Grandmaster Guardiola makes his point

In the build-up to Sunday’s match, Juergen Klopp said: “I really think the most important job of football is entertaining the people.” I agree. Liverpool–Manchester City was intriguing but it would be a stretch to call it entertaining.

That was a bit of a surprise since one of the most used phrases among pundits ahead of the game was, “there will be goals”. A reasonable assumption, given the attacking talent that both sides have, but the managers opted for a defensive masterclass instead.

Klopp also referred to Pep Guardiola as the best manager in the world; again I find myself in agreement. Liverpool’s boss isn’t far behind.

Indeed, the draw means that Klopp still leads in the head-to-head battle between the two, starting from their time together in the German Bundesliga. Klopp vs Guardiola has now become the defining managerial rivalry in the Premier League, reminiscent of Ferguson vs Wenger but with less animosity.

Liverpool and Manchester City have become reflections of the style and personalities of their managers – making Manchester United’s lack of identity under Mourinho stand out all the more starkly.

Klopp prefers a tracksuit and bounces around on the touchline like an overenthusiastic physical education teacher. Guardiola always appears as though he’s just strolled out of the pages of Armani’s fall/winter collection catalogue.

He’s a similarly intense presence at the side of the pitch though.

It’s easy to imagine Klopp as a boxing trainer, screaming through the ropes for his fighter to attack and be aggressive. His football philosophy involves pressing the other side into submission, wearing them down with relentless physicality.

Liverpool aim to put opponents on the ropes as early as possible and keep them there.

With Guardiola, I’m more inclined to imagine him hunched over a chessboard, rapidly calculating ten moves ahead. The Spaniard is said to be a great admirer of chess champion Magnus Carlsen and has sought to apply lessons from the chessboard to how he approaches football matches.

These lessons include the importance of controlling the centre of the pitch (just as experts seek control of the centre of the board in chess), the need for different pieces of the team to work together, and the notion of creating overloads that will leave the opponent vulnerable defensively.

Guardiola is more tactically flexible than Klopp and it’s an issue that the latter needs to address if this Liverpool side are to fulfil their undoubted potential. The Reds also require more creativity in midfield – they have no one in there with the class of David Silva or the still absent Kevin De Bruyne.

It was City that created the few chances we witnessed in Sunday’s game – the goalkeepers had an easier job than a lifeguard at an empty swimming pool (I think I probably could have played in goal for either side).

Alisson Becker didn’t even have to make a save from Mahrez’s penalty. It was a woeful spot-kick and reminded me of Chris Waddle’s penalty miss for England in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shoot-out against Germany.

Waddle’s ball is believed to still be in orbit; Mahrez’s may have caused an issue for local air traffic control.

The most surprising aspect of the entire game was the fact that it was Mahrez who was given the responsibility of taking the penalty. His penalty record is very average and he looked incredibly nervous as he placed the ball.

It appeared to be an improvised, on-the-spot decision as to who the City taker would be; a rare instance perhaps of Guardiola not planning ten steps ahead.

Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ciwilkie

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