Ahead of Manchester City’s crunch Premier League meeting with Liverpool on Sunday, Pep Guardiola admitted that Jurgen Klopp’s side – and the German himself – are the biggest rivals of his managerial career.
“We play many times, more times,” the City boss said when asked whether the Liverpool rivalry has surpassed those he has experienced against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in his previous coaching roles. “In five years here we [City and Liverpool] have played many times, and all the times we were close.”
It’s a big statement for a man who endured an intense rivalry with Real Madrid over his four years against Barcelona, best remembered for feisty games and public spats with then Los Blancos manager Jose Mourinho. While at Bayern Munich he developed a more respectful competition with Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel, who has resurfaced following the German’s appointment at Chelsea.
So what has made all three rivalries so fascinating?
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As Guardiola said, the primary factor that puts his rivalry with Klopp above all others is that the pair have faced each other so many times. Since Pep arrived at City in 2016 they have done battle on 13 occasions (twice in the Champions League and 11 in the league) with City winning four of those and Liverpool winning five.
Frequency of meetings aside, matches between the two teams are always of exceptionally high quality.
“The times we play against them, there are always many decisions in the game,” Guardiola said. “Many details on both sides. Both teams are good. We try to discover the weak points they have which are few. We try to exploit it, try to be ourselves. We play already many times, not just Premier League, always was interesting games.”
The styles of the two coaches may differ – the former preaches high-pressing, possession-based play while the latter is more direct and transition oriented – but Guardiola and Klopp are full of admiration for each other.
“Jurgen makes world football a better place to live. His message, a huge competitor. It’s good. He’s a good guy and I don’t have any problems with him.”
Klopp clearly feels the same way about his opposite number. “Pep is the best coach in the world, I think we can all agree on that,” he said ahead of Sunday’s game.
Between 2013 and 2015 the pair faced off eight times while managing Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, taking four wins apiece.
Guardiola and Mourinho worked together under Bobby Robson at Barcelona – Pep as a player and Jose as a coach – but over two seasons in Spain their relationship soured.
Managing on either side of the Clasico divide, the pair were embroiled in some intense duels. Things came to a head in April 2011 during a period of four Clasicos in 18 days.
In the build-up to Barca’s 2-0 win away at Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, Mourinho cranked up the mind games and Guardiola snapped.
After Mourinho had mocked Pep’s criticism of a correct refereeing decision, Pep said – at the end of an expletive-laden press conference – “I try to learn from Jose on the pitch, but I prefer to learn as little as possible from him off the pitch.”
The duo have reconciled somewhat in recent years, although they have been involved in plenty of other battles. In 2010 it was Mourinho’s Inter Milan that foiled a brilliant Barca side in the Champions League semi-finals, while in 2018 Mourinho’s Manchester United came from two goals down to defeat City in the derby 3-2, denying the Blues to once-in- a-lifetime chance to seal the title with a derby day win. During his short spell at Tottenham, Mourinho masterminded back-to-back 2-0 wins for his side against City.
Tuchel replaced Klopp as Dortmund manager in 2015 but failed to get the better of Guardiola over three meetings during the Catalan’s final season at Bayern.
When Tuchel was appointed Chelsea manager in early 2021 he turned the tables, his Chelsea side winning three consecutive matches against City in the space of six weeks, including an FA Cup semi-final and Champions League final.
This season though Guardiola has found a way to stop Tuchel from exploiting his side’s weaknesses, securing impressive 1-0 league wins at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge.
Like with Klopp, there exists great respect between Guardiola and Tuchel. “He’s so creative,” Guardiola said of the German earlier this year. “One of the few managers I learn from constantly to become a better manager myself. Excellent in all departments. I enjoy it since he was in Mainz, Dortmund, here.”
“I enjoy watching his teams, the way he is playing, his approach. He makes football better.”
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