(CNN) – Manchester City won the English Premier League by a record margin last season with Pep Guardiola’s team becoming the first side to accumulate 100 points in a season. No team had scored more or won more than City did in their record-breaking 2017-18 campaign.
But this season will be different and the title holder will be pushed to the wire by a number of teams, says Liverpool great Bruce Grobbelaar.
After seven games City and Liverpool are level at the top of the table with 19 points after an unbeaten start to the season and while Sunday’s fixture at Anfield between the two sides is regarded by many as a showdown between the leading title contenders, six-time English league winner Grobbelaar does not believe this season will be a two-horse race.
“I’ve got no doubt, it’ll go to the wire. Not only two but three or four [teams] — Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and another … perhaps Arsenal. But never rule out Manchester United and [Jose] Mourinho. I think they will pull it together,” Grobbelaar told CNN Sport.
Chelsea, under new boss Maurizio Sarri, is also unbeaten after seven games and lie third, just two points behind Liverpool and Manchester City, while Arsenal is fifth.
But Manchester United have endured a terrible start to the campaign, losing three of their first seven matches in the club’s worst start to the season since 1989-90, putting manager Mourinho under intense scrutiny.
It is Sunday’s clash at Anfield, however, which is the standout game of the season so far. Victory for City will put Pep Guardiola’s side in the driving seat to become the first team to retain the league title since 2009, while a Liverpool win will raise expectations that the Merseysiders could win a first league title since 1990.
“I go back every home game and everybody has this tingling feeling that perhaps this year is the year we do something,” added Zimbabwean Grobbelaar, 60.
“We have started much better than the years before. We just hope we can continue the run and Mr Jurgen Klopp continues to produce the team spirit that he has done for the rest of the season,” added Grobbelaar, referring to Liverpool’s German manager.
“[Pep] Guardiola hasn’t strengthened Man City as much as he could’ve, but he’s getting the best out of players last season who weren’t performing to the maximum. He’s got that team playing very, very well — it’s going to be a fascinating clash on Sunday.”
Both teams experienced diverging fortunes in the Champions League in midweek, with Man City enjoying a 2-1 win over Hoffenheim on Tuesday while a lackluster Liverpool suffered a 1-0 defeat at Napoli on Wednesday, leaving the Reds winless in three matches.
“Last season, coming back from away trips in Europe, we didn’t play particularly well. Manchester City had an extra day’s rest, too, so we’ll see how they come back from Napoli,” added the former goalkeeper.
Grobbelaar is regarded as one of football’s greatest showmen. He is a man whose warm-up routine would involve walking on his hands and jumping on the crossbar.
He will always be remembered for his wobbly “spaghetti legs” routine during the penalty shootout in the European Cup against Roma in 1984, which helped Liverpool to victory as bewildered Italian greats Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani missed from the spot with Grobbelaar swaying one way then the another on the goalline.
Goalkeeper has been a problem position for the Reds for many years. In last season’s Champions League final two calamitous errors by Loris Karius led to two goals which eased Real Madrid to a 3-1 win in Ukraine.
Over the summer the Reds broke a then world record fee to purchase Brazilian Alisson from Roma — Chelsea broke the record just weeks later by splashing out $91m for Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Grobbelaar believes the $84 million fee paid for Alisson and the subsequent world record fee for Kepa shows that goalkeepers are finally being appreciated.
“If you asked all the goalkeepers in my era, they will tell you that they were worth a lot more than the price they were bought,” says Grobbelaar, bought by Liverpool for a then British record £250,000 ($324,591).
“I can see now the value that the transfer is making on goalkeepers because they are looking at statistics.
“If a goalkeeper can save you 15-20 points a season, his value is high. It’s like a striker scoring 20 goals a season.
“Liverpool have bought Alisson for the amount of points he’s going to be saving at Liverpool this season.
“He saved us two points on Saturday against Chelsea with his saves,” added Grobbelaar, referring to the 1-1 draw on Saturday 30 September. “He has proved his worth just in that game and look at where Chelsea are in the league. Kepa has been tremendous this season as well.”