In their own way, the City and Liverpool manager changed the way the game is played, Guardiola’s influence has spread across the world as more and more teams try to follow a model based on possession, while every major European league now has at least one Klopp imitator, trying to replicate his methods of regaining possession as high up the pitch as possible. Every emerging coach chooses the path of Guardiola or Klopp. Despite all their influences, be it Johan Cruyff or Arrigo Sacchi, they have appropriated their particular style.
They have already rewritten club records. Now they are about to start again.
So much is said and written about Liverpool’s quest for four trophies. What about City’s bid to match Manchester United‘s treble in 1999?
It seems to have been forgotten that City are favorites to win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Why? Because Liverpool is always big news.
The disproportionate emphasis on Liverpool’s treble bid above City’s treble dream strikes at the heart of another key element of the rivalry. What makes their competition fiercer is the knowledge that the other is the main obstacle to achieving their ambition, and there are clear philosophical differences in the way the clubs operate and are perceived.
Liverpool love that everything changed when Fenway Sports Group appointed Klopp, while no matter how much Guardiola has won and continues to achieve, neutrals will always see the arrival of Sheikh Mansour as the game-changer for City. Liverpool would like a bit of what City have – the unlimited funds so that contract negotiations with star players like Mohamed Salah don’t get so complicated – while City would like more of Liverpool’s global popularity and their European nights to have the aura of Anfield.
It will burn in City that, even now, whenever Liverpool play them, Klopp is adept at making it sound like an underdog story. But he is right to do so.
‘Klopp’s achievements are extraordinary’
No one at City, Chelsea or Manchester United believed Liverpool would rise again to become the powerhouse they are. They knew Klopp was good, but in 2015 Anfield’s relative resources compared to their rivals made it highly unlikely that the club would be so competitive that they would become the ‘pain in the ass’ that Guardiola has spoken of this season.
In my first Telegraph column five years ago, I wrote this: “I am not convinced that Jurgen Klopp will ever be able to bring the title back to Anfield. How can Liverpool compete with three of the richest clubs in the world?
Few beyond Liverpool argued against those words. Klopp’s achievements are more extraordinary considering what he has faced, especially in the form of City and their ability to outspend everyone else. This reality – City knowing that if they win it’s expected whereas if Liverpool do they beat the odds – means the added advantage is still there.
The irony is that while City will resent Liverpool receiving so much media attention for their quest for four trophies, Klopp would rather Guardiola be asked about the treble rather than the quadruple.
The differences on the field also elevate the rivalry.
Every time City meet Liverpool I see them as the best team in the world with the ball coming up against the best team in the world without it. It’s a bit simplistic. Liverpool are well set to keep the ball, and City have trained expertly to win it back, but there is a contrast in style that makes it one of the more tactically exciting plays.
City and Liverpool‘s midweek Champions League quarter-final first-leg wins over Atletico Madrid and Benfica confirmed why these are the teams everyone wants to avoid the most.
A collision with each other to decide where the trophies go has seemed inevitable for months. The Etihad on Sunday, then Wembley next week, will show where the balance of power lies. Does not exclude another meeting in Paris in May.