Why the rivalry between Manchester City and Liverpool is unique in the Premier League era

Premier League fans, this is your call to action — take a moment to sit back and enjoy every time Liverpool play Manchester City, you’re probably witnessing the highest quality standard of football since the league’s inception 30 years ago. 

Liverpool did well to close the gap on City last season, and although 93 points wasn’t enough to prise the title from the Etihad outfit, who were initially favourites with Premier League winner betting odds and defending champions, it just goes to show how high the bar has been set. Excellence and almost perfection is required to win the league — a season defined by small margins rather than bitter rivalry. Despite the 2-2 draw in Manchester proving to be a turning point in the title race, you never felt it carried the bad blood you’d expect from an occasion with so much residing on it. 

A cold night at Anfield fuelled the fire of the rivalry though — Liverpool ending City’s hopes of an invincible season in January 2018 with a 4-3 win, with Jürgen Klopp’s side then dumping the favourites for the Champions League out of the competition with a dominant 5-1 aggregate win later that season.

Those European nights, which included a 3-0 home win for the Reds, were perhaps overshadowed by Liverpool fans smashing the City coach with bottles. The game was essentially won before a ball was kicked due to the intimidating Anfield atmosphere, but domestically the players have never reciprocated that same anger or hatred as we’ve seen from rivals in years gone by. 

It’s obvious there is mutual respect between the two sides. Klopp and Guardiola have assembled sides that will go down in the history books, and many of the players appear on talking terms based on their interactions. Take the relationship between Virgil Van Dijk and Kevin De Bruyne for example. The two have been seen partying and the Belgian has said the two speak regularly.

“I know Virgil, me and Virgil see each other a lot,” he said. “Our children go to the same school and they like to play together, so it was just a friendly chat”.

Even the respect between managers, who frequently call each other the best in the world is apparent to the neutral fan, as is the friendship between ex-players — İlkay Gündoğan worked with Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Thiago at Bayern Munich with Guardiola. 

The modern era has made great strides in moving away from that hatred and necessity to lunge into tackles and be separated in the tunnels, but not at the expense of passion or will to win. It’s more healthy competition than a fight to the death. 

While Pep Guardiola’s side have had the bragging rights in terms of domestic titles, Liverpool have prevented the league from becoming as one sided as we saw in 2017-18, City’s maiden title under their Spanish manager now dubbed ‘The Centurions’ for reaching 100 points on the final day of the season. Liverpool then racked up 197 points over the next two years, coming short in the league as City retained the title in 2019 before winning it themselves 12 months later, ending their long wait for a Premier League trophy.

Indeed, Klopp’s team were made to wait for the title, they picked up European silverware en route, something that has always eluded City. Liverpool won the 2019 Champions League as well as a Super Cup and Club World Cup as part of a memorable year on Merseyside, and as we embark on a new season —littered with fresh faces in Darwin Núñez and Erling Haaland — it will be interesting to see if City can make it an unprecedented Premier League hattrick or Liverpool’s new look attack can fire them to a 20th title. 

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Stevie Flavio
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