Klopp, Guardiola set for Premier League last dance with title at stake

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola face off for the final time in the Premier League on Sunday with the title on the line for two coaches who have defined an era in English football.

Klopp’s Liverpool lead Guardiola’s Manchester City by one point in the latest title tussle between the two clubs since the inspirational managers arrived in the north-west.

The Reds’ first league crown for 30 years in 2020 is the only blip in City’s record of five titles in the past six years.

But twice Guardiola’s men have won by a solitary point against a Liverpool team who both times amassed more than 90 points.

Klopp is leaving Liverpool at the end of the season and champions City can expect an emotion-fuelled cauldron at Anfield, where even Guardiola has not won in front of fans.

City’s only away league win against Liverpool since 2003 came three years ago behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

Despite working with a smaller budget at Liverpool and previously Borussia Dortmund, compared with the backing Guardiola has enjoyed at City and Bayern Munich, Klopp has the better personal head-to-head record.

The German has 12 wins to Guardiola’s 11, with six draws in 29 meetings between the pair.

But despite having the edge, Klopp hailed Guardiola as the standout coach of his generation.

“In my lifetime he’s the outstanding manager, definitely,” Klopp said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.

“In this moment I have a positive record against Pep,” he added. “I have no clue how that happened to be honest but it is all fine.

“I know I’m quite good at what I’m doing as well. I don’t want to sound like somebody who is happy to be here but you ask me about the best and for me he is the best.”

– Heavy metal v symphony orchestra –

With contrasting styles, both coaches have rewritten the record books to set new standards in the Premier League.

Six of the nine highest points tallies in Premier League history have come from Liverpool and City over the past six years.

Klopp once described his football as “heavy metal” and his high-energy, pressing game has blended perfectly with the Liverpool support to make Anfield a bear pit for visiting sides.

By contrast, Guardiola’s attention to detail has turned City into a finely tuned symphony orchestra, where the collective system rules.

Liverpool have lost only one home league game in front of a crowd since 2017.

The Reds will need to feed off the fizzing Anfield atmosphere if they are to end City’s 20-match unbeaten run and they are boosted by the return of key players in time for the title run-in.

Mohamed Salah made his return from a hamstring injury off the bench in Thursday’s 5-1 thrashing of Sparta Prague.

Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai, both recently returned from injury, were on target in the Czech capital.

However, Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Diogo Jota are among those who are still sidelined.

Alexander-Arnold riled City this week by claiming Liverpool’s trophies won under Klopp “meant more” than Guardiola’s due to Abu Dhabi-backed City’s deep pockets.

Star striker Erling Haaland hit back, boasting about City’s treble triumph of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup last season and they remain on track to repeat that incredible feat.

City’s next two league games, on Sunday and at home to third-placed Arsenal on March 31, will go a long way towards deciding the title race.

One more restless night lies ahead for Guardiola, who admitted he will “sleep better” once Klopp leaves as facing his side caused the Catalan “nightmares”.

Their rivalry is rooted more deeply in respect than rancour, but for two managers not accustomed to losing, victory on Sunday will hold special significance.


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