Mainland invasion of tactical genii
With Klopp ruling Anfield from October 2015 in what can only be described as a perfect German invasion the fans were hopeful. In fact, it was rather like the accession of King George I, who was invited to keep England strong and together in the face of dissenting voices. He was building a strong base with a great management team with the aim of making this kingdom “Great” again. Both Liverpool and City had a genius at the helm but who would have a genie to add that magic needed.
His favourite Spanish rival was arriving in style. Not unlike the Armada of 1588, it was a force to be feared. However, inclement weather didn’t disperse the troops this time and another European takeover was happening some miles down the East Lancs road at the Etihad. A Spanish Prince called Pep came to rule. The battle lines were drawn again and the old rivalry was about to commence. The City of Manchester was taking on the Liverbird of Liverpool. Two rivalries transposed and reinvented.
Where will it be quiet on New Year’s Day?
New Years Eve 2016: The first skirmish on English soil. Klopp had introduced the fast-paced counter-attacking football to his Merseyside men and it was having an impact as they were second in the table. The Anglo-Dutch fighting force scored an early goal with Georginio Wijnaldum heading in Adam Lallana’s perfectly-timed cross right on eight minutes. Klopp’s attacking style kept Pep’s men on their toes and Bravo was bewildered by the sheer speed and force of the assault. Pep’s men were ten points adrift of Chelsea so it was not the best way to end 2016 or start in 2017. He was here to win and play his brand of football. It was taking time to formulate.
It was quite a season and very battle heavy, so when they met at the Etihad in March it could have been a cautious and sluggish affair. For Liverpool, this was the 38th match they had played this season and City’s 45th. With City licking the wounds of an away goals loss to Monaco, we expected thoughtfulness. We got it. It was a thrilling match with a scoreline that didn’t reflect the opportunities created. Both managers need to bolster the defensive lines even though they play an attacking game and as the halftime whistle went the 0-0 scoreline was a mixture of relief and embarrassment.
Fighting to be on top in the top flight
Toure was lucky to remain on the pitch when his studs whacked Emre Can. It looked like a careless tackle would give one side advantage over the other. So, when Sadio Mane and Nicolas Otamendi collided in the box, it may have been a penalty shout – but who kicked who here? Either way, Otamandi should have eaten an extra portion of breakfast cereal that day because Mane is one speedy customer and will punish any dopey defender. Klavan kept his place in the game after preferring to pull Aguero off the ball than actually make contact with the orb. Similarly, Milner could have been sent off for kicking Sterling’s ankle in lieu of the lazy ball’s failure to arrive. Another mistake would give an attacking player time on the ball either to score in open play or from the penalty spot.
Gael Clichy did not deal with Emre Can’s pass quickly enough and was at sixes and sevens, allowing Roberto Firmino time to line up a goal. He did not regain his composure and his clumsy defence gave Milner the chance to put the penalty in the back of the net to the sounds of boos. Aguero levelled the score with a perfectly timed run. They shared the points and both managers needed to focus on the areas of defensive weakness. Klopp may have won five and drawn one but no one was prepared for the way that City were to level the war scores the following season.
With both De Bryne and Salah making impressive runs that ended in nothing, you might have thought this early fixture was the battle of the Chelsea flops. Each man making an early dash and continuing the skirmish of end-to-end football and poor finishing we had witnessed in March. Aguero held up the ball and scored on the 24th minute so it was a different battle this time. Unfortunately, fortune was not on Klopp’s side as Mane had to be dismissed for what happened to Ederson. With Jesus and Sane both bagging braces, Liverpool were humiliated and their defensive woes were exposed for all to see. Five wins each and one draw, Pep and Klopp could only benefit from the collapse of their opponent. Victories were going to be found in opportunities created on the pitch it seems.
Sure thing? Surely not
On January 14th the newly dubbed “Invincibles” travelled to Anfield to play a much-improved Liverpool side. Pep’s men were 15 points clear and riding high until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain beat Ederson after only nine minutes. Sane levelled the score so it was game on at halftime. 50 minutes after he opened the score, Ox fed Firmino and he scored. Nine minutes of absence lead to City being 4-1 down with Mane and Salah adding to the damage. It should have been enough of a thriller but City does not give up these days. Bernado Silva exposed Liverpool’s weakness as did Gundogan. We had seen ninety minutes of brilliant football and the previously jubilant Klopp was looking rather anxious from his battle station but Aguero failed to convert the free kick and at 4-3, City’s unbeaten run had ended. Klopp was to prove more of a nemesis to Pep as this season was far from being over.
The league of champions is an appropriate venue for teams led by skillful tacticians such as these. Sadly, fans can get in the way. When the legions of Liverpool wanted to use shock and awe tactics to dethrone Manchester City, it really did not add to the class that Klopp had instilled in his team. Parking your own bus is one thing, but pelting the opponent’s bus with missiles detracts from what is important. It certainly was Pep’s most imperfect performance and the second of three straight defeats to Klopp.
You win some or you lose lots
It was difficult to report on two matches that were full of controversy without sounding bitter. Pep is known for having dips in award-winning seasons but this was no time to dip as the stakes were high. He made mistakes and that cost him a place in the next round of the Champions League.
The real lightning strike was on the pitch and in half an hour the score was 3-0. The prolific Salah opened the scoring with Firmino’s assist after 12 minutes. The Egyptian King was earning his title as was the King of the assists. Milner fed Ox some eight minutes later and made it 2-0. Even Kings allow others to score and Salah’s assist let Mane add the third goal. Klopp was right to be happy but even made more admirable by his caution. There were still another 90 minutes to go.
Another tortuous 90 minutes for City. Another joyous 90 minutes for Liverpool. Another fabulous 90 for the neutrals. With Jesus scoring within two minutes it seemed like another ding-dong battle. But the furies were not out in force as Sane’s goal was wrongly ruled offside. Pep lost it and was removed from the ringside action. Firmino and Salah made the aggregate score 5-1 and eight Klopp victories to five Pep ones in their own personal aggregate.
A revitalised rivalry had been cast and with the dawning of an exciting season, who knows who will emerge on the triumphant side. Statistics say Klopp, but numbers are there to be crunched. The “Battle of the Beautiful Rivals” will continue as the mangers wisdom helps develop our beautiful game. Let’s tune in on Sunday 7th October as we pick up the next installment of this wonderful war.