Premier League: Manchester City's faltered title defence highlights Liverpool's strengths more than City's weaknesses
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s bald head is a storehouse of football tactics. He’s a kind of a person who wouldn’t be out of place in the vaults of Alexandria, among faraway scholarly scrolls, containing far-fetching deckle edges of parchments of the ancient world.
It’s a bit like love. Stratospheric tearing euphoria when it works and befuddling when it doesn’t. The rules of entropy apply in any relationship, from the half-life of unstable uranium atoms to Ulysses’s wisdom. Why should the fortunes of a football manager and his team be any different?
Pep Guardiola’s bald head is a storehouse of football tactics. He’s a kind of a person who wouldn’t be out of place in the vaults of Alexandria, among faraway scholarly scrolls, containing far-fetching deckle edges of parchments of the ancient world. But don’t for a moment think that Jurgen Klopp’s team were like a bunch of Huns at the gates, with ram-headed siege weapons, and crackling red flares.
Jurgen Klopp, for too long, was classified as this tub-thumping, mead-guzzling, bear-hugging, bellowing Nordic snow giant from the pages of Prose Edda. The initial labels did cry out “blood and thunder football,” “heavy metal football” but that was a clever sleight of mind from the German. As any metal fan will tell you, half of metal is math.
Many teams followed into believing that Klopp’s football was all about brawn and little to do with the brain.
In the gap between the end of his Real Madrid spell and the end of his Manchester United one, Jose Mourinho was asked about the best managers in the Premier League on live television. He mentioned Antonio Conte (Chelsea), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Mauricio Pochettino (Spurs) and Pep Guardiola (Manchester City). “What about Klopp?” He was asked. “No, not him,” said Jose succinctly.
Football managers are low-key historians. They have to be, considering the necessities of their job. They go down the annals of history, earmark tactics and functions from past masters like Bobby Robson (Jose Mourinho was his assistant at Barcelona), Johan Cruyff (Guardiola is his protege).
Jose Mourinho duped himself into believing a reputation that preceded Jurgen Klopp. Later as a Manchester United manager, he would humbly stand corrected. Apart from Pep, no one in that list remain in their managerial capacities in the league.
Jurgen Klopp patterned pressing in groups of four, was not a dogs-one-the-end-of-a-sausage stick approach. It was one of the frameworks from Italian manager Arrigo Sachhi’s juggernaut AC Millan. He took that framework and added it to his blueprint, and coupled it with the latest in the bleeding edge of football science, analytics, recruitment, nutrition, injury rehabilitation and prevention. The resumes of most of all his backroom staff are adorned with PhDs. He created a culture of excellence. Mona Nemer, the nutritionist, is as essential to the team as Mohamed Salah, and so on. He’s close to the all-seeing father-god Odin, with his counsel, than the solitary hammer-wielding, dim-witted Thor he was mistaken for by his rival managers.
Jurgen Klopp spent more than 30,000 hours sifting through the archive clips of AC Milan at its peak as a player under Wolfgang Frank, his mentor. and manager at Mainz 05.
Pep Guardiola’s reputation as the high-brain of Manchester City comes with an obsessive need to micromanage every last detail. This addiction to being a control freak was alluded by author Martí Perarnau, in the book Pep Confidential. There is this feeling, the author mentions, of Pep always speaking from a level above the one he addresses. Pep has this aura of unavailability.
As inadvertent as it may be when Jurgen Klopp talks, he addresses the one in front of his as his immediate equal. The communication is one level terms, no one above the other. The process of alienation between Pep and Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Benjamin Mendy, Claudio Bravo, Angelino, has been apparent in the course of this season and last.
The perspective of a football manager takes an inexorable turn when he allows himself to believe that a player is a product, a hinge, an eventuality than a human being. While the riches of Barcelona and Bayern Munich provided Pep with resources and personnel that managers could only dream of, the move to Manchester City has taken that up to decedent levels. And with an Oligarch culture that encourages a frequent turnaround of players through the revolving door of the transfer windows, and the flagrantly frequent breaking of the Financial Fairplay Laws, comes the feeling of “everyone’s expendable.”
In the 2017-18 season, after Pep’s arrival earlier that summer, title-winning Manchester City spent 284.4 million pounds in one transfer window. The owners then backed their back-to-back title defence the next season, with another with an outlay of 60 million pounds.
This year, Liverpool spent a total of 8.6 million pounds to secure their first league title in 30 years. You must understand that this is not an attempt to dust the Liverpool signings of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson under the rug, but to point out that even those two signings were bankrolled by the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. Sell-to-buy has been Liverpool’s mantra for steady, incremental growth. That, and an unwavering belief in the entire squad.
Jurgen Klopp has made a Champions League, Club World Cup, Premier League, Super Cup-winning squad out of a group of also-rans. The personality of the team, each individual member, exudes out of its collective aura. On a bleak day, free signing Joel Matip could step in for Liverpool record signing, Virgil van Dijk, and the team wouldn’t bat an eyelid. This makes Liverpool’s feat life-affirming for their fans and a thing of utmost envy for their rivals. The sternest critics have doffed their hat and acknowledge that Liverpool won it the most correct possible way.
Former Manchester United title winner turned pundit, Gary Neville had this to say about Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool this week: "When Jürgen Klopp arrived, I didn't think he could win the title with the spending power of Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea. But he's turned £30m players into £130m players. Other teams have turned £130m players into £30m players."
It’s fitting perhaps that on the week of Liverpool’s improbable but real title run, which concluded the season earlier than any championship-winning team has, with seven games to go, with a gap of 23 points between them and the 2nd placed City; that newspaper column inches in Manchester are riddled with transfer stories, than acknowledging Liverpool’s astonishing feat. It is as if the city of Manchester are in shock and disbelief that football can’t be won by blank paycheques alone.
Manchester City signed Juventus’s Pablo Moreno, and are now being linked with Bayern’s David Alaba, and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. All three would be substantial additions.
Pep Guardiola has come to speak about a “rebuild” that Manchester City will go through this off-season. “Some players have to be replaced. But it’s not a disaster or bad thing, it’s part of football.”
In the same breath when asked about Liverpool, Pep commented that the Liverpool players wanted it more. “They played every game like it was the last game,” said Pep. There is little wonder why.
On Thursday, Manchester City will give the newly-crowned Champions Liverpool a guard of honour at the Etihad. Pep will have to make his players want it more to have any chance against this Liverpool team.
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Liverpool won the league title after a wait of three decades and were also crowned club world champions after their Champions League triumph last season.
Lampard became embroiled in a row with Jürgen Klopp's assistant, Pepijn Lijnders, while Liverpool was beating Chelsea 5-3 on Wednesday, a video of which was widely viewed on social media.
Premier League: Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp says Frank Lampard has lot to learn after Chelsea boss' jibe
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard was embroiled in a heated exchange with the Liverpool bench during their Premier League clash earlier this week.