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McMahon on Guardiola, Klopp and Fernandinho

BIG GAME: Steve McMahon talks all things City and Liverpool ahead of tonight's match

BIG GAME: Steve McMahon talks all things City and Liverpool ahead of tonight's match

Steve McMahon joined Manchester City on Christmas Eve in 1991 having spent six hugely successful years with Liverpool where he won three league titles and two FA Cups – including a double in the 1985-86 season - playing 277 times and scoring 50 goals. He spent three years at Maine Road, playing 94 times.

We caught up with him ahead of tonight’s game to get his views on the biggest game of the Premier League season so far.

Steve, thanks for joining us. Do you expect an open game like the matches between these two sides last season, or a tighter affair like the one at Anfield in October?

I think Liverpool will try and make it like the one at Anfield. City will try and make it as open as they possibly can, I would imagine, because I actually do think it’s a win-or-bust game for City.

The onus is on City. I think Liverpool can play either way. Liverpool have been on the offensive all season and looked so powerful.

How far back do you have to go to find a better Liverpool side than this one?

You could argue the team with [Daniel] Sturridge and [Luis] Suarez playing together when they probably could – and should – have won it but didn’t [was on a par]. But then you’re going back a number of years.

They’re certainly a swashbuckling side, full of energy and commitment. They can blow teams apart within half and hour.

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The two managers, Guardiola and Klopp, are both brilliant but very different in their approach. They seem to have brought a new element to the Premier League. What have you made of their impact on English football?

I love the way they conduct themselves, both on the sidelines and away from the pitch. It’s refreshing. They play open, expansive football and they deal with the press really well.

They’ve both clearly got the backing of all their players and you have to have that. And the board and owners reciprocate, because they’re gonna back Klopp 100 per cent, and they’re gonna back Guardiola 100 per cent.

Two clubs in a good position, in a good moment.

You were an outstanding midfielder in your time. What makes Fernandinho so good?

Simplicity. He does everything well. He glides around, he’s an athlete, he breaks things up.

He gets on with his job and is the silent assassin at times.

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How has that position changed since your playing days?

I don’t remember a holding No.6. I was in teams where midfielders did both. You defended well and you got forward and found space.

But there seems to be selected positions now and that’s what all players want to do. I’d always encourage midfield players to get box to box. There’s room for flair players – we had Peter Beardsley and John Barnes. There’s room for all types of player but you have to put a shift in.

You were part of the last Liverpool side to win the title back in 1989-90. How does this one compare?

It’s totally different. It’d be very, very wrong to compare.

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Liverpool over the past 12 months especially have proven how difficult they are to play against. Not so much before that because everyone knew Liverpool could score goals but defensively they were vulnerable. But they've improved drastically. 

Virgil Van Dijk has had a significant impact since he joined. It’s been a while since a player’s had such a dramatic effect on a team, isn’t it?

I’m saying two, possibly three, players have made the difference. Van Dijk, Alisson and also [Andy] Robertson.

[Alberto] Moreno wasn’t the finished article, the keepers at times were shambolic. We talk about Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Firmino, but you’ve got to give it to Liverpool this year - defensively they know if they score one, they’re got a chance of winning the game because they’re got a really good chance of keeping a clean sheet.

City raised the bar last season and Liverpool identified their problems and met the challenge.

How do you see the game going?

It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a score draw. But the mere fact City are at home, might give them the impetus – it’ll be fascinating either way.

You’d expect City to fly out the blocks but if I’m Liverpool, I’m saying this is a final because this could be the one that gets them over the line.

Don’t forget, we will bring you full minute-by-minute coverage of the game via our Matchday Centre, which kicks off at 6pm tonight.

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