Manchester City will close the gap on Liverpool in the Premier League next season if they address the centre-back position, according to Jamie Carragher.
Champions Liverpool face City at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday in their first match since winning a first English title in 30 years.
Carragher, a Champions League winner with the Reds, thinks City boss Pep Guardiola always has something up his sleeve for matches between the teams.
And he believes the contest will be the prelude to a closer title battle in the 2020-21 campaign, with Liverpool sitting 23 points ahead of the side they dethroned this time around.
“It’s whether Guardiola comes up with something a little bit different for Liverpool’s front three,” Carragher said to Sky Sports ahead of the match.
“He could go with three at the back, or with a more defensive full-back, as he did in this fixture last year when he put [Aymeric Laporte at left-back.
“He always seems to have something a little bit different up his sleeve against Liverpool, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did something like that.
“Can Liverpool control Kevin De Bruyne? And can City’s back four cope with Liverpool’s front three? I think those are the big questions, really.
“De Bruyne is, for me, the best player in the Premier League. If Liverpool can stop that man in midfield, that will stop a lot of City.
“No doubt Liverpool will have to deal with De Bruyne, because if they don’t it will make it really difficult for them.
“City will want to put a marker down and win the game. At their best, they’re almost unstoppable, but one of the few teams that can stop them are Liverpool, so it will be brilliant to watch.”
Discussing next season, Carragher added: “There’s 23 points between the teams but I don’t see the gap as being that big.
“There’s no doubt that Liverpool have the edge, but I certainly don’t think there will be that much next season, I don’t think there’s too much between the teams.
“City are too good a team and Guardiola is too good a manager to have a gap like that between one of his teams and someone else’s.
“I think a lot of it will [come down to] who City recruit. There’s no doubt that City will do a lot more in the market than Liverpool will.
“If City recruit well, it will bridge that gap that we’ve seen this season and then it becomes about how Liverpool deal with that.
“The big problem is how many goals City have conceded compared to Liverpool. That’s the big difference. The centre-backs issue was a problem for City all season.
“They need to rectify having lost Vincent Kompany. If they add in that position, they could certainly bridge the gap and make it really tight next year.”