Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will lock horns once again this Sunday and resume a rivalry which has blossomed into one of the greatest of the Premier League era.
The Reds welcome the defending Premier League champions to Anfield in the later kick-off, knowing a win will extend their lead at the top of table and, depending on results, could force City down into fourth.
One of the biggest tasks for Klopp will be composing his players should they win, knowing full well defeat last season at the Etihad practically kick-started City’s incredible title surge.
But experience is in his favour in this situation, with the German having locked horns with Guardiola on several occasions since 2013.
Then at Borussia Dortmund, the former Mainz defender watched on with envy as the Spaniard arrived at Bayern Munich armed with a transfer kitty and a wage budget which would make small countries blush.
Fast forward six years and the rivalry has intensified under the global glare which the Premier League brings and the stakes are even higher. So how did it develop with such ferocity and who now holds the upper hand?
Even before Guardiola arrived in Bavaria back in 2016, Klopp had a deep distrust of everything to do with Bayern Munich.
Despite the tactical tinkering of the German, Bayern’s financial clout in world football was domineering and loomed over every Dortmund success.
In 2013, right before the Champions League final between the two teams, Bayern confirmed they had signed Mario Gotze on a free transfer. Not only was he Klopp’s protégé and the poster boy for Dortmund, BVB knew it was almost inevitable.
The cynical timing of the announcement was made even worse when, after falling short in the Bundesliga title race, Klopp had Robert Lewandowski taken from him as his 2012 title-winning team was ripped apart by Bayern’s financial muscle.
Despite managing to hold his own against Guardiola, Klopp would have undoubtedly felt insecure. Every time one of his players lit up the Allianz Arena, he must have feared another gem he had polished would fit seamlessly into Die Roten’s side under Guardiola.
Whenever Guardiola and Klopp would pit their wits against one another, the clashes would be enthralling and engrossing in equal measure.
The first meeting ended in a 4-2 Super Cup win for Dortmund, with Guardiola stunned by the relentless ‘gegenpressing’ of BVB.
Indeed the classic battles between the pair can be summarised quite simply as; Possession vs Space.
Guardiola has always implemented attacking full-backs in perfect harmony with deep-lying midfielders as a way of widening the pitch and keeping a vice-like grip on possession.
But against Klopp’s heavy-metal football and the explosive counter-attacking ability of both Dortmund and Liverpool, the Champions League winner had to alter his approach. Guardiola’s otherwise successful debut domestic season was blighted by Klopp’s tactical masterclass over him in April at home.
Three counter-attacks resulted in goals and, after knocking Man City out of the Champions League in 2018, Guardiola has since completely altered his style when he faces Klopp’s teams.
As you can see from the graphic above, the game at Anfield last season forced Guardiola to invert his full-backs and overload his midfield, By doing so, he was able to nullify the counter-attacking ability of the Reds without ceding possession at Anfield.
For that 0-0 draw last October, both sides had around 50% possession and spent an equal amount of time in each others half. This is a stark contrast to the 4-3 Premier League game in January 2018 where, despite having just 36% possession, Liverpool spent 57% of the game in the opposition half.
Suggestions of Simulations
As with any classic rivalry, the duo have reservations about the way the other goes about their business on the pitch.
In the past week, Pep Guardiola has suggested Sadio Mane went down a little easy in an attempt to win a penalty for the Reds at Villa Park.
“It has happened many times, what Liverpool have done, in the last few years, it’s because (Mane) is a special talent,” Guardiola told BBC Sport.
“Sometimes he’s diving; sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute. He’s a talent.”
Not keen to hold his tongue, Klopp then had his own dig back at Guardiola as he took aim at Man City’s ‘tactical fouls’.
“I promise not to mention tactical fouls [an accusation levelled at City on numerous occasions by other managers]. That is maybe already too much, but that is the only thing I say about it!”
While there is no doubt the cameras will be glued to the managers before and after the game at Anfield on Sunday, it will be worth listening in for post-game reaction from both men.
Despite their verbal jousting before 4.30pm on Sunday, the mutual admiration the duo have for one another is what makes this rivalry so special.
Previous generations watched on as Fergie and Wenger would rage at one another on the touchline at Highbury and then Old Trafford.
However, after Wenger’s last game against Manchester United, the outpouring of emotion from his old adversary and the clear respect was evident for all to see.
Similarly, Klopp and Guardiola have been effusive in their praise for another. The German considers the City boss a genius and relishes facing a man he believes to be the best coach in the world. Klopp recognises how Guardiola’s teams take their instructions from the training pitch and visibly implement them on the pitch.
Upon arriving in England in 2016, Guardiola gushed about the Liverpool manager earlier in the season when looking ahead to the prospect of taking on his former rival. “I admire Jurgen Klopp a lot for his passion and idea,” he said.
“I read that he said I don’t just want my team to win, I want to enjoy seeing the team play how I want to play. It’s simple.
“When I am sitting there, I want to stand up, looking at my team, and what I see is what I want.”
That title race
It would almost be criminal of us to not mention that enthralling title race last season where, despite holding a 10-point lead, Liverpool were incredibly pipped to the title on the final day by City.
Never before has a game on January 3 been described as a ‘title-decider’, but City knew they could not afford to relinquish anymore ground to Klopp’s ruthless Reds.
John Stones somehow managed to stop Mohamed Salah’s shot from crossing the line by millimetres and it proved to be a key moment in the context of the season.
City went on an incredible unbeaten run, which was preserved thanks to Vincent Kompany’s rasping 30-year strike against Leicester City which proved to be his last.
In the end, Liverpool beat Wolves at Anfield on the final day of last season, but the Citizen’s win over Brighton ensured the title would stay at the Etihad.
But, knowing how Klopp has masterminded victories over Guardiola before, it would be foolish to predict which way the balance of power will tilt this campaign.
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