Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has claimed the whole country is behind Liverpool during the recent outburst but the next time he finds himself in this situation he will have to think twice.
Pep Guardiola made Manchester City the dominant force in English football and they are within easy reach of another century of Premier League goals.
But the next time he’s tempted to complain that everyone beyond the Etihad wants Liverpool to win the title, he needs a history lesson. First, let’s distribute the praise where it’s due.
City will be worthy champions, for the fourth time in five years, if they take four points from their last two games. They play good football. After the heartbreak of their Champions League semi-final loss to Real Madrid, they responded to doubters who thought the hangover would spill over into the title race with 10 goals against Newcastle and Wolves.
If it’s a wobble, I’d hate to play City at full throttle. And if they scored six goals in their last two games, against West Ham and Aston Villa, it would be their third Premier League goalscoring century in the past five seasons. In their last 188 league games, Guardiola’s free spirits have scored 483 goals. That’s what I call entertainment. In December, when they first overtook Chelsea at the top, I said City would win the title – and I’m not changing my mind.
But Pep’s little dig about everyone wanting Liverpool to beat them for the title was pointless – and I’m not sure I agree with him. For starters, every Manchester United fan would probably prefer City to be champions before Liverpool’s level of 20-title draw. But, look, Liverpool Football Club is an international institution with a huge global following. When they play exhibition friendlies anywhere on the planet, from the Far East to Australia and the United States, they perform in a sea of red.
This is not adulation based on winning a Premier League title in 30 years, as Guardiola observed. It goes back through the generations, to 18 previous titles – 13 of them won in 26 years under Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. Oh, and they’ve won the European Cup six times – six times more than City, although I remain convinced that Pep will clinch the Holy Grail of the Champions League with City sooner or later.
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Success on such a colossal scale organically builds a fan base, both on Merseyside and beyond. In England, I’d say only United have a comparable – if not slightly larger – fan base across the world, based on the exploits of Sir Matt Busby and almost 25 years laden with silverware under Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s human nature to try and knock the best dogs off their perches. After Liverpool dominated the 1970s and 1980s, Fergie arrived and ruled the roost for two decades.
Now, if City win four titles in five years, they will be established as the dominant force. It’s a bit like billiards. When I was growing up, Steve Davis was the top dog and looked unbeatable when he won six world titles. Then Stephen Hendry came along and won seven, and now Ronnie O’Sullivan is the dominant force at the Crucible. Success tends to be cyclical, and I suspect that in 10 or 15 years the cast of TV pundits will reflect City’s dominance.
After United’s long reign at the top, Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand are now voices of authority on television. In a few years, I’m sure Micah Richards will be joined by a regular cast of former City legends in the studio. It will be a sign of their dominating influence on the pitch now. So relax, Pep. Your team is one of the best we have ever seen, not everyone wants Liverpool to win the title and not everyone wants a procession where a team wins it by 20 points every year. Competition is healthy in football. And don’t forget that football wasn’t invented in 1992 when the Premier League was born – Liverpool’s history was the richest of all before then.
As for Liverpool, to dominate English football they must win cups galore – as City have done over the past decade. I imagine Klopp will complete an FA Cup-League Cup double against Chelsea at Wembley, simply because they have the momentum and their permutations are deeper. Chelsea are often at their best when underdogs – like the 2012 and 2021 Champions League finals – but there’s a lot going on in the background at Stamford Bridge.
The takeover saga, lingering doubts over Romelu Lukaku’s £97.5m spot in the starting XI (although three goals in his last two games will have done him no harm) and form uneven – especially at home – do not cry stability. But while the wuadruple, which would make Klopp’s squad the biggest ever in Britain, is a possibility, Liverpool have to go for it. Even if the title eludes them, three cuts would still make this a memorable season by any stretch of the imagination. It will be close, and all three previous meetings this season have been draws, but if anyone wants to win the FA Cup final, you have to love Liverpool.