Even after the round of 16 in the English League Cup between Manchester City and Liverpool, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp were still dueling for the ball. Klopp grabbed the one who was close to him after the final whistle – whereupon Guardiola hit the ball with him took the following hug out of his hand. The City trainer immediately passed him on to his staff, so that even Klopp – the specialist when it comes to making up immediately after losing the ball – could no longer reach him.
Like very few teams in world football, the teams of Guardiola and Klopp stand for claiming the ball permanently. So when City and Liverpool meet, there are always two teams in attack mode – because one wants to have the ball all the time and the other wants to put it into the goal immediately. So far, this has always resulted in breathtakingly fast football, in which neither the players nor the spectators have the opportunity to rest for a moment.
Such a Halligalli could now be observed again in City’s 3: 2 (1: 1) against Liverpool in the League Cup. There was a constant back and forth between the penalty areas, with even Manchester midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, known for his endurance, falling back onto the pitch after the final whistle to regain his strength. Not only the Belgian had run out of breath, the game had demanded everything from many other players. The likes to be hearty as Klopp called it a ‘spectacular’ game – who could disagree? The newspaper TheTelegraph Definitely not, the ultra-conservative paper celebrated the “exhilarating, eventful, high-quality” match, in which “the shreds flew” again this time.
In fact, it didn’t even take 20 seconds for the first chance to score. However, even very good opportunities later found it difficult to make it into match reports because there were simply too many of them. The five goals alone – with two equalizers for Liverpool before Nathan Aké secured City’s victory (3:2/58.) – were of the finest sort. That was particularly true of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw through Mo Salah, resulting from a remarkable outside-kick pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had previously moved four opponents down the center line.
The line-up already showed how important the success was for City and its coach. While Guardiola ordered defender Aké into the starting eleven, Klopp rested his defensive organizer Virgil van Dijk – although both Aké and van Dijk returned from the World Cup at the same time after the quarter-finals with the Netherlands a week and a half ago. But Guardiola had recently lost three games in a row against Liverpool and had been waiting for a win against Klopp for five games. The last one so far was from February 2021.
Many players seemed to be really enjoying being able to attack again to their heart’s content
By eliminating defending champions Liverpool, City has at least adjusted the hierarchy in the League Cup. City have also been strong in this competition recently – which cannot be said of the Champions League, which the club really wants to win for the first time. Guardiola won the domestic cup, named after a cheap drink, four times in a row with City from 2018 to 2021, and he has not lifted any other trophy more often in his coaching career. And a fifth triumph is now not unlikely, in the quarter-finals it goes to Southampton FC.
England heralded the return of club football after the World Cup with the roar of the Liverpool City Cup match just before Christmas. In Qatar, mainly pragmatic coaches and their teams drew attention to themselves. This was represented by the four World Cup semi-finalists (Argentina, France, Croatia, Morocco), who impressed with a style of play based on defensive control. Their plan was based on defending far behind and relying mainly on counterattacks with a strong collective. This turning away from offensive pressing, which can often be seen in Qatar, is certainly also due to the fact that many teams have now become so good on the ball that they can combine their forces from behind even when under intense pressure. However, Guardiola and Klopp, who can be classified as idealists, resist the defensive trend. The result was obvious in the cup: offensive actions abound on both sides, because the exceptional players of both clubs can hardly be stopped as soon as the opponent’s forechecking is overturned.
Which trend is continuing now? In addition to the concepts of the coaches, it is primarily the players who decide on this. Even in the World Cup final, they seemed to free themselves from all tactical constraints as the game went on. Now City’s and Liverpool’s performances indicated that many players were really enjoying being back in the game with their eyes wide open.
On the island they can now do this without a break: from the restart of the Premier League on “Boxing Day” (December 26th) until January 5th football will be played in England every day. The ball will only rest on Thursday, December 29th.