Manchester City will do battle with Liverpool again this weekend in an early marker of where both sides lie in the context of the title race after a bumpy beginning for both.
The Citizens have had availability issues from the beginning of the season with COVID-19 cases and injuries running through the side but are slowly regaining full strength, with Gabriel Jesus set to return to league action against the Reds.
Liverpool have had similar issues with the likes of Sadio Mane and Thiago contracting the virus, while the Virgil van Dijk injury and the 7-2 thrashing at Aston Villa sum up a whirlwind beginning to the campaign.
In each of those clashes against Arsenal, Sheffield United and West Ham, Jurgen Klopp’s side conceded first, and in the case of the latter two they didn’t take the lead until late on in the match.
Klopp has hailed his players as ‘mentality monsters’ time and again over the past couple of years, but what does he actually mean by this and is this altogether accurate?
According to Understat, Liverpool scored seven times when trailing a game by one goal while going further behind just twice. The game state in which Liverpool scored most last season was when the scores were level, with 38 goals.
By comparison, City equalised on five occasions when behind, but conceded again seven times when already trailing in the match. Pep Guardiola’s side also scored most often when they were already leading by more than one goal, 36 times in total.
Even in 2018/19, Liverpool scored when losing by a goal seven times, and never trailed a match by multiple goals. City both scored and conceded twice when in this situation in the same season.
Goal concessions are also important to analyse. Last season, Liverpool conceded most often when already multiple goals in front, but City were most susceptible when the game was level.
So that means when City conceded last season it was more often than not to put them behind in the match, and then after going behind they were more likely to concede again rather than equalise.
The Reds went down in 10 matches last season, coming back to win six times,
drawing with Manchester United and losing three – one of those defeats came against Arsenal when Mane originally equalised before Arsenal scored again to win 2-1.
As reigning champions, City fell behind in 13 games in 2019/20 and lost nine of those, with three wins and a draw. In only one of those nine defeats did City equalise before losing, somewhat ironically being the loss to Chelsea that handed Liverpool the title.
This season is already following a similar trend with those three wins from behind for Liverpool, while the win against Leeds on opening day saw them score four times to break a tied score and win the match.
City have gone behind twice this season, losing to Leicester 5-2 at home and coming back to draw 1-1 at West Ham.
Liverpool’s resilience and mental capacity over recent seasons has arguably been more important to their on-field success than the actual football – they stay in games, remain focused in the face of adversity and back themselves to turn a result around come the end of the 90 minutes.
That is a quality that Man City don’t seem to have mastered. Even in winning the league two seasons ago, they only won from behind once and lost four times out of six – that one win, though, was on the final day against Brighton and won them the league by a point.
This storyline will be one to keep an eye on as this season develops. As the schedule continues to create stress on players, mental toughness is perhaps more important this season than any other before it.
As history dictates and early form this season suggests, Liverpool might just have the edge in the title race with their ability to win points from behind, and that could hold them in good stead for the weekend’s clash.
The Reds haven’t won at the Etihad since Klopp’s first trip there as Liverpool manager in 2015, a 4-1 win on that day. Since then the Reds have lost three and drawn one with a total goal difference of -10.
Both sides will come into this game with a point to prove and with confidence of securing a result, but the first goal in the game could be so crucial into how the result, and perhaps the entire season, plays out in the end.