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Pep Guardiola will hate being right about Liverpool as Manchester United prove his point

Liverpool’s drop-off is unfortunately unmatched, but Pep Guardiola is enduring an uncharacteristically tough campaign too, having just lost to Manchester United.


For Liverpool supporters, Saturday’s woe extended beyond the confines of the Amex Stadium in Brighton.


Before watching their team produce one of the poorest performances of the Jürgen Klopp era, they had seen Manchester United reach new heights under Erik ten Hag with a 2-1 derby victory over Manchester City.


Jack Grealish had put the visitors in front on the hour, but two goals in the space of four minutes from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford turned the game on its head and gave Manchester United a landmark victory.


The result was a dual blow for Liverpool fans.


At the simplest level, their nemesis had prevailed and established itself as a title contender by moving within a point of Manchester City and extending its winning streak in all competitions to nine. Overall, Manchester United has taken victory from 16 of its last 19 matches — the form of a genuine challenger.


But on another level, it will hurt to see Manchester City go from robotic to fallible. In 2018/19 and 2021/22, Pep Guardiola’s side amassed a combined 191 points, beating Liverpool by one on both occasions. But for the unstoppable Cityzens, Klopp’s men would be three-time Premier League champions by now.


It’s only now that Liverpool has collapsed that Manchester City has regressed. The reigning champion is five points worse off than it was at this stage last season (44 versus 39) and with less than half of the campaign elapsed, it has already lost as many games (three). That the Reds are not there to capitalize is a source of considerable anguish.


Why is it, then, that Guardiola’s side might be struggling, relative at least to its previous benchmarks?


One theory revolves around Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has been a phenomenon in terms of goalscoring, netting 27 goals in 24 appearances and 21 in 17 in the league, but Manchester City has been forced to abandon the striker-less system that brought it so much success. It was, in some respects, Guardiola’s footballing dream.


But there’s another possible explanation too — Manchester City may be missing Liverpool. The threat posed by Klopp’s side in 2018/19 and 2021/22 might just have brought out the best in it.


Arsenal has been exceptional this season, dropping points in just three of its first 17 matches, and that should have been enough to drive Guardiola and his men. But while nobody associated at the club would say this, perhaps, at a subconscious level, they haven’t taken them quite as seriously as they did Liverpool.


After all, this was an Arsenal side that finished down in fifth last season and boasts the youngest squad in the division, along with the youngest manager. With so little experience, the silent assumption has long been that it will fall away. Maybe Manchester City have needed convincing that the threat is real.



Throughout the heyday of the Guardiola and Klopp rivalry, we heard that the two teams had pushed each other to new heights, and now we’re seeing further evidence of that.


“We would not achieve what we have without Liverpool,” Guardiola told Sky Sports prior to the dramatic final day of the 2021/22 season that saw Manchester City come from two down to beat Aston Villa and win the title.


“We have our opponent who brings you to the limits, otherwise complacency arrives.”


Guardiola spotted the danger of his side becoming complacent, and perhaps this is a big part of the reason why Manchester City has failed to assert dominance following the downfall of its biggest rival, culminating in the recent loss to Manchester United. It expected a much easier ride.


On the other side of things, this season feels like a massive missed opportunity for Liverpool. With adequate investment, the title was there for the taking. As it is, Klopp and his players would do well to salvage even a top-four finish from here.



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