Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling will be one of several players facing a former club when Liverpool visit on Saturday, but visiting manager Jurgen Klopp has played down the significance of the reunion.
Sterling, 20, felt the ire of Liverpool’s supporters after rejecting a contract offer from the club at the end of last season and subsequently joined City in a deal that could be worth up to £49 million ($74.9 million, €69.8 million).
The England forward’s conduct was criticized by Liverpool greats including Steven Gerrard and Graeme Souness and he can expect a frosty reception from the away fans at the Etihad Stadium, but Klopp said it will be nothing that has not happened inside a football ground before:
“That’s football. It’s normal in football that former players play against their old club or whatever.
“It’s absolutely normal and nothing special. I don’t know how many friends Raheem had here or has here.
“He played here for a long time, had a good time here. I’ve heard no bad words about him. Good player, good boy, so (let’s be) friendly, shake hands, then it’s football.”
After a quiet start to his City career, Sterling has hit form in the last month, notably netting a neatly taken hat trick against Bournemouth, and manager Manuel Pellegrini has been pleased by the pace of his adaptation.
“I always say that Raheem is a very young player. He must improve a lot and in important things,” said the Chilean.
“It is important also he can demonstrate it in every game, but I am very happy with the way he is playing so far.”
Liverpool drew the first three games of Klopp’s reign before reeling off three successive wins, including an impressive 3-1 victory away to defending champions Chelsea on the last day of October. But they lost 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace in their last league game before the international break and go into the weekend seven points off the Champions League places in 10th place.
The consensus over the campaign’s opening weeks was that City were the division’s outstanding team as Pellegrini’s team won their first five matches without conceding a goal. But their level has dipped since then as injuries have taken a toll and they have won only three of their last seven league matches, culminating in a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa on their last outing.
It has allowed the chasing pack to close in, and the effect at the top of the table means that although City enter the weekend as leaders — above Arsenal on goal difference — they could be as low as fourth by the time the game kicks off.
The two-week international break has given City striker Sergio Aguero time to recover after seven games out with a hamstring injury, and he is due to make his comeback against Liverpool. Aguero’s Argentina teammate Pablo Zabaleta is also back in contention after a knee problem, but captain Vincent Kompany (calf), playmaker David Silva (ankle), midfielder Samir Nasri (hamstring) and striker Wilfried Bony (hamstring) remain sidelined.
While City’s fans will be delighted at the prospect of seeing Aguero back in a sky blue shirt, Liverpool could also welcome back their key striker if Daniel Sturridge can prove his fitness in time.
The former City man has not played for Klopp yet after hurting his knee in training and remains short of full fitness, but the German said there was a chance he could feature.
James Milner is also in line to play against his former club, having shaken off a hamstring problem.
Liverpool have not won at City in six league games — a run stretching back to Oct. 2008 — but prevailed 2-1 when the sides last met at Anfield in March.
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