.
Under Klopp, they have won 41 won and drawn eight of their past 50 league games. Their last loss was the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City in January that effectively decided the title. In that period they have won 23 of their 25 home games, losing none, and 18 of their past 25 away from home.
As for Anfield itself, City will need to turn the tide of history on Sunday. Since their last victory at the stadium, a 2-1 win in May 2003, they have played 16 league games, losing 11. In all competitions, they have played 18 and lost 12.
Liverpool are unbeaten in 45 league games at home since Crystal Palace won 2-1 in May 2017, winning 35 of those.
When the teams met at Anfield last October, it was their eighth league game of the season and the sides played out an uncharacteristically cagey goalless draw, although City’s Riyad Mahrez missed a late penalty.
It left the two teams on 20 points after that game and both Klopp and Guardiola satisfied.
Liverpool and City’s current league positions and points tallies suggest Klopp will see this as a golden chance to stretch the lead, also delivering a psychological blow, while Guardiola will regard it as an opportunity to make a statement and reel Liverpool in.
It is, on this occasion, a game unlikely to be characterised by caution.
And yet there is more, so much more, to add spice to this latest collision of the Premier League’s superpowers.
This is now more than a football match. It is a rivalry with a serious edge on and off the pitch – and the evidence has been there again in the build-up to Sunday’s game.
Guardiola fired a shot in the direction of Anfield, unwittingly or not, when he used the word “diving” after City beat Southampton 2-1 last week and Liverpool’s late win at Villa, a game in which Mane was booked for simulation.
Liverpool’s past two home league games against Leicester City and Liverpool have been won 2-1, both secured with late penalties awarded for fouls on Mane. Klopp responded by promising not to mention the “tactical fouls” City have been accused of making under Guardiola – while, of course, mentioning them.
It was the first sign of any underlying public tension involving the two managers.
And then there were concerns, apparently raised at executive level, from Manchester City about a poster on social media suggesting Liverpool fans “greet” the visitors’ team bus when it arrives at Anfield – evoking memories of the shameful attack that took place before their Champions League quarter-final first leg in April 2018.
Merseyside Police insists there are no concerns about security for the game but there is no question the incident before Liverpool’s 3-0 win, in which City’s team bus was so badly damaged it had to be replaced for the journey home, still rankles.
As if that were not enough, there has been the recent “Spygate” controversy, with allegations of Liverpool recruitment staff hacking into City’s scouting database in 2013. Liverpool were reported to have paid a £1m settlement, although without the club or any individuals accepting any liability or wrongdoing.
The title may be on the line at Anfield on Sunday but it is the backdrop which makes this even more compelling.
It is set to be the latest gripping chapter in the great new rivalry in English football.
Celtic: ‘I had so many chances to escape East Germany’ – Andreas Thom on the Berlin Wall, the Stasi & scoring at Ibrox
Andreas Thom became a popular figure among Celtic fans during his three years at the clubScottish Premiership: Celtic v MotherwellVenue: Celtic Park Date: Sunday, 10 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMTCoverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, live text updates on the BBC Sport Scotland website & appThirty years ago this week, on November 9 1989, the…
|Scottish Premiership: Celtic v Motherwell|
|Venue: Celtic Park Date: Sunday, 10 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, live text updates on the BBC Sport Scotland website & app|
Thirty years ago this week, on November 9 1989, the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Cold War began to thaw. Exactly 37 days later, a 23-year-old midfielder called Andreas Thom joined Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of 2.5m Deutschmarks, becoming the first East German player to sign for a West German club.
Celtic fans will remember Thom as their crafty play-maker from 1995 to 1998, a wily attacker sporting a mullet who belted in a howitzer at Ibrox in an Old Firm classic. What many might not have realised, then or now, is his part in a monumental moment of world history.
In flitting from east to west, Thom left behind not just any club, but the mighty Dynamo Berlin – the dominant force that side of the wall whose president Erich Mielke was head of the hated and feared state security police, the Stasi.
It was a hugely symbolic switch that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier, when the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) remained a sealed-off country that kept its citizens trapped behind concrete and razor wire. The Eastern Bloc state guarded its top sport stars closely, regarding them practically as weapons in their battle of power and prestige against the capitalist west.
What was it like to play football behind the Berlin Wall under an oppressive regime? How did it feel to become the first player to cross the great East-West divide? And what does Thom remember of his days in Scotland?
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The Dynamo Dynamite
Thom was the true star of East German football in the late 1980s, winning five GDP Premier League titles and 51 caps for the East German national team.
The midfielder was a prized asset at Dynamo Berlin, and was reminded of it on occasion by Mielke’s Stasi stooges, who would offer him modest privileges much beyond those which average citizens in a country of shortages and austerity were permitted to enjoy.
“They would speak to me sometimes, to ask if I felt good, to ask maybe if I needed a new flat or something,” Thom remembers.
He and his team-mates knew that there was an undertone of coercion and control to such interactions. “But what could we do?” he ponders. “We could do nothing. We couldn’t tell them ‘Hey, no’.”
The reception Dynamo Berlin got from opposition supporters everywhere, because of their ties to the Stasi, would more than prepare Thom for the highly charged atmosphere he would later experience at Old Firm matches.
“I remember when I played my first game in the first team, an experienced player told me, ‘Hey, you must know, when we go in the stadium everybody is booing and whistling against you. Don’t let it get to you!’ It was good for my head,” he says.
Dynamo were often accused of influencing referees – did Thom ever witness decisions in his team’s favour that seemed suspicious?
“Sometimes, maybe,” he shrugs. “But it is not possible to win so much only because of the decisions from referees. We had a lot to do.”
Four arms, two heads, four legs
Unlike the vast majority of his fellow East Germans, Thom was fortunate to be able to leave the country from time to time to play in European Cup fixtures with Dynamo Berlin, or to represent the national team.
But he knew that he was being closely watched everywhere he travelled. Particularly following the high-profile escape of two of his former Dynamo Berlin team-mates, Dirk Schlegel and Falko Götz, prior to a European Cup match at Partizan Belgrade in 1983.
Did Thom ever consider trying to flee himself? “I had so many chances,” he admits. “But I stayed. Because my parents, my family, would have had so many problems.”
The night the Berlin Wall fell, Thom was with the national squad in Leipzig, preparing for a crunch World Cup qualifier against Austria.
“We were watching it on the television,” he recalls of euphoric scenes unfolding in his home city, as thousands of East Germans flooded over the border.
Thom and his team-mates enjoyed a low-key celebration. “I think we opened a bottle of beer,” he says.
East Germany lost their last-ever competitive match 3-0 and missed out on the chance to compete at Italia ’90. But Thom’s thoughts quickly turned back to the domestic game, as enterprising Bayer Leverkusen coach Reiner Calmund plundered him from Dynamo Berlin.
Thom made his Leverkusen debut against FC Homburg in February 1990, a game he will never forget.
“Everybody was watching as if I had four arms, two heads, four legs,” he says. “But I scored and everything was okay.”
The East German in Glasgow’s East End
After 161 appearances and 37 goals for Leverkusen, Thom moved to Celtic in 1995, when Tommy Burns broke the club’s transfer record by splashing out £2.2m to sign the 29-year-old.
He remains well regarded today by fans of many loyalties for the touch of German class he brought to the Scottish game, scoring 14 times and making many more goals in 70 Celtic outings, earning his first silverware in the 1997 Scottish League Cup Final.
“Fantastic crowds, fantastic stadiums, I only have good memories of playing in Scotland,” Thom smiles. “Apart from the weather.”
His highlight of his time at Celtic? That pile-driver in a 3-3 Old Firm thriller in November 1995, of course. “I didn’t know that I can shoot so hard!” he laughs.
Thom was part of the 1998 title-winning squad which famously broke Rangers’ run of nine straight league crowns, preventing them from exceeding Celtic’s record of forged in the 1960s and 70s.
Now, atop the Premiership on goal difference, Celtic stand just one league title away from another nine-in-a-row success, and two shy of an unprecedented 10.
From his home city, the one-time realm of the Stasi he toyed with fleeing and where he now finds fulfilment coaching at Hertha Berlin, Thom will be roaring them on.
Greece qualify for Rugby League World Cup for the first time
Greece are ranked 16th in the worldGreece will make their debut at the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England after thrashing Serbia 82-6 in Belgrade.Full-back Chaise Robinson scored a hat-trick as the visitors, ranked 16th in the world, ran in 16 tries to secure the final European qualifying spot.”We hope it’s the step forward…
Greece will make their debut at the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England after thrashing Serbia 82-6 in Belgrade.
Full-back Chaise Robinson scored a hat-trick as the visitors, ranked 16th in the world, ran in 16 tries to secure the final European qualifying spot.
“We hope it’s the step forward needed and everyone back home will be proud of us.” said head coach Steve Georgallis.
Greece’s win comes against a backdrop of turmoil in their home country.
The 16th and last spot for the World Cup will be decided in Jacksonville, Florida, on 16 November when the United States host the Cook Islands.
The draw will be made on 27 November, exactly two years out from the start of the tournament.
‘Sour note to Greek qualification’
Matt Newsum, BBC rugby league commentator
Greece are currently not allowed to play matches in their home country as the government and the Hellenic Modern Pentathlon Federation (HMPF), who claim governance of the sport, do not recognise the Greek Rugby League Association.
Police have been called to matches, facilities were made near impossible to acquire and as such, the sport continues to operate on an ‘estranged’ basis.
The waters are muddied slightly as Tasos Pantazidis – the president of the HMPF – used to be in charge of the Hellenic Rugby League Federation before its member status was withdrawn by the Rugby League European Federation over concerns about mismanagement.
It adds a sour note to a historic qualification that Greece – into the major competition for the first time – cannot celebrate its achievements before its own people.
Crowds cheer freed Brazilian ex-President Lula
Thousands of supporters of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have gathered to see the former Brazilian president after he was released from prison.Lula spoke at a metal workers union meeting near Sao Paulo on Saturday, and was greeted with applause and cheers by the crowd.The left-wing leader had spent 18 months in jail on corruption…
Thousands of supporters of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have gathered to see the former Brazilian president after he was released from prison.
Lula spoke at a metal workers union meeting near Sao Paulo on Saturday, and was greeted with applause and cheers by the crowd.
The left-wing leader had spent 18 months in jail on corruption charges.
But a judge ordered his release after a Supreme Court ruling that defendants should only be imprisoned if they had exhausted all appeal options.
In a 45-minute speech to members of the union he once led, Lula attacked his rival, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, for his record in office.
“People are hungrier, they have no jobs, people work for Uber or delivering pizzas on a bike,” Lula said in remarks sometimes drowned out by cheers from the crowd and fireworks overhead.
Mr Bolsonaro tweeted that Lula was “momentarily free, but guilty”.