Liverpool, Manchester City and the beginning of a beautiful rivalry
English football has been missing a great rivalry for a sustained period of time now, barring historic hatred between local adversaries across the country.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Think about it, when can you last remember there being a genuine battle at the top of the table, with competitiveness and needle between two clubs?
Throughout history we have seen memorable tussles come to the fore, particularly during the more tribal Premier League era. It was all about Manchester United and Arsenal in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger seemed to loathe one another and matches between the pair were more box office than Jason Statham’s latest travesty of a movie.
You didn’t have to be a fan of either to love watching their showdowns — in fact, it was easy to detest both — and it was a rivalry that ebbed and flowed thrillingly for around half a decade.
The same applied to Liverpool’s mid-2000s conflict with Chelsea, which was full of animosity between two very contrasting clubs. It was Rafa Benitez vs Jose Mourinho; Steven Gerrard vs Frank Lampard; Jamie Carragher vs John Terry; north vs south; history vs new money.
Although the two were never going toe-to-toe for the Premier League title, it was a legendary rivalry nonetheless, with several Champions League matches going down as all-time European classics. The Blues also had their own little spell at loggerheads with Manchester United, at a time when they were far and away England’s two most imposing sides.
‘Noisy Neighbours’ Manchester City came along and cranked up the intensity with their old foes across the city, culminating in Sergio Aguero scoring arguably the most famous goal in English league history, against QPR in 2012.
The two Manchester clubs have never liked each other for obvious reasons, but that period felt particularly fierce and still lingers today, without question. The current gulf in class is perhaps the biggest thing from preventing it from exploding into life once again.
Over the last five years, however, there has been nothing of note to rival these previous match-ups, with titles generally won at a canter and the ‘top six’ creating a collective rivalry more than anything.
City clinched it at Liverpool’s expense in 2013/14, but there was no rivalry as such, and they cruised to the title last season, as did Chelsea in both 2014/15 and 2016/17.
Meanwhile, Leicester City’s remarkable triumph a couple of years ago saw them cheered on by the masses, with no direct adversary in sight.
For the first time since the peak of the Manchester teams doing battle with one another, a new rivalry is threatening to burst into life: Liverpool and City.
Pep Guardiola is masterminding something special at the Etihad and there is no question that they are the standout side in the country. Liverpool, meanwhile, have started the season like a house on fire and it does feel as though these two great ball-playing sides will be locking horns more than anyone across all competitions this season.
Last year was a sign of what is to come, with the Reds proving to be City’s kryptonite, ending their uneaten Premier League run in January before eliminating them from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
Equally, City’s 5-0 thrashing of Jurgen Klopp’s men was a galling experience for the Merseysiders, even though Sadio Mane’s first-half sending off changed the game.
Liverpool feel like the only team in England who can consistently match the reigning champions on their day, and their summer spending suggests they will find another gear this season.
One thing that should be stressed is that this emerging rivalry is not one riddled with animosity, much as some supporters from either side are doing their best to make it that way. There is a respect there and history had seen no bad blood in the slightest, with almost a mutual admiration at their respective dislike for United.
Klopp and Guardiola are on good terms and always have been, often lauding each other’s playing style and handling themselves with class.
There are no on-pitch duels to match the hatred that existed between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, or the oneupmanship of Gerrard vs Lampard. These are simply two top sides who could be primed to battle with one another for titles over the next several years.
United will never fully go away, regardless of their manager and whatever nonsense goes on behind the scenes, while Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are all capable of being in the mix on their day.
There is just a feeling about Liverpool and City, though, in what could be the most aesthetically-pleasing rivalry that we have seen in the Premier League.
It could be the Roger Federer vs Rafa Nadal of football, in terms of two likeable outfits — the other top sides may say otherwise — serving up a constant stream of entertainment.
Should Liverpool get closer to City in the league, we may start seeing the relationship turn a little more sour as the pressure increases, but that remains to be seen. The Premier League needs another special rivalry and these two giants of English football are ready to provide it.
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