Man City clash with Liverpool as Guardiola and Klopp celebrate a decade of rivalry

Managers face off again at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday in what will be their 28th game in opposition dugouts

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, left, and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp go head-to-head again in the Premier League on Saturday. PA
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Later this year, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp will have an anniversary to celebrate: 10 years of sharing touchlines. A storied marriage it has been, of title-chases too close to call, of European epics, of domestic silverware tussled over with such fine margins it has twice needed penalty shoot-outs to separate their sides.

Saturday’s face-off, Guardiola’s Manchester City against Klopp’s Liverpool, is the 28th confrontation between managers who will have in total spent 42 tense hours of their lives in neighbouring technical areas, exchanging intense side-eye glances, sometimes sharp words and occasionally knowing smiles suggesting they sensed, as clearly as the millions watching, that, at certain peak points in the past decade they were in charge of the most thrilling two teams anywhere in club football.

It would be hard to make that claim ahead of this weekend, when in a Premier League that has not been won by any manager apart from Guardiola or Klopp since 2017, neither sit at the top of the table. Nor will either of them climb to the summit whatever the outcome of their lunchtime kick-off, with City eight points shy of leaders Arsenal. There’s a rarity in that, too.

Scroll back over the Klopp-Guardiola archive, to its origins in clashes between Guardiola’s Bayern Munich and Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, and at this late stage in any of their nine seasons as adversaries there is only one precedent for their playing each other without one of their teams being at the top of the standings.

And there are few previous instances, when, with around two-thirds of the season played, the gap between Guardiola and Klopp’s teams has yawned as wide as the 27 points that separate second-placed City and sixth-placed Liverpool.

The ominous ghost in the Liverpool manager’s rear-view mirror would be the 2014/15 season, when Dortmund, who had contested a Champions League final with Bayern in 2013 – just before Guardiola moved to Germany – suffered a dramatic collapse in consistency and form. They finished that campaign seventh, Guardiola duly collected his second of three successive Bundesliga titles with Bayern. Klopp then left Dortmund, after a transformative seven years in charge.

But the detail of that season is worth pausing on. It finished a good deal better for Klopp than it had started, which would be Liverpool’s wish for the remaining trajectory of a 2022/23 that veered badly off course in early autumn and after the new year.

Eight years ago, Klopp’s Dortmund were in the Bundesliga relegation zone at the midpoint of the season. A run of nine wins and only three defeats in their last 15 matches meant they seized a European qualifying place and Klopp was afforded a rousing, grateful farewell from Dortmund fans.

There are 12 games left of Liverpool’s season, and the objective, given the club have been eliminated from the three knockout competitions in which they reached every final in 2022 – Champions League, FA and League Cups – is clear and focused. It is a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League.

“It’s a massive test for us,” said Klopp surveying a table that, following Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth in their last outing, left them seven points shy of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp shake hands when they were managers of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, in 2013. Getty

As significantly, they sit in a pack of chasers with the same, very real top-four ambitions. Liverpool have two games in hand over Spurs, but so do Newcastle United, five points better off than Liverpool.

Brighton share Liverpool’s points total of 42 but have played one match fewer. Brentford, also on 42 points, could move above Liverpool and Brighton if they win at the Seagulls and the Merseysiders fail to beat City.

Klopp acknowledges his scenario could look very rousing or utterly wretched within the space of eight days, an intense period preceded by anxiously checking on the fitness of players returning from international duty. City, for their part, need to assess Erling Haaland, who withdrew from Norway’s matches with a groin problem and will be without Phil Foden, who left England’s squad to have surgery to remove his appendix.

Liverpool are encouraged that Luis Diaz, missing with injury since October, is back in training. Klopp expects to have to test the depth of his squad given the immediate schedule. After the trip to City comes a midweek assignment at Chelsea and, on April 9, the hosting of Arsenal. “A football week of all football weeks,” Klopp calls it, “in terms of the opposition.”

The first opponent is the one he knows better than any, one who respects Klopp as highly as any coach. Across the years, even as Guardiola has mostly beaten Klopp to league titles, the head-to-head record marginally favours the German over the Catalan. That decade of jousting has yielded 12 Klopp victories to Guardiola’s 10 in direct confrontations. And a draw on Saturday suits neither.

Updated: March 30, 2023, 6:55 AM