Another Season Of Klopp Vs Guardiola? Who Comes Out On Top?
Although a resurgent Manchester United and a heavily reinforced Chelsea squad are expected to make this season a lot more exciting, Ismail Farooq still feels that Liverpool and Manchester City are too far ahead of them. “They will, once again, go up against one another for the Premier League trophy”, he argues in this piece.
Liverpool vs Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp vs Pep Guardiola. This has been the premium tactical and coaching battle in world football for the last three years. What started off as a direct clash between gegenpressing and positional play to see which one would trump the other has turned into a more evolved and holistic war, with both managers learning from one another and adding elements of each other’s philosophies into their own systems.
The result has been us football fans being witness to the absolute pinnacle of modern football. As far as the quality of play is concerned, Manchester City vs Liverpool has become the best football match on the planet. On top of that, the two clubs have also given us the most high-quality title race in recent history (2018/2019).
Last season was not much of a title race or a close fight between the two. But make no mistake, this is still the top footballing rivalry in England right now, and they will continue to set the standards for the rest of the league.
For Liverpool, the new season represents uncharted territory. They have never gone into a Premier League season as defending champions before. In a way though, it doesn’t matter. Their task will be the same. Secure as many points as possible and try to beat Manchester City to the title.
Having won a staggering 195 points in the last two seasons alone, Liverpool will be aiming to become the first Premier League side in history to get over 90 points in three consecutive seasons. And if the past three seasons and Manchester City’s league record have told us anything, it’s that they will probably need to break that record to win another title.
The reasons why this record has not been broken, even by a team as ruthless and consistent as Guardiola’s City, are twofold. Firstly, it is incredibly difficult to amass over 90 or 95 points in a season, especially in a league as physically exhausting and hectic as the Premier League. Secondly, even if you manage to do this tough task, it is virtually impossible to get your players to achieve the feat repeatedly. You need to refresh, rejuvenate, and create a new team cycle.
And that is precisely the problem that Liverpool face. Jurgen Klopp’s world-class machine, which has scaled the heights of English and European football, has been at it week in week out for over three years now.
Alex Ferguson once said, “I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed.” Ferguson himself was a master at refreshing and rebuilding title-winning teams again and again.
Manchester City’s latest season was a perfect example of how a failure to refresh the squad timely and properly can cause a dip in performances and standards. Liverpool need to ensure that they do not follow a similar trajectory.
Although there were plans to bring in Timo Werner and refresh a few places in the squad this summer, the coronavirus pandemic changed the financial situation completely.
With that said, there is no question that Liverpool need to refresh the squad within the coming transfer windows. Yes, Takumi Minamino came in, Kostas Tsimikas recently joined, Curtis Jones has replaced Adam Lallana internally and Thiago Alcantara might replace Georginio Wijnaldum, so there are pieces moving here and there. But whether this is enough is something we shall see once the season starts.
The Thiago Alcantara transfer, if it were to happen, might well be a game-changer in itself. Thiago’s addition would be more than just a refreshment of the squad. Not only would Liverpool have one of the best midfielders in the world, but they would also acquire an added dimension to their play. Currently, Liverpool’s attacking play mostly comes from their full-backs, while the midfield provides cover and structure to the overall team. Having a player of Thiago’s skill set will allow Liverpool to also have the option of creating directly through the centre.
Regardless of whether enough changes are made to the squad, Liverpool fans should realise the envious position they are in. After getting 195 points in two seasons, the only (realistic) way is down. And that does not mean combusting or imploding. It simply means that it is unrealistic to expect standards to stay at that level forever.
However, at the same time, it is completely reasonable to expect the team to keep competing for those titles and to be in the best possible shape. The upcoming season will tell us about both these things.
In case Liverpool fans need reminding, though, here it is: if there is a single person on Earth who can motivate and inspire a group of players to reach its world-class heights again, it is Jurgen Klopp.
Pep Guardiola is going into the new season in the most difficult period of his managerial career. Not only did his Manchester City team falter in the league (which his teams almost never do), but they also squandered what was probably their best chance (so far) of winning the one trophy that has eluded both the club and the Catalan in charge.
As far as the Premier League is concerned, Guardiola’s team faltered in front of goal and in transitions. A common theme was missing too many good chances in front of the goal and then conceding on the counterattack. This is, primarily, how they lost a whopping nine league games in the last season alone.
Ironically, part of the reason Guardiola and Manchester City struggled last season was their failure to refresh their squad and to replace Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defence. They are not making the same mistake again it seems, as Ferran Torres and Nathan Ake have already been secured as new signings. Kalidou Koulibaly is also a top target for them at the moment.
However, Guardiola still has some question marks with regards to his squad. Leroy Sane has departed for Bayern Munich. The magical David Silva has left the club after a decade, and his role will not be easy to fill. Similarly, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho are a crucial part of the team’s spine who are getting older and will need to be replaced soon.
How Man City perform in the upcoming season, and whether they will be able to snatch the title back from Liverpool, will depend on two broad things. One, whether Guardiola can get in the defensive players that he trusts so he does not adapt or alter his own approach as he did against Lyon. Two, whether he will be able to keep the players tuned in to his extremely meticulous and demanding style of work.
It is telling that Guardiola had never stayed at one club for more than four years before this. The reason for that is the Catalan himself. There comes a point when players experience mental and physical exhaustion because of how demanding and rigorous he is.
At Barcelona, it ended with a damaged relationship between him and the players, along with his own exhaustion (so much so that he decided to take a year off from management). At Bayern, he left before it got to that point, but similar signs were there.
Now at Manchester City, he has the added challenge of not only refreshing the squad for a new cycle, but also rejuvenating his players so they continue to play as methodically and rigorously as he wants them. City’s pressing and intensity quite visibly dropped last season. That is why they were punished so frequently in transitions. That cannot happen again.
Guardiola now has a different kind of challenge ahead of him. For the first time in his life, he is leading a team into its second cycle. And for the first time in his life, he is competing to get back a league title that was won from him. Let’s see how he reacts.
Yes, Chelsea have had the best transfer window in Europe. And yes, Abramovich has splashed the cash like it’s 2004 again. And yes, Manchester United have been quite good since Bruno Fernandes has joined them.
But I still feel that Liverpool and Manchester City are too far ahead of them. They will, once again, go up against one another for the Premier League trophy.
I do believe, though, that the gap between them and the rest will be smaller than before. That is primarily because Chelsea and United have improved, but also because Liverpool and Manchester City will not be able to reach and/or maintain their freakishly high standards for yet another season.
The fact that it’s going to be the most congested and hectic football season ever also adds to that. The likelihood of perfection (or something close to that) seems implausible considering the circumstances. Chances of injuries and deviations will be sky-high. And we all know how an injury to a key player can derail a whole title defence/challenge. Just ask Aymeric Laporte and Pep Guardiola. Liverpool fans will be praying Virgil van Dijk and their front three do not suffer from the same fate.
For these reasons, I do not expect either Liverpool or Manchester City to break the 95-point barrier. In my opinion, whichever team breaks the 90-point mark will win the next Premier League title.