Man City vs Liverpool: Ability to repeat Sir Alex Ferguson feat has separated Pep Guardiola & Jurgen Klopp
Pep Guardiola could win a fifth Premier League crown this season, while Jurgen Klopp has just one triumph with Liverpool - we look at one of the major reasons why.
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“We’ll solve our problems here,” a relaxed yet defiant Jurgen Klopp declared in October, not long after Liverpool had dropped points at home to Brighton & Hove Albion. At the time, the Reds were still reeling from an uncharacteristically slow start to the campaign which, after seven league matches, had seen them fall 11 points behind the early pace-setters Arsenal.
Most presumed the side who went so close to completing a quadruple at the end of the previous season, would bounce back and reduce that gap to the league summit. Yet, fast forward six months and the chasm between Liverpool and Mikel Arteta’s Gunners has stretched to 27 points - and counting.
In the early months of the campaign, Sadio Mane’s departure to Bayern Munich and Darwin Nunez’s mixed beginnings were cited as the main reasons behind Liverpool’s underwhelming start. “I totally respect that,” Klopp explained, when asked about Mane’s decision to leave Anfield. “Missing him? Yes - but I’m happy too that he’s where he wanted to be. We’ll solve our problems here.”
Since then, Cody Gakpo has also been added to a forward line which will be soon depleted by the summer exit of Roberto Firmino. The beginnings of brand-new Liverpool are forming… slowly.
“The challenge for us with all the changes we have made now and over the next years is to replace a sensational player or formation or whatever,” Klopp said earlier this month, high on confidence following Liverpool’s 7-0 victory over Manchester United.
“I really think the boys we have brought in really have their own specific skill set and we have to adapt as a team slightly: the way we play, the way we set it up, these kinds of things. But they all have the potential to be really outstanding and that’s why we brought them in.”
Klopp, of course, isn’t the only elite Premier League manager who has seen a radical overhaul of his attacking options in recent times, and on Saturday, Klopp will come face to face with the man who has demonstrated how best to subtly freshen a squad. Pep Guardiola allowed key attackers Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling to leave the Etihad just 12 months on from Sergio Aguero’s decision to join Barcelona, yet he could still come out on top in this season’s title race.
That’s despite Manchester City dramatically altering their style this term from a striker-less model to one which is becoming increasingly based around maximising Erling Haaland’s prestigious talents. Julian Alvarez also arrived to bolster Guardiola’s attacking resources last summer and the City boss has managed to adapt the team’s style and integrate new players while maintaining trophy ambitions in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
It’s a feat Klopp has not managed to replicate this season, and Guardiola’s old adversary will begin April with just a top-four race left to occupy his thoughts. The German is rightly considered one of Premier League’s greatest-ever managers, but an inability to revitalise this Liverpool squad is perhaps the biggest criticism which can be levelled against his time on Merseyside.
That Joe Gomez, James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Firmino are still prominent figures in the Liverpool squad offers an insight into why the club are not competing with England’s elite this season. Indeed, when Liverpool head to the Etihad on Saturday it may see the biggest gap in quality between the sides since 2017.
Liverpool have made a habit of travelling to the Etihad as City’s main competitors - it’s less than three years since the recently crowned champions were given a guard of honour as they entered the pitch. From that 2020 meeting in Manchester, only 10 of the players involved remain in Guardiola’s squad, in comparison to 15 who are still at Kopp’s disposal.
It was often cited that Sir Alex Ferguson, the godfather when it comes to claiming Premier League titles, habitually demonstrated a ruthless nature when deciding yo replenish his squad. It’s a quality Guardiola has grasped but Klopp still can’t quite get the knack of, despite outspending the ex-Barcelona boss in recent years.
Admittedly, other factors have impacted Liverpool this season, such as injuries, the form of key players, tactical alterations and an erosion of the ‘mentality monsters’ sense of self-belief which imbued performances for so many years.
Last April, Liverpool came to the Etihad as City’s main title challengers, and the shared points that afternoon gave the Blues a platform from which they went on to claim top spot once again. Liverpool could return for a renewed title charge next season, especially with Nunez and Gakpo given time to acclimatise to Premier League football, but if Klopp wants to challenge once again for the biggest prize in English football, he made need to replicate the transfer policies which have led to ceaseless silverware in East Manchester.