Liverpool champions: Guardiola v Klopp - Latest chapter of a defining rivalry

By Sports Desk July 02, 2020

Premier League champions Liverpool will emerge at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday to a guard of honour from previous title-holders Manchester City.

It will be the latest episode in the captivating rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

We run the rule over two men whose tactical approaches and high levels of achievement have – and it does not feel too grandiose to suggest this – changed football in the 21st century, as well as one another.

THE BUNDESLIGA YEARS

Guardiola's arrival to take the reins of a treble-winning Bayern for 2013-14 came shortly after their rivalry with Klopp's Dortmund reached its peak.

Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner saw Bayern down BVB 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley – a game played out against a backdrop of Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Gotze agreeing terms to move to Bavaria.

In hindsight, Klopp's gegenpressing machine – winners of back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – were coming off the top of their curve, having finished 25 points behind a relentless Bayern domestically that season.

The decline continued over the next two seasons. Dortmund were remarkably in relegation trouble halfway through 2014-15, before a post-Christmas recovery preceded Klopp's emotional farewell.

Nevertheless, there was still time for telling blows to be landed. Guardiola's first competitive game in charge saw Bayern beaten 4-2 in the 2013 DFL-Supercup at a delirious Signal Iduna Park.

Stung by that loss, Guardiola sprung a notable surprise in the first league encounter between the sides that November, where he broke Dortmund's rabid press by playing Javi Martinez as an attacking midfielder and repeatedly targeting the rangy Spain international with long balls.

The high priest of tiki-taka (a label Guardiola famously loathes) had presided over "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from a Bayern team, according to Klopp, who bristled after Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller added to Gotze's inevitable second-half opener in a 3-0 win.

A depleted Munich were similarly reactive when they won the DFB-Pokal final 2-0 in extra-time, even if flooding midfield numbers was a more recognisably Guardiola tactic.

Diverting from his dizzying 4-3-3 of swirling triangles has remained something the Catalan tactician has frequently done across his meetings with Klopp, and not always with the success he enjoyed in Germany.

HOLLOW VICTORIES AND THE PHONEY WAR

Klopp ended his homeland head-to-head against Guardiola with three victories, making it back-to-back Supercup triumphs in 2014, having claimed a 3-0 Bundesliga result at Allianz Arena earlier that year – the authority of which was dimmed by the fact Bayern had already cantered to the title.

Guardiola had four victories to his name, with one draw ultimately falling in Dortmund's favour as Bayern failed with all four of their penalty attempts in a 2015 DFB-Pokal semi-final shoot-out.

However, Klopp was denied a glorious farewell as his team lost in the final to Wolfsburg and the fact Robert Lewandowski had followed Gotze to Munich by this point underlined a deck stacked against him.

Liverpool came calling for Klopp in October 2015 and he helmed helter-skelter runs to the EFL Cup and Europa League finals. Manchester City and Sevilla prevailed respectively.

That was Manuel Pellegrini's final honour as City boss as he made way for Guardiola, who collected a third successive Bundesliga title in 2015-16. Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund finished closer in terms of position and points (second, 10 behind) than Klopp's version had managed when in direct competition.

With the stage presumably set for renewed hostilities between Guardiola and incoming Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, the similarly newly installed Antonio Conte did not read the script as Chelsea romped to 2016-17 Premier League glory.

Klopp got the better of his head-to-heads with City as a Georginio Wijnaldum goal sealed a 1-0 New Year's Eve win at Anfield before Sergio Aguero rescued a point for the hosts in the return game.

Guardiola laid it on thick after that 1-1 draw, declaring it to be "one of the most special days of my life".

"He is Spanish. They are a little bit more emotional than the Germans," Klopp chuckled in response.

TON-UP BUT NOT INVINCIBLE AND THE ROAD TO KIEV

Liverpool beat City three times in 2017-18, when most other teams could barely lay a glove on Guardiola's record-breaking side.

But the game where City prevailed, an unusual 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium where Liverpool subsided meekly after Sadio Mane's red card for clattering Ederson with a high boot, arguably had the biggest influence on the campaign.

When that game was 11 v 11, Guardiola's back three was horribly exposed. Aguero's opener arrived against the run of play, with an unusually wasteful Mohamed Salah having tormented Nicolas Otamendi.

City never used 3-5-2 in the league again that season, reverting to a swashbuckling 4-3-3 that churned out 19 consecutive wins and made the second half of the schedule a virtual procession.

Liverpool halted their designs on invincibility however, claiming a raucous 4-3 Anfield win in January. Klopp hailed "pressing from another planet" by his front three as Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah were all on target in a euphoric nine-minute spell after half-time.

Guardiola had again seen a swift avalanche of goals bring the roof in during a big match and his tweak to a 4-4-2 diamond, eyeing avenues around those Liverpool pressing lanes, backfired in that season's Champions League quarter-final.

A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield, with all the goals arriving during the first half, left City with a mountain to climb and a death-or-glory approach in the return fixture – deploying a formation probably best described as 3-CHARGE!!! – eventually ran out of steam in a 2-1 loss.

But it was Liverpool who came up short in the Kiev final on Loris Karius' nightmare outing against Real Madrid, while City sauntered to a 100-point haul as dominant Premier League champions. Sitting 25 points back in fourth, the Reds had a considerable gap to bridge.

CHASING PERFECTION

Despite that deficit, their efforts in going blow-for-blow with City over 90-minute periods left the impression Liverpool were the best placed of the pretenders to overthrow the champions.

Both teams reconvened on Merseyside undefeated in October 2018 and remained that way as the free-flowing nature of recent meetings gave way to a cagey 0-0 draw.

Reprising the theme of those early Klassiker meetings, Guardiola took his foot off the throttle as City played at a controlled tempo – an approach that would have ended the club's Anfield hoodoo but for Riyad Mahrez's ballooned late penalty.

Fire and brimstone returned the following January, though, with a wobbling City recovering their poise and avoiding a 10-point deficit at the top. Aguero and Leroy Sane were on target either side of Firmino in a bravura display, where Aymeric Laporte took on the unfamiliar role of left-back to stifle Salah.

That was Liverpool's only loss of the season as they finished on 97 points, agonisingly one shy of City. However, their subsequent Champions League final win over Tottenham improbably propelled them further along.

Just as Guardiola has tempered some of his more cavalier tendencies when faced with Klopp, the challenge of an unrelenting City also forced the Liverpool boss into subtle and decisive tweaks.

In bringing in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, he spent big for what many see as the finest goalkeeper and centre-back on the planet. Their very presence means risk can be reduced.

Heavy metal football has given way to a steady pulsing beat that never wavers. In the city of Merseybeat, Klopp has gone electro.

Amid their steamrollering of the opposition this season, Liverpool have 19 wins by a solitary goal in all competitions. They are frighteningly and ruthlessly clinical. A profligate City trail in their wake, although Guardiola has used this relative freedom from pressure to thumb intriguingly through his tactical playbook in 2020.

Both men have inspired the other to reach beyond their comfort zones and the result is the two best teams in world football. With Klopp contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and Guardiola talking up an extended stay, the thought occurs that they are each other's motivation for sticking around. There is nowhere better to measure their greatness than against one another.

Related items

  • Lewandowski not interested in Ronaldo record as he eyes 'dangerous' Barcelona Lewandowski not interested in Ronaldo record as he eyes 'dangerous' Barcelona

    Robert Lewandowski shut out thoughts surrounding individual records and fixed his focus on firing Bayern Munich past Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals after notching another brace in Saturday's triumph over Chelsea.

    The Poland international improved his season goal tally to 53 in all competitions as he scored twice and assisted another two in a 4-1 victory at the Allianz Arena that saw Bayern advance from the last 16 as 7-1 aggregate winners.

    Lewandowski now has 13 goals in seven Champions League appearances this term, four behind the record Cristiano Ronaldo set for a single season in 2013-14.

    But the prolific 31-year-old striker insisted he is more interested in helping his side progress from next Friday's single-leg quarter-final in Lisbon, where Barca await following their 4-2 aggregate win over Napoli.

    "It's not a target for me," Lewandowski told Sky Germany when asked about Ronaldo's record. "We have another knockout game to come and have to play really well as a team.

    "The most important thing is to play well and reach the next round. We have to show as a team we are better [than Barcelona] in order to reach the semi-finals.

    "Barcelona are always dangerous and play great football. We have to be at it from the first minute and show our quality. The better team will play in the next round."

    Lewandowski played a direct part in every goal for Bayern in their 7-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea, having also scored one and set up a couple for Serge Gnabry in February's first leg at Stamford Bridge.

    Head coach Hansi Flick was keen to praise his whole side and not just in-form Lewandowski, who has netted more times in 2019-20 than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    "He scored twice, so it goes without saying what he can do," the Bayern boss said. "This is what makes us stand out as a team.

    "I was very satisfied with the 90 minutes from everyone. We wanted to win the game and pick up from where we left off. 

    "Chelsea have an exciting team and an incredible amount of speed. It would have been our fault if we let them into the game, but the first 30 minutes from us were great."

    The only sour note for Bayern was the sight of Jerome Boateng hobbling off with an apparent knee injury in the second half, but Flick was hopeful the centre-back would be fit for next week's huge showdown with Barca.

    "I don't think it is so bad for Jerome," he said. "That's the information I got from the medical staff. [Benjamin] Pavard is also trying everything to be ready.

    "We will prepare for that game like any other. We want to show our strengths again and must be 100 per cent focused, not just on Lionel Messi but every player."

  • Gattuso on new Juve head coach Pirlo: A great playing career isn't enough Gattuso on new Juve head coach Pirlo: A great playing career isn't enough

    Gennaro Gattuso warned Juventus head coach Andrea Pirlo that his illustrious playing career will count for little in his new job.

    Pirlo, who has not had a coaching job and only took over as Juve's Under-23s boss last week, was handed the reins in Turin on Saturday in the wake of Maurizio Sarri's dismissal.

    The former midfielder – who won four Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italiana during a four-year spell with Juve – has signed a two-year deal.

    However, Gattuso, who played alongside Pirlo at Milan and for Italy, provided an honest assessment of the job's difficulties for his former team-mate.

    "Well he's screwed now… That's the job," Gattuso told Sky Italia following Napoli's defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League.

    "He's lucky to be starting at Juventus, but this profession is one where a great playing career is not enough.

    "You have to study, to work hard, and you don't get much sleep."

    Gattuso's first job in coaching came at FC Sion, with the 42-year-old then having spells at Palermo, OFI Crete and Pisa before he took charge of Milan's youth team in 2017.

    He was promoted to first-team head coach following Vincenzo Montella's sacking later that year, though he was dismissed at the end of the 2018-19 campaign after a fifth-placed finish, going on to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli, who he guided to the Coppa Italia title this term.

    "Being a player and being a coach is really not the same thing at all," Gattuso added.

    "It's a totally different profession and we can't learn it just from books, we need to get in there and work hard. It's a different world."

  • Setien was 'a little bit nervous' but insists Barcelona controlled Napoli 'perfectly' Setien was 'a little bit nervous' but insists Barcelona controlled Napoli 'perfectly'

    Barcelona head coach Quique Setien thinks they had their Champions League last-16 second leg against Napoli under perfect control - even though he was feeling nervous on the touchline.

    Goals from Clement Lenglet, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez secured a 3-1 win for Barca at Camp Nou on Saturday and a 4-2 aggregate victory.

    Barca were 3-0 up and had another goal through Messi disallowed for handball in the first half, and although Lorenzo Insigne's penalty shortly before the interval gave Napoli some hope, they could not find a way back into the contest against a resilient Blaugrana.

    Barca have endured nightmarish second-leg losses to Liverpool and Roma in the past two seasons, so Setien was particularly pleased with the manner of their performance when under pressure from Napoli, even if he could not always keep his anxiety in check.

    "It was what we were looking for, to take the first step and to wait for the rest of the games with the same excitement with which we faced this one," he told Movistar.

    "We were very good and we deserved the victory.

    "It's true they had us compromised in the opening minutes. Napoli are a really good team - it's not easy to do what we've done. They're one of the best teams in Italy.

    "We controlled it perfectly, we had a really good first half and in the second they were more in charge but they still didn't put us in much danger.

    "A second goal would have given them a boost that could have threatened us. It's normal to be a little bit nervous, of course."

    Messi took a heavy kick to his calf in winning a penalty against Kalidou Koulibaly, but Setien is confident he will be fit to face Bayern Munich, who destroyed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, in next week's quarter-final.

    "He took a strong hit, but he looks okay. It'll need treatment but I don't think it'll be a problem," he said of Messi.

    "It'll be a really tough game. They have gone through a tie with a six-goal margin. They are an amazing team and it'll be a great game."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.