Jamie Carragher has got people talking ahead of Liverpool’s trip to the Etihad to play Manchester City in a crunch Premier League match on Sunday afternoon. In his newspaper column Carragher has claimed Liverpool v Man City is “the greatest, most intense and highest quality rivalry in English football history”. That is quite some claim – and it is also incorrect.
“This is the first time the two best teams in England are the two best teams in the world, led by the two greatest coaches of their generation,” Carragher writes for The Telegraph. It is a compelling argument, especially as we gear up for what promises to be a massive game in the Premier League title race this weekend.
His argument has been helped by agreement from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “Yes! The consistency both teams have shown over the period is crazy,” he said when asked about Carragher’s take in his pre-match press conference. “We know it’s tough. What has changed in the four years is everybody else thinks it’s tough.”
Asked whether each team brings out the best in one another, he added: “Probably. If you play professional football at the highest level, the focus is on your games. In sport, I think what helps the most is a strong opponent. In the long term, especially. I think [Rafael] Nadal and [Roger] Federer enjoyed the rivalry they had. That’s how it is in sport. I wouldn’t say I’m thankful City is that good, but it didn’t harm our development.”
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“Many will claim that the fixtures overseen by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger at their peak were of similar quality and packed just as much of an emotional punch,” Carragher writes in his article, before dismissing the claim, due to the fact it didn’t extend into European competition.
But, as Ferguson and Wenger – and Jose Mourinho – have shown, rivalry can be enhanced through the words and actions of managers. An antagonising quote here, a touchline spat there or an argument over transfers can help keep the flame burning.
Arguably to their credit, Klopp and Guardiola have never engaged in such underhand tactics. Instead they have often spoken admirably about each other and gone out of their way to keep relations cordial between the two clubs.
“He wants to win and I want to win but when it is finished the game is over, it is done. He is my colleague and after my career I want to have a good relationship with all the managers. We are not close every day in touch but the relationship has to be there,” Guardiola said of Klopp in July 2020. “There are many people watching us and we represent our clubs and with the amount of press conferences we do every week we are an important image for our clubs. We have to show this for the benefit of the institution, in this case Manchester City.”
Klopp has spoken in a similar vein about Guardiola on several occasions. They are both examples of professionalism. They are, as Carragher writes, two of the best coaches of their generation. And they are in charge of the two best teams in the world. But the lack of edge to their relationship means they will never challenge for the title of the Premier League’s biggest rivalry.