Premier League: Liverpool-Manchester City fixture more than just an ideological encounter between two masterful coaches

Will Liverpool–Manchester City clash offer us a window into the future? There is the extravagant dozen of high-definition spy cameras on the City bus to capture contemporary mischief, but 90 minutes of potentially swashbuckling, high-octane football may well project who will dominate the English game in years to come. In the early noughties, Chelsea and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich initiated the era of the super clubs. Later Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City as the Sir Alex Ferguson years at Old Trafford gradually came to an end.

Premier League: Liverpool-Manchester City fixture more than just an ideological encounter between two masterful coaches

File image of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. AFP

Last season Manchester City wrapped up the league with more than 1oo points, a figure that well reflected their absolute dominion, based on the materialisation of Pep Guardiola’s vision of Cruyffian football. The high press, the triangulations, the positional play, it all overwhelmed the Premier League and the idea of Fraudiola was finally dispensed with. This season City and Guardiola must consolidate their dominance as they seek hegemony over the English game. Will Liverpool be City’s main challenger in the seasons to come? Have Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea enough to bounce back?

This fixture will have ramifications beyond the immediate context of the game. A win for City and they will be firm title favourites, but attaining victory will not be straightforward even if Liverpool have not enjoyed the best of weeks. Last weekend they were underwhelming against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In midweek Liverpool struggled away to Napoli. Carlo Ancelotti demonstrated that a sound tactical approach could nullify many of Liverpool’s virtues.

However, Napoli’s win won’t give Guardiola any clues. The Spaniard has a tendency to overthink his plans when playing Jurgen Klopp and the German’s famed Gegenpressing. Klopp enjoys an outstanding record against the City coach: a record of eight wins, five defeats and a draw in 14 meetings, a measure of unsettling Klopp’s game can be for Guardiola. At Anfield, Liverpool have won their last five matches against City, none more emphatically so than last season’s Champions League first leg quarter-final. Earlier in the season, Liverpool had already beaten City 4-3 at home as the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk strengthened the Reds’ rearguard and provided the team with more mettle and balance.

Liverpool went up 4-1 before City clawed their way back into the game, but a vulnerability had been exposed in City’s team: they were prone to conceding goals in quick succession. In the Champions League Liverpool scored thrice inside the first 31 minutes. Guardiola had tinkered with his team with Ilker Gundogan playing on the right. It backfired and City would never recover, exiting the Champions League after a 5-1 aggregate loss to Liverpool.

Klopp’s hard pressing approach has thus always posed Guardiola and his position game with dilemmas: how will he respond this time? Liverpool’s form has not been great after a difficult run against PSG, Napoli and Chelsea twice, and against this background, Klopp has little choice but to apply his primary tactics of pressing, the blueprint for last season’s success.

Guardiola will not want a cavalier attitude as City’s results at Anfield have almost been an anomaly. At the base of midfield, Fernandinho can be exposed in Guardiola’s classic 4-3-3 formation. At 33, the Brazilian is still of huge importance as a screen in front of the City back line and link with the team’s midfield. At the other end, Liverpool were fragile at the back but their £75 million Dutch centre-half has given them stability and Van Dijk can both organise the defence and dictate how the team plays out of the back, in turn setting the tempo of the game.

As Belgian defender Vincent Kompany, who joined City in 2008 and lived through the club’s transformation and Pep revolution, commented before the game this encounter will come down to ‘small margins.’ It is all of that, and much more: a battle of masterful coaches, an ideological encounter between heavy-metal football and Pep’s three p’s of pressing, possession and positioning, a race to the top between Mo Salah and Sergio Aguero, a shadow game between water carriers in midfield. The game will not decide the Premier League’s outcome but is of vital importance in both teams' quest for supremacy.

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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2018 14:55:18 IST

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