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Enjoy Guardiola and Klopp while we can



Jurgen Klopp conjured up the image of two old men meeting, maybe in the Black Forest, maybe in Barcelona, and reminiscing about the old days, recalling one of the greatest rivalries ever in football.

Maybe when we both finish our careers, we might meet somewhere and sit together for hours and hours and hours and just speak about the different things we saw before in this game and that game,” the Liverpool manager said. “It would be interesting, but I really think we should as a club enjoy the ride because it is so special.”

It is very special and the contest between Liverpool and Manchester City, and between Klopp and Pep Guardiola, should be cherished for the extreme, high quality and ferocious battle it is. Klopp’s words also remind us that the clock is ticking on it. The 54-year-old is contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and has made it very clear he intends to leave Anfield then.

Guardiola’s deal at City ends in June 2023, and although he has said he was willing to “stay forever” and would sign a 10-year extension if offered one, it remains to be seen what the 51-year-old decides.

His claim followed reports in Brazil that he was set to take over as national team coach after the World Cup and, although that is incorrect, he would like to manage the Selecao one day.

So we need to savour these fixtures while we can. Both managers have suggested they will need sabbaticals, and it is no surprise. Klopp has called facing Guardiola’s City an “insane race”, and it feels just that with the standards they are setting, how tight the margins are and how intense are the personalities involved.

“I should like to know him better,” was Guardiola’s take on his rival. “We are quite similar in many things, though in the final third they are more ‘wow’, more powerful for the quality of players they have especially but, of course, I learnt a lot. Not just from Jurgen, but from every manager in the Premier League. I am curious to see what they do. This is why I’m a manager, to discover the shape they are going to play, the quality of their players — can we control them? It’s the only reason why I’m here sitting in front of you, the only one.”

It is a rivalry based on respect rather than the viciousness that characterised, say, the epic battles between Guardiola’s Barcelona and Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid just over a decade ago. “It is quite similar – but it is more calm here,” Guardiola said. “This is the best country in the world to be a manager. It’s the best.”

That has allowed these two brilliant managers to create teams who are setting standards which may never be matched. Since the summer of 2018, the points totals for City and Liverpool stand at 338 and 337 respectively from 144 games, which is more than 2.3 points per game. Chelsea are next in line at 264. During that period they have been the highest goalscorers — City with 350 and Liverpool 319 — and have the best defences.

There is one anomaly, however, which makes today’s meeting at the Etihad even more momentous. This is only the second season in the past four when it has been close between them in the league.

There was the single point by which City triumphed in 2018-19, with a 25-point gap to third, but Liverpool finished 18 points ahead of City the following season and Liverpool were 17 points behind them in the last campaign. Now, with eight games to go, they face each other with City just a point in front. Obviously both managers have played down the suggestion that ‘winner takes all’, but such are the standards they and their teams have set, does anyone really expect the victor to slip up if the advantage is gained? Both are “mentality monsters”.

While there has been a debate as to whether this now constitutes the greatest rivalry ever in English football, there is an extra dimension which might tip it. Liverpool are on course for an unprecedented quadruple, City a treble. They meet in the FA Cup semi-final next Saturday and there is every chance they will face each other in the Champions League final.

Never before have the fortunes of two clubs and two managers been so intertwined on every front. It was clear when Guardiola arrived at City that he would raise the bar in terms of the level of football. Klopp and Liverpool have met that challenge.

Neither team and neither manager have given the impression of being able to take their foot off the gas. They have almost forced each other to “insane” levels, as Klopp says, and there is yet another special dimension. Normally in this kind of situation, a manager will use other tricks to try to gain an advantage. Certainly Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho would not have thought twice about attempting to needle a rival, trying to find a weakness and to see if that made a difference.

Neither Guardiola nor Klopp has done that. Guardiola genuinely enjoys the race, even if he has been stunned by Liverpool’s relentlessness. Klopp has caused irritation by talking about the differences in finances, but he has never gone after Guardiola himself.

That refusal to reduce the rivalry has enhanced the football. Some may suggest it means there is not the needle that elevates previous clashes, such as with Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, and no one has thrown any pizza, while on the field there has not been the nastiness. But, again, it means it is all the more impressive. It means it is just the two best managers in the world going at it with the two best club sides in the world right now.

We must cherish it while we can.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]



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