The former champions could be eight points behind the reigning champions after Sunday's skirmish.

Manchester City simply cannot afford a loss against Liverpool

The Etihad Stadium will play host to the first of the two marquee matchups between Manchester City and reigning champions Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday.

The Merseysiders sit second in the league table with 16 points while City continue to languish at 12th with just 11 points in their opening seven matches.

Guardiola and his men have had a torrid start to their domestic league campaign, dropping 10 points in 11 matches. In their two Premier League winning campaigns with Guardiola, City dropped just 14 and 16 points in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively, putting into perspective just how uncharacteristic this start to their season is. 

That is what makes Sunday’s fixture must-not-lose for Guardiola's side. A loss will see them fall eight points behind Liverpool and given that the reigning champions have recorded 99 and 97 points in the past two campaigns, it could already be a gap too big for City to bridge.

While the season is still nascent and a defeat won’t really be the end of the world for City, it definitely would feel like it, especially considering that Liverpool will be without their lynchpin Virgil Van Dijk, who will miss the remainder of the season through injury and defensive midfielder Fabinho, who is still sidelined with an injury he picked up in his side's 2-0 win against Midtjylland. 

Questions remain over the availability of centre-back Joel Matip and midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who also have injuries of their own.

All in all, Liverpool come into this contest short-handed but such is the case for City as well, who could have to play this match without a recognised centre-forward as both, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus remaining a doubt for the fixture. But on balance, it is Liverpool who will enter this contest with the larger personnel disadvantage, meaning City and Guardiola would have absolutely no excuse if they go on to lose this contest. 

The last fixture in June ended in a 4-0 victory for Manchester City and Guardiola will certainly not be expecting a similar result, but he expect his side to win and cut the gap between the two sides to just a couple of points. 

A victory on Sunday could be what kickstarts City's Premier League title bid but a loss could deal a serious psychological blow to Guardiola and his men.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dave Thompson