NOT since Vincent Kompany headed a corner kick past David de Gea a decade ago has a single Premier League fixture mattered so much. Just one point separates Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the table and so with only eight fixtures of the 2021/22 season left to play the outcome of Sunday’s clash is likely to have a bearing on whose hands the Premier League trophy ends up in.
Of course, this won’t be the first time these two teams have met each other with plenty on the line in recent times. City’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in January 2019 played a role in Pep Guardiola’s side holding off a Liverpool team finished second with an unprecedented 97 points. Liverpool’s 3-0 win over City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2018 made clear Jurgen Klopp’s team could compete, and beat, any opponent.
However, Sunday’s match will have a greater influence on the outcome of a whole season than any other meeting between City and Liverpool. The former have won 17 of their last 20 Premier League fixtures while the latter have won 10-in-a-row. Whoever wins this weekend will fancy their chances of sprinting all the way to the finish line. They might never relinquish their advantage.
City and Liverpool’s rivalry has already defined an era of the Premier League having shared the last four titles between them. Guardiola and Klopp have built simultaneous dynasties in the north west and there’s no sign of their combined dominance of English football coming to an end any time soon.
Their rivalry has become the most captivating Premier League rivalry since the heyday of the Arsenal-Manchester United rivalry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There might not be the animosity between Guardiola and Klopp that there was between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, but the competition between the two teams they have built is just as fierce.
Most possession in the first half of a Premier League game since 2016/17:
◉ 78.9% – Man City vs Burnley
◎ 73.5% – Man City vs Swansea
◎ 71.1% – Man City vs Bournemouth
Domination. 👀 pic.twitter.com/075fChPrQv
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 2, 2022
Just as there was between Ferguson’s United and Wenger’s Arsenal, there is a contrast in approach between City and Liverpool. While Guardiola favours control, Klopp embraces chaos. Manchester City pass teams to death. Liverpool, on the other hand, run them into the ground, bursting into space at every possible opportunity.
Not so long ago, City had the advantage over Liverpool in terms of squad depth, and Guardiola certainly still has various options to rotate and cover injuries. However, Liverpool can now match their rivals for depth with Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota recently added to an attacking pool that already included Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
A Liverpool right-back delivering an inch-perfect cross to produce a goal? Sounds familiar, but this time it's Joe Gomez 👊
Diogo Jota gets the opener against Watford at Anfield! pic.twitter.com/jF4Q0Zoufa
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 2, 2022
The January signing of Diaz in particular has given Liverpool another dimension with the Colombian winger having settled in immediately. Klopp has a decision to make ahead of Sunday – should he deploy Diaz on the left and Mane through the middle or keep Mane out wide and use Jota for his aerial threat and poaching instincts as a number nine?
Sunday’s match could be decided by what happens out of possession and much as what happens in possession. Guardiola has used Phil Foden to great effect as a high-pressing central attacker this season (see the away victory over Chelsea back in September) and it’s possible City could push up the pitch to force Liverpool into mistakes.
This approach would come with its own risks for Manchester City. Liverpool are among the best at beating a high-press with Virgil van Dijk an exceptional long-passer and so it’s possible such a strategy would leave Guardiola’s team open to quick transitions, where the likes of Mane and Salah are most devastating.
It took the rest of English football years to catch up Arsenal and Manchester United and there’s a sense City and Liverpool’s advantage at the top of the Premier League is just as substantial. Sunday might produce a defining moment in the rivalry between the two clubs, but don’t count against there being more meetings of similar stakes to come.