Jurgen Klopp conjured up the image of two old men meeting, maybe in the Black Forest, maybe in Barcelona, reminiscing about old times, reminiscing about one of football’s greatest rivalries.
If we both finish our careers, maybe we’ll meet somewhere and sit together for hours and just talk about the different things that we’ve seen before in this game and that,” said the Liverpool manager. “It would be interesting but I really think as a club we should enjoy the ride because it’s so special.”
It is very special and the fight between Liverpool and Manchester City and between Klopp and Pep Guardiola should be appreciated for its extreme, quality and fierce battle. Klopp’s words also remind us that the clock is ticking. The 54-year-old is under contract at Liverpool until 2024 and has made it clear he wants to leave Anfield then.
Guardiola’s deal at City expires in June 2023 and while he has said he is willing to ‘stay forever’ and sign a 10-year extension if offered one, it remains to be seen how 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, while false, would one day like to head the Selecao.
So we must enjoy these games while we can. Both managers have indicated they will need a sabbatical, and that’s no surprise. Klopp has described the clash with Guardiola’s City as “an insane race” and it feels exactly the same, with the standards they are setting, how tight the margins are and how intense the personalities involved are.
“I would like to get to know him better,” was Guardiola’s opinion of his rival. “We’re quite similar in a lot of things, although they’re more ‘wow’ in the last third, stronger for the quality of players they have, but especially I’ve learned a lot of course. Not just from Jurgen, but from every manager in the Premier League. I’m curious what they do. That’s why I’m a manager, to discover the form they’re going to play, the quality of their players – can we control them? That’s the only reason I’m sitting here in front of you, the only one.”
It’s a rivalry based on respect rather than the viciousness that marked, for example, the epic battles between Guardiola’s Barcelona and Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid just over a decade ago. “It’s very similar – but it’s quieter here,” said Guardiola. “This is the best country in the world to be a manager. It is the best.”
It has allowed these two brilliant managers to form teams that set standards that may never be equaled. As of summer 2018, City and Liverpool’s points totals are 338 and 337 respectively from 144 games, that’s more than 2.3 points per game. Chelsea is next in line with 264. In that time they have been the top scorers – City with 350 and Liverpool with 319 – and have the best defence.
However, there is one anomaly that makes today’s meeting at the Etihad even more significant. This is only the second season in the last four that they have been close in the league.
There was the only point City triumphed by in 2018/19, 25 points adrift of third place, but Liverpool finished the following season 18 points ahead of City and Liverpool were 17 points behind them last season. Now, with eight games to go, they face off with City just a point clear. Obviously both managers downplayed the suggestion that the winner takes it all, but those are the standards they and their teams have set. Does anyone really expect the winner to slip when the advantage is gained? Both are “mentality monsters”.
Whilst there has been debate as to whether this is the greatest rivalry in English football, there is an additional dimension that could make the difference. Liverpool are on course for an unprecedented quadruple, City a treble. They meet in the FA Cup semi-finals next Saturday and there’s every chance they’ll meet in the Champions League final.
Never before have the fortunes of two clubs and two managers been so intertwined on all fronts. When Guardiola joined City it was clear he would raise the bar in terms of the level of football. Klopp and Liverpool rose to the challenge.
Neither the team nor the coach gave the impression of being able to take their foot off the accelerator. They’ve pushed each other to almost “insane” levels, as Klopp puts it, and there’s another special dimension. Usually in such a situation, a manager will use other tricks to try and gain an advantage. Certainly Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho wouldn’t have thought twice about needling a rival, trying to find a weakness and seeing if that makes a difference.
Neither Guardiola nor Klopp did that. Guardiola is really enjoying the race, even though he was stunned by Liverpool’s relentlessness. Klopp has caused irritation with talks about the differences in finances, but he has never followed Guardiola himself.
This refusal to reduce rivalry improved football. Some might surmise it means there isn’t the pin raising previous clashes like with Ferguson and Arsene Wenger and that nobody threw a pizza while there was no meanness on the field. But again, it means it’s all the more impressive. This means that the two best managers in the world are currently competing against each other with the two best club teams in the world.
We must cherish it while we can.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/enjoy-guardiola-and-klopp-while-we-can-41538329.html Enjoy Guardiola and Klopp while we can