Pep Guardiola insists he and his Manchester City players are relishing the prospect of facing Liverpool at a packed Anfield on Sunday.
The Premier League champions have a notoriously poor record at the home of the Reds, with last season’s success being their first there in 18 years and only their second since Stephens Day 1981.
Yet some people have suggested even that came in helpful circumstances as no fans were present for the 4-1 victory in February due to coronavirus restrictions.
Guardiola does not believe this is a major factor.
“I’m very pleased Anfield is full again, and we can go there to play a game,” said the City manager. “It’s nice that the people are back, and we can enjoy a fantastic atmosphere there.
“Hopefully we can handle it in a good way. I’m pretty sure the players would prefer to play with fans at Anfield than without. Everything is more alive.
“I don’t know the reasons why we didn’t win at Anfield over the 18 years but, over my five years, it was because they were an exceptional team.
“It’s not about intimidation. It’s about the quality of the opponent. When you don’t win it’s because they are so good. We try to do our game with or without spectators.”
With City winning the Premier League in three of the past four seasons and Liverpool claiming a title and the Champions League in that period, the two clubs have been England’s pre-eminent forces in recent years.
The inspirational qualities of their managers have been major factors in that success and Guardiola admits his rivalry with Liverpool counterpart Klopp has spurred him on.
He said: “He helped me, his teams helped me, to be a better manager. He put me at another level to think and to prove to myself what I have to do to be a better manager. That’s the reason why I’m still in this business.
“There are some managers, and Jurgen is one of them, who challenge you to make a step forward.
“We have faced each other many times. Sometimes we win, and we sometimes lose, but every game was nice because both teams have the same idea, go out there to try to score goals.”
Raheem Sterling could have a role to play in the clash against his former club.
The England forward has not been a regular starter for City in recent months but led the line as centre-forward against Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Guardiola said: “Raheem played really good as a striker against PSG. He created incredible spaces for all of us.
“With the movements he had, we needed in that specific game. For the space, the quality, the movements and speed from zero to 100, he did it exceptionally well.”
The trip to Anfield is City’s third tough away game in just over a week.
The champions claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win at Chelsea last weekend before delivering a creditable performance in a 2-0 defeat in the French capital.
Guardiola said: “I’m not going to make a step one centimetre back. We can do better in some departments but, in general, I’m more happy than ever with the way we behave and the way we’ve played.”