In the scramble to accurately understand Liverpool’s rivalry with Manchester City, the idea of them both as boxing heavyweights has been understandably prevalent of late.
So it wouldn’t require too much of a leap now to imagine the tagline of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final being accompanied by the paraphrasing of a catchy line often used to hype up a clash between unbeaten fighters on pay-per-view. Because as they say in boxing, someone’s O has got to go. The same can be said in a roundabout way of these two prizefighters this weekend.
By Saturday evening, we will know whether or not Jurgen Klopp and his Reds players are still on course for their quadruple quest. Pep Guardiola’s City also have their own aims of repeating a treble that was last completed by local rivals United way back in 1999.
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It is why the stakes of Saturday’s meeting go far beyond the 2022 FA Cup. They have rarely been higher, in fact. Particularly at Anfield where a tilt at footballing history is not only being sustained but made more realistic by the game.
Some scoffed at the fanciful idea of Liverpool becoming the first team to win the League Cup, FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League in the same season earlier this year. And while that task still remains mission improbable, it is far from unattainable as we enter the final six weeks of a thrilling term.
Now into the last four of the Champions League, a two-legged clash with Villarreal appears to be an eminently winnable one as they go in search of a third European Cup final under Klopp. Like the FA Cup, however, Liverpool may just find City in their path once more should they torpedo Unai Emery’s Yellow Submarine.
If this rivalry between the two greatest teams in Europe is characterized by their sheer quality and naked desire to simply be the best rather than any genuine dislike, then familiarity may at least start to breed some contempt this weekend.
Because make no mistake, whoever is beaten on Saturday in the capital will be hell-bent on exacting revenge, whether that is through the Premier League or the Champions League.
Conversely, the victors will be emboldened, which, either way you look at it, will surely set up an even more fascinating contest as the fight enters the latter rounds.
Or, to coin a film comparison, if Saturday’s game represents the trilogy of Liverpool and City’s 2021/22 series, a showdown in Paris on May 28 will make it a tetralogy that will differ from other chapters of Hollywood blockbusters that have often run out of steam by their fourth installation.
On the contrary, a fourth edition would be the most lucrative yet. It would represent the biggest game in a Manchester City history that has been reshaped beyond recognition since Sheikh Mansour’s billions rolled into Eastlands in 2008.
It could very well be viewed in similar terms at Anfield too if Liverpool are playing for that unprecedented quadruple in the French capital next month. These, then, are stratospheric stakes with both teams treading across a high wire to meet in the middle.
Both managers have been in this sort of situation before, at least, even if it is not a direct mirror image. In 2011, Guardiola’s Barcelona went head-to-head with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid four times in an exhausting 18-day period that is said to have had a profound effect on the City manager and his eventual desire for a sabbatical that followed a year later .
In 2013, Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund were made to go up against Bayern Munich in a German Cup quarter-final, Bundesliga clash and Champions League final within three months. Neither team will want to give an inch given what is at stake, even if it is Guardiola’s City who were handed the more taxing examination in the respective second legs of their Champions League quarter-final ties on Wednesday night.
While Klopp was able to make as many as seven changes for an entertaining draw with Benfica at Anfield, City were forced to fight, quite literally, until the final whistle of their goalless affair at Atletico Madrid. They would eventually squeeze through in a game that was light on goals but heavy on fiery confrontations, but are now likely to be without Kevin De Bruyne or Kyle Walker as a result.
For now, all that will matter is events at Wembley on Saturday, but both sets of fans might yet be steeling themselves all over again and like never before in Paris soon enough.