LIVERPOOL, England – There are more slaps and hugs between players than flying pizzas and tunnels when Liverpool face Manchester City, but while that game lacks the hostility and belligerence of the old Manchester United-Arsenal clashes, the sheer quality is that Shown during the game, Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Anfield has shown that the rivalry is as intense as it was when Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s greatest teams faced each other two decades ago.
For many, nothing will ever coincide with the sense of opportunity and needle that has characterized most of those United-Arsenal encounters between 1998 and 2004, when the two clubs together won seven Premier League titles.
But nostalgia has a habit of making everything look like it used to be better, and immediately dismissing everything the present has to offer as bad imitations.
And while these games of yesteryear evoke memories of great goals and moments from legendary players like Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, recent Liverpool and City history has its own catalog of memorable contributions made at Anfield when Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne scored sensational goals.
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Salah’s performance in particular was the greatest the league has ever seen. With his back to the goal, the Egyptian international picked up the ball just outside the City penalty area, then escaped the attention of several defenders and turned Aymeric Laporte to shoot past Ederson from an acute angle.
“Only the best players in the world score such goals,” said Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp. “It was the first touch, the first challenge he wins, then he turns and puts it on his right foot to end the pull like he did. Absolutely extraordinary.”
The goal restored Liverpool’s lead after Foden’s clean finish ruined Mane’s opener created by yet another Salah run. Anfield was alive when the home fans sensed another win against the champions, but De Bruyne’s finish after a quick city break earned Pep Guardiola’s side some of the points. “” I love the Premier League, “said the city manager afterwards.” Congratulations Liverpool and their players. That’s why both teams have been fighting for victory in the Premier League in recent years. “
The quality shown at both ends of the pitch went beyond the four goals in the second half. In the Liverpool goal, for example, Alisson Becker showed the kind of saves Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman once put down for United and Arsenal, respectively.
Meanwhile, Rodris was denying a late blockade, which looked sure to be a Fabinho winner for Liverpool; It was a fitting moment to top off a personal duel that showed that while development of the game did away with the physical confrontations that marked the battles of Keane and Vieira, there is still room for the tough and tough in any modern day rivalry there are cynical challenges.
Yes, Liverpool and City are yet to degenerate into the post-game buffet to be thrown between rival players, as was the case when United defeated Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2004. And it’s true, Klopp and Guardiola hugged at the end of this game as opposed to fleeting handshakes a la Ferguson and Wenger, but this game has become the fixture that is stopping the clock in the Premier League.
It’s the first to do this for a long time in a while. Manchester club rivalry sparked by Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of City in 2008 has waned with City’s dominance since Ferguson’s resignation in 2013, but Guardiola’s team have traded blows with Klopp’s Liverpool for four intense years.
Since the start of the 2017/18 season, the two teams have faced each other twelve times in all competitions, and this latest result means that each team has scored four wins with four draws in that time. In addition, the occasions have always been of crucial importance.
In January 2018, Liverpool’s epic 4-3 league win at Anfield Road was followed three months later by a seismic Champions League quarter-final triumph for Klopp’s men. City, for its part, has accumulated 5-0 and 4-0 successes on the way to winning three of the last four English titles; Liverpool won the other.
The two sides have been inches apart for many years. In 2018-19, when the John Stones clearance was crucial to a pivotal win in the city when the teams clashed, Liverpool accumulated 97 points and finished second, one point behind Guardiola and Co.
Rivalries are shaped by personalities and storylines, but City v Liverpool intensity isn’t dismissed for lack of bad blood. Both teams have players who can rival those from the United-Arsenal era, while Guardiola and Klopp are just as important to their clubs as Ferguson and Wenger.
City’s possession game might not have a center-forward to add the finishing touches to their great build-up, but they still scored stunning goals through Foden and De Bruyne. And Liverpool, while pushed back for much of the game, showed their razor-sharp edge as it struck through Mane and Salah.
When history judges this era, it will be measured by the trophies won. City has claimed everything domestically under Guardiola – multiple times – while Klopp has made Liverpool the champions of England, Europe and the world.
Seven games in this Premier League season there is again little to choose from; this vibrant game indicated that both sides would be fighting for the title again next May, as well as everything else.