Nostalgia is overrated, Man City and Liverpool is greatest Premier League rivalry – Alex Brotherton

Manchester City and Liverpool are preparing to embark on the next chapters of their rivalry, as meetings in the Premier League and FA Cup semi-finals loom.

The outcomes of both matches – the first of which is a league meeting at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday – could prove decisive in the success of each team’s season. That’s an exciting prospect for neutrals, but a terrifying one for supporters.

Just 30-odd miles separate City and Liverpool, yet there isn’t a team anywhere in the world better than either. Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp respectively, both have played breathtaking football over recent years and year-on-year are gunning for every trophy available; City could win the treble this season, while Liverpool are aiming for a quadruple.

READMORE: Pep Guardiola has already hinted at Man City line up changes vs Liverpool

It seems strange then that City vs Liverpool is not regarded by many – neutrals and fans of both clubs alike – as one of the great Premier League rivalries.

One of the main arguments is that the match-up does not have the distinction of time or history, so by definition, it cannot be described as ‘classic’. That’s indisputable; City and Liverpool have only really been direct rivals since 2017/18, whereas before that they seemed to pass each other by as each enjoyed periods of success.

Others argue that there is a lack of needle or bad blood between the two clubs, and so cannot be considered a proper rivalry. The battles in the 2000s between Arsenal and Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea were characterized by controversy, mind games and on-field altercations, which only added to the drama provided by the exciting football on display.

Guardiola and Klopp are happy to respect and praise each other; the same can not be said of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, or Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez.

But that was a different time, an era, that when viewed through rose-tinted spectacles it is easy to appear better and more thrilling. In reality – in pure footballing terms anyway – the current rivalry between City and Liverpool is undoubtedly one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen.

Yes, bar the odd incident of Klopp whining about his side’s supposed inability to match City in the transfer market, and the infamous City bus incident in 2018, there is little animosity between the two clubs either on the field or off it. Their battles on the pitch, though, have been enthralling.

In March 2017, near the end of a season where neither were at their best, City and Liverpool played out a thrilling 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium. Chance after chance went begging in the end-to-end contest which offered a glimpse of the type of football both sides would treat their followers to over the coming years.

At the beginning of 2017/18 City inflicted a humiliating 5-0 defeat on Klopp’s side, aided in part by Sadio Mane’s red card for nearly taking Ederson’s head off with a high boot. Regardless of the man advantage, Kevin de Bruyne delivered one of the great midfield performances in Premier League history.

Liverpool got their revenge though, winning a 4-3 thriller at Anfield the following January as City struggled to cope with the rock & roll football of Mohamed Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino.

City’s weakness to Liverpool counter-attacks cost them dear in the Champions League quarter-finals that year, with a 30-minute blitz in the first leg at Anfield condemning the Blues to elimination. In 2018/19 though City found a way to stifle their title rivals, a 2-1 win at the Etihad – and an incredible John Stones clearance – providing the difference as City won the title by a point.

Mo Salah won the battle with Joao Cancelo last time out.

2019/20 and 2020/21 saw City and Liverpool take turns playing runaway leader and straggler, though both campaigns produced thrilling contests. City’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield in 2019 certainly lives long in the memory thanks to Guardiola’s “two times!” touchline hysterics.

The 2-2 draw at Anfield earlier this season has arguably been the best of the lot though, City’s first-half domination was undone by moments of Salah genius.

It’s hard to think of other match-ups in league history that have delivered such high quality, intense and important matches on a consistent basis. The tactical battles between Guardiola and Klopp are fascinating, as are the individual duels between some of the best players on the planet.

To dismiss this – admittedly, young – rivalry is to live in the past. The characters and narratives that made Arsenal vs United the rivalry it was long gone, whereas City and Liverpool are foes in the here and now.

With just a point separating the pair at the top of the table, it’s likely that Sunday’s meeting will turn out to be another thrilling chapter in an ever-developing rivalry.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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