After five years of dueling for Premier League supremacy, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Erling Haaland's arrival at Manchester City has made the difficult task of winning a title almost impossible.
Liverpool's first title in 30 years in 2019-20 interrupted City's run of four Premier League wins in five seasons, but twice Pep Guardiola's men have pipped the Reds by a solitary point, in 2018-19 and again last season.
But Klopp's men head into the first league meeting between the sides this season at Anfield on Sunday already 13 points behind the champions.
Liverpool's worst league start in 10 years has seen its summer recruitment come under scrutiny.
Most of the club's transfer budget was splashed on striker Darwin Nunez, who has taken time to adjust to Klopp's methods, while the decision not to reinforce an aging midfield now looks questionable.
By contrast, City has added who Klopp described as "the best striker in the world" to a squad of seasoned winners. Haaland has struck 20 times already in just 12 competitive appearances and goes into Sunday's clash on a 10-game scoring streak for his new club.
"Nobody can compete with City," said Klopp at his prematch press conference. "You have the best team in the world and you put in the best striker on the market. No matter what it costs, you just do it."
Haaland's buyout clause at Borussia Dortmund meant his 60 million euro ($60 million) transfer fee was significantly lower than what Liverpool paid for Nunez.
But the total package of the Haaland deal including agents' fees, bonuses and wages is reported to be as much as £190 million ($212.4 million).
The Norwegian is certainly proving his worth on the field, with Klopp an admirer since seeing his "insane" potential when Liverpool faced RB Salzburg in the Champions League in 2019.
"Even when he was very young, you could see the potential was insane. We were already pretty busy thinking about him, how can you shut him down? He scored anyway. Physically, he sets new standards. The combination of being really physical and technical and sensational awareness, his orientation on the pitch is exceptional."
Liverpool's 3-1 win over City to win the Community Shield in August gave the seemingly false impression of another title fight in the making between the two.
Since then, City is undefeated in 13 Premier League and Champions League games.
Arsenal's sensational start to the season has kept Pep Guardiola's men off the top of the table for now, but the City boss believes Liverpool remain his team's biggest threat to winning the league.
"The opinion I have for this team will not change," said Guardiola. "Because I know the quality they have."
If that is the case, the fight for the title may be short-lived with even Klopp counting Liverpool out of the race.
"It could be this year," he added on the history of title-deciding matches between the teams. "Just not for us."
© Agence France-Presse