Arsenal vs Man United, Barcelona vs Real Madrid, AC vs Inter. Over the years there’s been some incredible title clashes between the worlds greatest teams.
On Sunday, Liverpool and City face off in a battle of arguably the two best teams in the world right now. Liverpool have taken an early lead in the title race, a win on Sunday would see them extend their lead at the top to 9 points. A first win at Anfield since 2003 for City would see the gap cut to 3. The rivalry is certainly more respectful than the other title battles mentioned above, on the pitch at least. Rather than nasty challenges, mind games and fist fights it is more of a tactical battle between two great teams. Liverpool have had the better of the two in the head to head games, the last ten in all competitions have seen 5 Liverpool wins, 2 City wins and 3 draws.
The 2018-19 fixtures were compelling in their viewing as the teams faced off for the title.In the first game at Anfield in October, City defended in numbers and recorded their lowest possession since Guardiola’s arrival (55%) Had it not been for Riyad Mahrez blazing a late penalty over the bar they would have had a perfect away victory but the game ended 0-0. The reverse fixture at the Etihad saw City come out 2-1 winners in a crucial game at the Etihad, the atmosphere is often criticised but the noise in the stadium that day emphasised how important the game was for City. The 2-1 loss at City would incredibly be the only game Liverpool lost that season and saw them miss out on the title by 1 point. A 2-1 and a 0-0 might not sound like compelling viewing, however the importance of the games weighed heavily on the two sides, both known for their contrasting yet exciting attacking football with two of the best managers in world football there was very little to separate the sides. The intensity was enthralling for all to see, while it might not extend as far as admiration there is certainly respect for each other.
The two managers Klopp and Guardiola have been in battle before in the Bundesliga with Dortmand and Bayern respectively and are often quick to praise each other. Guardiola even called Klopp to congratulate him after Liverpool won the Champions League last season. Although the respect is good and maybe refreshing to see, it can feel as if a bit of hostility would add to the drama of the occasion, the soap opera feel of football is what makes it so brilliant to watch, especially for the neutrals. This isn’t to suggest Klopp should go and poke one of Guardiola’s assistants in the eye or throw a pizza at him but for entertainment values a bit of distaste from one another would certainly add to the occasion. In the build up to Sunday's game there has been hints that things might take a nasty turn. After last weekend’s games Pep Guardiola called Sadio Mane a diver, whilst Klopp replied saying that he ‘would not add oil to the fire.’ Pun intended from Jurgen?
The rivalry between the fanbases has certainly grown off the pitch, in the toxic social media era, pictures of Gerrard’s slip are combated with replies of empty seats at the Etihad. The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester has certainly always been present but until recent years, there was a mutual hatred between LIverpool and City concentrated towards United. In recent years United fans have been forced to support their local rivals in fear of Liverpool’s success, as Gary Neville once said ‘It’s like choosing between two blokes to nick your wife.” Before the Champions League clash at Anfield in 2017, Liverpool fans welcomed City’s team bus with bottles, cans and flares much to the anger of the City family, on the other hand, members of the City backroom staff and a couple of players were filmed singing ‘battered in the streets’ as part of City fans version of ‘Allez allez’ which Liverpool fans believed referenced fan Sean Cox who was left in a coma after being attacked outside Anfield. Former players have also had a hard time with fans, Raheem Sterling is constantly subjected to verbal abuse when he returns to Anfield, James Milner gets a similar reaction when he returns to the Etihad.
There is an argument that both Liverpool and City would have happily swapped trophies last season, an argument that of course would divide opinion amongst their fanbases. For Liverpool the 19-20 season will see the 30th anniversary since they last won a title, City on the other hand have won every trophy but the Champions League since their takeover. This season could see their wishes granted, Liverpool are unbeaten going into the game and could go 9 points clear on Sunday, for City, key defender Aymeric Laporte alongside Leroy Sane (If he doesn’t leave) won’t be back until the new-year. Going into the Champions League knockout stages Pep might find he has to prioritise the competition depending on how the league table looks.
Despite their woeful record at Anfield, City go into the game on Sunday as bookies favourites just about. A win would be a huge statement from either team, a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world. Hopefully it will be an exciting game full of goals and free flowing football, fingers crossed with VAR playing no part in the outcome of the game. Maybe a Suarez-esque dive in front of Pep from Sadio Mane or a Sterling winner and run to the Kop might just add an extra bit of spice to this magnificent battle.