Closing a chapter of one of football’s great rivalries: Klopp and Pep to again fittingly duel out the final battle for EPL honours


It’s beginning to feel like a movie we’ve all seen before.

Two months ago, Manchester City were teetering; flirting with the idea of not genuinely contending for the Premier League title.

Arsenal had emerged as the title frontrunner, and even Tottenham felt like a genuine contender.

But here we are again. Spurs have settled into the somewhere between fourth and tenth position they spend 90 per cent of their existence in, Arsenal are in third, like they usually are when they aren’t seventh, and Manchester City and Liverpool are in the top two places.

City is two points behind but with a game in hand. It seems Pep Guardiola might be about to do it again.

With Jurgen Klopp recently announcing his decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the season, it became immediately apparent that one of football’s greatest modern coaching rivalries is soon to come to a close, at least in the form we know it.

These two have fought multiple title races to the death, and let’s hope we have another such finish to this one.

This rivalry truly kicked off, ironically enough, in the Champions League.

In 2017/2018, Manchester City finished on 100 points in the EPL; the first team to ever reach three figures.

They were 19 clear of Manchester United in second place, and 25 ahead of Liverpool in fourth, back when the top four was a reasonable achievement for the Reds.

However, Liverpool somehow managed to thrash City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League that year, bringing back memories of Chelsea knocking Arsenal out of the same competition during their supposed ‘invincibles’ year. Liverpool were nowhere near City overall, but they sent a warning signal.

The very next season we probably had the greatest title race we’ve ever seen. With 13 games remaining in City’s EPL season, they had 59 points. Of the remaining 39, they collected all 39 – and they needed them.

One slip-up from Liverpool in the last two months was enough to give City a look-in, and they won it again; 98 points to 97. This gave City a domestic quadruple of titles, which was nothing short of extraordinary.

This Klopp and Pep “omo iya mii” handshake is very cute and funny ????????

— FEMI ???????? |???? (@belafeid_) April 10, 2022

Liverpool exacted some COVID-affected revenge the next season, cruising to the title, falling one point short of triple figures themselves, but having won 26 of their first 27 games.

The next three EPL titles have gone to City, but not without yet another extraordinary challenge in the 2021/22 season, with Liverpool again finishing just one agonising point behind.

Klopp’s ability to inspire his teams to push unrelentingly to the very end is outmatched only, it seems, by Pep’s ability to withstand any assault in the closing games of a season.

Their head-to-head record is just as close. In 28 meetings as managers, which includes their days managing against each other in the Bundesliga, Klopp has 12 wins to Pep’s 11. Their head-to-head in the EPL sees Pep with five wins and Klopp with four from 14 encounters.

It seems disrespectful to suggest much of Klopp’s career has been a ’not-quite’ affair, but that is the unfortunate reality.

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp celebrates with the FA Cup in 2022. (Photo by Michael Regan – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Four Champions League finals for one victory and one Premier League trophy since joining Liverpool (and mountains of other achievements) feel like an unjust loot for one of the modern game’s genuinely brilliant managers.

Is it Klopp’s fault 92 and 97 points weren’t enough to win EPL titles? In almost every other season in history, and Klopp gets both of those.

His losses in UCL finals have twice come as a severe underdog: once at Borussia Dortmund and once at Liverpool.

Both his Liverpool losses have been to Real Madrid; the club most synonymous with scratching the European dreams of their rivals. Simply put, Klopp has not been lucky.

But he has a chance to go out a winner. In some ways, he has history on his side. Arsenal don’t get it done in title races anymore, and Villa and Spurs surely won’t really be able to challenge.

Then there’s City, aiming to be the first team ever to be champions of England four years running. That seems like a massive hurdle to jump. Of course, if there’s one man who can jump it, we know it’s Pep.

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It seems certain this title race will be intriguing right to the end, and even if it does turn out to just be a two-horse race when Klopp and Pep are atop those horses, it’s always a memorable shootout.

Let’s enjoy this last encounter, it’s going to be fantastic.

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