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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Liverpool and Manchester City a fitting finale to epic era

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Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone and as we catch our breath from another absorbing game between Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, it’s with sadness we realise that, in the Premier League at least, there will not be another time.

The two best Premier League managers of their era embraced at the full-time whistle at Anfield on Sunday, a moment of mutual respect between two coaches who have tested and pushed one another to their limits.

Manchester City have been the dominant force of the modern Premier League, perhaps setting a standard we have not seen before. Without the perennial threat from down the East Lancs Road, however, it’s unlikely the Citizens would have scaled such heights.

Fixtures between the teams have been the most compelling clashes on English football’s calendar in recent seasons, with no shortage of moments that have been etched into the fabric of the Premier League.

Sunday’s showdown was played with the stakes suitably high, amid the backdrop of an engrossing Premier League title race and an atmospheric Anfield. Just a point separated the teams in the table ahead of kick-off, while Arsenal’s involvement has added another intriguing sub-plot to the season’s narrative. The Gunners moved top of the table on goal difference on Saturday evening, ahead of a contest on Merseyside where the victors would replace them at the summit.

As it was, there was no winner, perhaps only the neutral in the context of the campaign.

Manchester City appeared to have the early advantage. The team sheets revealed no Ibrahima Konate, Andy Robertson, or Mohamed Salah from the start for Liverpool, in addition to the confirmed absence of Alisson in goal.

In place of the three defensive options were Caoimhín Kelleher, Jarell Quansah and Conor Bradley, whose combined experience equated to 20 league starts between them. The Citizens, boosted by the recent returns of John Stones, Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, won the toss to turn Liverpool around, the hosts forced to attack their preferred Kop End in the opening 45 minutes.

The early exchanges saw Manchester City operate with cool in the red-hot cauldron of noise, appearing confident, composed and a threat. Liverpool, second-best, struggled to retain possession early on, forced into direct balls that almost immediately came back.

An opening goal arrived from a set-piece, as John Stones bundled in Kevin De Bruyne’s corner kick. Pep Guardiola turned with a nod of approval to set-piece coach Carlos Vicens, the brain behind a routine that caught Liverpool sleeping at the near post.

John Stones delivering the goods from an exquisite @KevinDeBruyne corner! 🫡 pic.twitter.com/mxoWbix6dg

— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 10, 2024

Stones celebrated on the advertising hoardings in what appeared a huge moment for the champions, but City were unable to build on that advantage as Liverpool came back into the contest.

The second half, in particular, represented a red siege on the visitor’s goal, with the atmosphere increasing as Darwin Nunez took a tumble under Ederson’s clumsy challenge inside the area. Penalty given, Alexis Mac Allister slammed home to level for Liverpool.

Clinical from the spot. Great pen, @alemacallister 👌 pic.twitter.com/OeMIMvRqZu

— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 10, 2024

From there, it was an onslaught. Luis Diaz squandered the best chances for Liverpool, tormenting the Citizens with his endeavour but lacking the final touch in crucial moments. Nunez came closest to a winner for the home side, who fed off the energy inside the famous old ground, as substitute goalkeeper Stefan Ortega sprawled to stop from point-blank range.

City were not without threat and were inches from winning the contest as Jeremy Doku fired low against Kelleher’s post, while there was a brief match-up between the titans as Erling Haaland ran unopposed one-against-one against Virgil van Dijk.

Doku was then involved in late drama as he caught Mac Allister inside the area with a high boot. 100% a penalty was Klopp’s assessment at full-time. VAR disagreed.

As the full-time whistle blew it concluded a compelling clash, neither side overly disappointed with the end result. Liverpool will feel they could, and should, have won this, while Manchester City will be relieved to walk away with a point after a below-par showing in the second half.

In essence, it was a game that typified the traits of this rivalry. Manchester City were composed and in control in the opening exchanges, before the Reds ran over their opponents after the break, unsettling the champions as perhaps only they have in recent seasons.

Though not directly again, these sides are set to battle it out across the run-in with the Premier League title as the end goal. Jurgen Klopp is targeting four trophies and a dream departure from Liverpool, while Manchester City have no intention of allowing their grip on the division to slip. Arsenal, meanwhile, sit above both sides right now.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have gone head-to-head 30 times across all competitions:

1⃣2⃣ wins for Klopp, 1⃣1⃣ for Pep 🤝

A rivalry that will be missed… 🥹 pic.twitter.com/2dfOARCagr

— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) March 10, 2024

Whatever the outcome, the rivalry between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will hold a special place in the tale of the Premier League. The Last Dance proved a fitting finale to a rivalry that has defined an era.

Read – Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

See more – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 28

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