It’s crucial for football that Liverpool come out on top in the three-way battle against Manchester City. Jürgen Klopp’s team can save the honor of the game.
The departure of Roman Abramovich from Chelsea has put the spotlight on ownership of top clubs. Therefore, seeing City parade the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup at the end of the season would be a nightmare scenario.
Foreign interventions by the UAE regime, which actually owns City, may not be as well known as Russia’s, but have been no less disastrous for those affected. A clean win for Pep Guardiola’s side would reinforce accusations of hypocrisy against the Premier League and represent a minor propaganda triumph for Putin apologists.
The fight, which will develop over the next two months, promises to be one of the big exciting finals. But the most remarkable thing is that we have any competition at all.
The title race seemed over when City scored an injury-time winner against Arsenal on New Year’s Day and Liverpool lost a two-goal advantage in a 2-2 draw with Chelsea the following day.
Not only were Liverpool 11 points behind City, but they were also close to losing Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to the Africa Cup of Nations by a month.
But Liverpool have since had a great run, winning nine league games straight away, scoring 23 goals and conceding just two goals while they won the Carabao Cup and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
City’s defeat by Spurs and draws against Southampton and Crystal Palace helped reignite the Premier League race. But mostly it was about Liverpool.
Whatever happens next, Klopp has already improved his reputation this season. Because the conventional wisdom was that his club’s frugality in the transfer market made it impossible for them to challenge their biggest rivals. While City spent a club-record £100m on Jack Grealish, Liverpool’s biggest buy was Ibrahima Konate, who cost RB Leipzig £36m.
They haven’t spent more than £50m on a player since securing Alisson from Roma four years ago. Over the same period, City have spent over £60m each on Joao Cancelo, Rodri, Ruben Dias and Riyad Mahrez. The £37m arrival of Luis Diaz from Porto at the end of January was a useful deal, but Liverpool’s revival rested on Klopp’s ability to get the best out of the players he already had.
In doing so, he reminded everyone how good these players are, which was easy to forget when they faltered last season and the first half of this season.
Salah’s clear lead in the Premier League goalscoring chart is a sign of Liverpool’s rude health. But also the presence of Trent Alexander-Arnold at the top of the assist rankings. The right-back’s dip from 12 assists in 2018/19 and 13 the following season to just seven last season was a largely overlooked factor in his team’s overall decline.
Already up 11 this season, he’s showing the playmaking ability that’s redefining his position. Liverpool have also shown unexpected strength at depth. There has rightly been much talk about Diogo Jota’s contribution, but while the Portuguese striker is the club’s top scorer in 2022 with seven goals, who would have thought Fabinho would share second with Salah with five goals? Thirteen different players have scored since the new year, with surprise rebounds from the likes of Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The logical consequence is still that City will keep the title as they did three seasons ago. The extraordinary depth of their roster is almost impossible to counter. But with Klopp exceeding expectations, all the pressure is on Guardiola.
This applies all the more to the Champions League. All the descriptions of City as the best team in the world can’t change the fact that they still haven’t won the club’s most important competition.
It’s amazing that 11 years have passed since Guardiola won his second and final Champions League title. Since then, the sides he has overseen with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City have generally been favorites in the competition but have fallen short. City’s continued failure given their vast financial resources is a blot on the Catalan’s textbook.
The two might not quite have their way in the Champions League. A Bayern Munich win could be the tastiest triumph of them all, considering the Bundesliga has a remarkably ethical stance compared to Europe’s other major leagues. A second straight Chelsea win, with fans singing Abramovich’s praises, would be the worst possible result.
But it’s hard to look beyond Liverpool and City. Adding spice to their rivalry is the fact that the clubs, and especially the managers, are opposites. City, under Guardiola, represents the style that prevailed when La Liga clubs won seven of the ten Champions Leagues from 2009 to 2018 and Spain won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
The complex intentional “tiki-taka” approach once seemed like the right thing to do no plus ultra of tactical sophistication. But in recent years it has been challenged by the energetic German counter press approach, with managers from Germany winning the last three Champions Leagues.
The two managers can seem like embodiments of their respective philosophies. Guardiola is the cool technocrat, relentlessly convinced of the correctness of his system. The much livelier Klopp can seem as emotionally involved in the game as any fan. Artisan to his rivals’ aristocrat, it’s just as impossible to imagine him as a city manager as it is to imagine Guardiola holding the reins at Anfield takes over.
The club owners also represent two completely different worldviews. The Fenway Group, which owns Liverpool, also owns the Boston Red Sox. They are sportsmen unlike Sheikh Mansour who is a sports washer. City fans don’t care where the money comes from, Liverpool supporters believe the club should represent the values of its community.
These contrasts add another layer of intrigue to the battle between the world’s two best managers. Guardiola is likely to have a slight advantage but Klopp will have the support of most neutrals. A great battle looms between darkness and light. We need Liverpool to win it.
Jack gives hope that Farrell’s prop problem can be solved
Victory in the Six Nations Under-20 Championship of Ireland is our best performance in the competition to date. In the two previous Grand Slam seasons, 2007 and 2019, there were no away wins against France and England.
Something is obviously stirring at the minor level. But for the 2020 Covid shutdown, when the team had won the Triple Crown and France had already lost two games, that would be a third title in four years.
Standout performers included Reuben Crothers of Ulster and James Culhane of Leinster, Scrumhalf of Connacht, Matthew Devine, and perhaps most intriguingly Leinster prop master Jack Boyle. While Andy Farrell’s biggest concern at the World Cup andy Farrell might suggest that the Six Nations suspect a lack of strong scrimmage strength at depth, Boyle’s monumental contribution was a welcome development.
The former St. Michael’s College star may have been only 20, but Andrew Porter, who like Boyle came through the Old Wesley underage system, was just 21 when he made his senior debut. Ireland’s other first-choice prop, Tadhg Furlong, was a year older. Jack could be on his way to France in 18 months.
Barty’s shock retirement leaves tennis in need of another big box office draw
Ashleigh Barty is a huge loss to women’s tennis. Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have garnered so much publicity that the Australian’s achievements tend to be overlooked.
Still, the 25-year-old is one of just two players, along with Williams, to have held the world number one spot for three consecutive years since 1990. Inconsistencies in Grand Slam events may have also prevented Barty from getting them due, but victory at the Australian Open in January confirmed her superiority.
No one expected this to be Barty’s last hooray, but on Wednesday she announced her retirement. With Osaka struggling at the moment, perhaps Barty’s departure is an indicator of just how great the pressure can be in this particular sport.
Her retirement is strikingly similar to that of Belgium great Justine Henin, who was also 25 when she retired as world number one in 2008. Henin made a brief comeback two years later but, like Barty, seemed to have had enough of the game.
Poland’s brilliant 20-year-old Iga Swiatek will become the new world number one but women’s tennis needs a new big box office figure.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/liverpool-vs-man-city-is-a-battle-for-footballs-soul-41491511.html Liverpool vs. Man City is a battle for the soul of football