Manchester City chiefs have sought assurances from their Liverpool counterparts over security arrangements for Sunday’s top of the table clash at Anfield after raising concerns about posters promising another hostile “coach greeting” for Pep Guardiola and his players.
City’s team bus came under attack on its way into Anfield for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool last year.
Bottles, bricks and flares were hurled at the coach carrying Guardiola and his team, which caused thousands of pounds worth of damage and forced City to source a replacement bus to take them home.
Guardiola complained about the lack of protection and City were bemused that no arrests followed the ugly scenes.
Although last season’s Premier League meeting between the teams at Anfield passed without incident, and similar posters also did the rounds before that 0-0 draw, City’s top brass are leaving nothing to chance and are understood to have been in contact with Liverpool executives about the posters as part of the liaising process.
Posters have been circulating among Liverpool fans on social media urging supporters to line the streets around Anfield and bring “pyro, pints, flags and banners” and make the atmosphere “like a European night”.
Like last season, City are expected to keep their route to Anfield a secret in a bid to ensure they arrive unscathed for a game they feel they must win as they attempt to halve Liverpool’s six point lead at the top of the table. Merseyside Police’s decision to publicise City’s bus route compounded problems before that infamous Champions League greeting.
Officers are understood to be aware of the posters doing the rounds and have been in contact with the relevant bodies and have no plans to publicise any bus route in the event they are made aware of City’s plans. They are not anticipating any problems and work closely with Liverpool around matchday security arrangements.
In the poster - headed “coach greeting” - Liverpool fans have been asked to line the streets from the King Harry Pub all the way up Anfield Road to the ground. City have not won at Anfield since 2003 and the challenge facing the champions could be made increasingly difficult if Ederson is not passed fit for the game.
City’s first choice goalkeeper was undergoing tests on Thursday on a thigh problem that forced his substitution at half-time of the 1-1 draw away to Atalanta in Milan on Wednesday.
Guardiola is already without his best defender, Aymeric Laporte, winger Leroy Sane and left back Oleksandr Zinchenko and has doubts over midfielders David Silva and Rodri, while Ederson’s potential absence would force him to start in goal with Claudio Bravo. Bravo was sent off just 36 minutes after replacing Ederson against Atalanta when he careered out of penalty area and flung himself at Josip Ilicic.
Although there has been talk about an extension to Bravo’s contract, which expires next summer, the 36-year-old Chilean has started just two league matches since April 2017 and seldom looked at home in the competition.
Bravo has talked about “nearly killing himself to turn the situation around” after being dropped in his debut season for Willy Caballero before Ederson’s arrival in 2017 but, despite steadying himself since then, he has played precious little first team football and ruptured his Achilles last term.
There will certainly be no hiding place on Sunday, even if City are spared a hostile bus arrival. But Kevin De Bruyne has insisted these are the occasions big players live for and that a white hot atmosphere should be embraced.
“I prefer to play in that than when there is nobody,” the City midfielder said. “Professionals want to play in front of 50, 60, 70, 80 thousand people. It makes it worthwhile. You train all your life to get to the big stages. I want to compete for titles and to be the best and to do that you have to win against the best.”
Despite City’s injury concerns, Fernandinho has vowed to take the fight to Liverpool. “We go there to try to win the game from the first minute,” the Brazil midfielder said.
Meanwhile, Guardiola - who has been heavily linked with the Juventus job over the past year - has admitted he would be interested in managing in Italy in the future.
“Training in Italy? Why not, it was a pleasure as a player, with Capello and the great Mazzone,” said Guardiola, who played for Brescia and Roma as a player.
“I had a great time and I love the country. But now I feel good in England, great championship. But maybe yes, I'm not that old. I'm near Italy in the summer? You had false information. You have to do your job better!”