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Jurgen Klopp imparts force of personality over Pep Guardiola’s tactics once more to keep Liverpool on track


Pep Guardiola may have settled for a handshake but the huge figure of Jurgen Klopp enveloped him in a hug. An epic, extraordinary rivalry may be over but Guardiola versus Klopp is the saga that never grew tired. If it ends with the status quo preserved, with Arsenal still top of the table, Liverpool still ahead of Manchester City and Guardiola’s side still favourites for the title, it also does with further evidence of Klopp’s primacy in another respect.

He preserved his winning record against the Catalan, conjured a second draw after trailing this season, rallied his weakened team to produce a storming, stirring performance and imposed his personality and footballing philosophy over their last duel.

This was the essence of Klopp’s Liverpool, a thrillingly wild ride. The emblematic moment was a barnstorming run by Luis Diaz, barrelling his way 60 yards, bundling and blasting past Kyle Walker and Rodri. The dominant player was Darwin Nunez, the byword for chaos, helping cost Liverpool a goal, helping them get a goal.

Some 100 manic minutes brought the visceral excitement of seeing people run very fast, with its concurrent capacity to intimidate, to induce feelings of panic in those who see them sprinting at them, past them, anywhere.

Guardiola positioned himself at the far end of his technical area, as far away from Klopp as possible, as though trying to stay out of his orbit. Nice try but it isn’t that simple, as he found at the final whistle.

Klopp and Guardiola embraced at full time

(AP)

And Klopp’s style of football has defined their clashes more than Guardiola’s. It is the City manager who compromises and changes more often, his Liverpool counterpart who has bucked other trend. Others get results against City by sitting back, defending deep, having isolated counter-attacks. But Klopp has a fearlessness. Liverpool bombard City. The personnel can change but the commitment to a classic Klopp blitz does not.

The reigning treble winners were subjected an assault on all fronts. There was the soundtrack, the Anfield wall of noise. There was one last frenzied, feverish onslaught, one last example of Kloppball in all its messy glory.

City were twice inches from a winner, twice hitting the woodwork. Yet they had to hold on in a rollercoaster ride. There were times when Liverpool needed a surer touch; with calmer heads, they perhaps would have procured three points. Yet they have an almost unique capacity to batter City with waves of attacks. They have the attitude to attack.

Klopp’s ability to imbue players with belief remains remarkable; the Carabao Cup final provided recent proof but the mission statement of turning doubters into believers was fulfilled long ago. Liverpool had reasons to doubt and yet played with confidence.

Klopp has a tremendous record against Guardiola

(REUTERS)

Injuries could have derailed Liverpool’s challenge. Even after facing City’s galaxy of superstars, they still have not. Put some of these players in a different shirt, in a different team, with a different manager and they may be more likely to be found in mid-table than near the summit.

Two of the back four were on loan in League One last season. The goalkeeper made one league start that campaign. The man playing left-back now was not seen as a left-back then. The holding midfielder just avoided relegation from the Bundesliga. Only Virgil van Dijk started of Liverpool’s first-choice defence; only Van Dijk of Klopp’s definitive team, perhaps only four of his strongest side now. But it was still recognisably Klopp’s Liverpool.

Perhaps it is proof that any 10 players can excel if they have Van Dijk but Conor Bradley weathered his awkward start, Caoimhin Kelleher made a superb save from Phil Foden and Jarell Quansah helped subdue Erling Haaland. The understudies were unintimidated and ultimately impressive.

Sometimes Klopp looks to overpower Guardiola from the start. This time the cavalry, in the shape of Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson, gave Liverpool a second wind.

They had the stronger second half. All of which may not have felt possible under any other manager.

Klopp and Guardiola during the match at Anfield

(REUTERS)

Klopp’s brilliance has felt apparent in his 12 wins over Guardiola. Increasingly, though, they are defined by draws, cancelling out their considerable differences. They drew twice in 2021-22, when City won the title by a point. Guardiola’s men held Liverpool at Anfield in 2018-19, when City won the title by a point. They have drawn twice this season, when City may yet win the title by a point.

Perhaps it would be a sadly fitting end for Klopp, to come second to Guardiola one last time. But he denied his greatest rival one distinction. The Champions League was supposed to represent the final frontier for Guardiola. It didn’t. Something still eludes him: victory at Anfield with a crowd. He won in lockdown, but he never conquered Klopp’s fortress with his people there. Now he never will.

And now, perhaps, Klopp and Guardiola will never clash again. Guardiola may be relieved. He may even win at Anfield. But there might be an emptiness. He has never known a rivalry like this. He may never again.



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