Two heavyweights of English football face-off in what promises to be a titanic match at Anfield. Here is Srivaths with the Big Match Preview.
When one talks about the best football games in the world, there is a lot of emphasis on two aspects of the game – the players playing the game and the quality of football. Today’s afternoon fixture between Liverpool and Manchester City has all the ingredients and more needed to be the best football game in the world. Both squads are stacked with world-class players across all parts of the pitch – Raheem Sterling, Virgil van Dijk, Mo Salah, Kevin de Bryune, and Sadio Mane to name a few. This fixture in the recent past has produced the most mouth-watering games tending to leave the most acute pragmatists in football to drool over the talent and organization in the game. The resources they possess notwithstanding, the vigour with which both these teams try to dominate games and try to take the game to the opponents is nothing short of extraordinary. In essence, this fixture has replaced the Classico in Spain as the most awaited fixture worldwide.
In ways, this game acts as an anathema to the Classico – it does not have a match up between the two best players ever but rather, the two best teams of the period. It reinstates the fact that football, at its core, is a team sport and that the sum of the parts is certainly greater than the whole. This aspect of it, in some ways, delights the romantics of football and in ways, is more special to them than the crass hissy-fits that went on during the ‘great’ classicos of the 21st century. That there exists a mutual, ungrudging, even friendly respect between the two managers of the teams involved is a fact well documented. Even then, tensions fly high.
Pep Guardiola was very quick to call and congratulate Klopp on his Champions League victory in June and even quicker to call out Sadio Mane for ‘diving’ in Liverpool’s previous game against Aston Villa. This battle is yet another angle that makes this game what it is. Pep Guardiola is very much a know-it-all. He’s taken part in the Classico in all of its glory and in its worst times, which were probably both the same game. He has also been a significant contributor to the modern history of Der Klassiker in Germany, when the foundational stones of the rivalry between these two managers were erected, although it was much later, in England, that it fully blossomed into one.
Wherever Pep goes, there is a distinctive imprint he leaves within the squad that is ingrained in them so deeply that it takes a remarkable amount of deviation from his methods before recovery to normalcy. Jürgen Klopp, who had his first experience of a game of this magnitude in his first Champions League final as a manager, is very much an equal to the Spaniard. He has improved this Liverpool squad beyond recognition. Anything apart from the technical aspect of the game serves as a distraction to them. Both the managers are usually averse to mind games, which keeps their relationship, at least on paper and in front of the fans, a healthy one. This also restricts the game to the football field, which is what it ultimately should be about. On the pitch, both the managers like to be attacking.
This matchup is often built up as one between the genius and the madman. That could not be further from the truth. Both are very methodical and meticulous. There exists a lot of entropy on a football pitch – a lot of randomnesses. Both managers understand that very deeply. Pep’s teams, including Man City, ultimately try to reduce this by anticipation and reaction. Klopp’s teams try to take advantage of the randomness by exploiting the unpreparedness of the opponent. One may compare them to artists of different eras. While Pep can be considered a fine exponent of cubism, Klopp embodies expressionism. They have distinctly different styles of doing the same thing and that is what marks them from the rest of the pack. They both believe in keeping the ball and doing things with it that seldom can be done without rigorous amounts of work on the training ground. That is where the masterminds like Klopp and Pep see the real wins for the squad. This has led to this game shaping up to be the pinnacle battle in the Premier League war.
This game in terms of historic rivalry does not amount to much for either of the teams, apart from a shared distaste for the Red half of Manchester. It simply is an exhibition of football with the purest, most unfiltered passion and the crowd at Anfield will provide exactly that. To say that this game is of less magnitude than any Arsenal United games of the 2000’s would not be doing justice to the drama surrounding both these teams. It is up there as the best matches in the Premier League history because of the sheer quality of the two teams. At no point have two English teams been undoubtedly the two best in the continent. City’s points totals over the past couple of seasons is a testament to this fact.
The necessity to challenge for the title for yet another year after achieving almost perfection is special. Special is the trajectory at which Liverpool have grown despite having their constraints. And special is Raheem Sterling. He is a part of this fixture like nobody else is. He scored for Liverpool against City before joining them for a bucketload of success. Under Pep, he has developed to become an absolute giant on the pitch and yet, something has always been amiss for him when coming back to Anfield. He is yet to have a goal contribution after pulling on the blue jersey. Now more than ever, City require him to fire. They need him at his best to close the gap to the league leaders. They need him to give reason to their Premier League season. Can he step up?
Written by Srivaths Parasuraman
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.