A fitting finale? The rivalry that has dominated English football

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s rivalry has both dominated and changed English football.

The Liverpool manager and his Manchester City counterpart have fought out epic title battles – and their Premier League rivalry could be set for a fitting final chapter on Sunday.

That’s when leaders Liverpool host Manchester City, with the victors set to be top with 10 games to go, while a draw could open the door for third-placed Arsenal instead.

But a lot of the headlines around the game will rightly focus on what could be the last act of a respectful contest for supremacy that started 11 years ago in Germany.

Guardiola may not be planning on going anywhere soon – but Klopp stunned the football world when he announced in January he is leaving Liverpool at the end of the season.

The two managers have differing, defined, hugely successful styles – Guardiola’s City pass teams to death while Klopp’s Liverpool prefer a high-energy pressing game.

BBC Sport has a look at the pair’s rivalry.

The title races

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's league positions in England

Klopp’s Liverpool are all that have stood in the way of City securing an unprecedented six consecutive English titles – winning the 2019-20 Premier League.

Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015, replacing the sacked Brendan Rodgers, and declared “if I sit here in four years, I am pretty confident we will have one title”.

It may have taken him four and a half years – but it ended a 30-year wait for Liverpool and cemented his legendary place at Anfield.

Nine months after Klopp’s English move, about 35 miles down the road, Guardiola popped up at Etihad Stadium.

They finished third in the first year but won five of the next six titles.

But it is not just the fact they have won all those titles between them, it is the manner of the title races.

In 2018-19, Liverpool picked up the fourth highest amount of points in English top-flight history (factoring olden days tables into three points for a win)… and did not win the league.

City picked up 98 points to Liverpool’s 97. The pair pushed each other to new heights, knowing neither team could afford to slip up, with their rivals unlikely to do so.

Liverpool ended the season on a nine-game winning run, but City ended with 14 in a row. The lead changed hands 32 times that season.

And 2021-22 produced the second most thrilling final-day in Premier League title history (only behind Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winner to give City the title ahead of Manchester United).

Liverpool scored twice in the final six minutes to beat Wolves 3-1 and champions City bagged three after the 75th minute to beat Aston Villa 3-2.

Had City dropped points, Liverpool would have won the title – but as it happened, Liverpool’s quadruple dreams were over.

Both bosses have won every trophy up for grabs – the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, Community Shield, Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup.

Whatever happens on Sunday, Klopp will leave England with the direct head-to-head advantage – winning eight of their 21 meetings to Guardiola’s six.

City managed more goals in those games though – 38-33 – thanks to a couple of big wins.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's trophies in England

A respectful rivalry

For such an enduring rivalry it has been a friendly one – with few of the refused handshakes or touchline bust-up antics that came with Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, or Wenger and Jose Mourinho, or Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

Including their time in Germany, the pair have lost against the other more than against any other manager (10 wins for Guardiola, 11 wins for Klopp).

In fact, after their last league meeting, a 1-1 draw at the Etihad in November, Klopp pulled his striker Darwin Nunez away from Guardiola as the Spanish-speaking pair were having an argument.

“I love them both and so I tried to calm the situation down,” said Klopp. “I was absolutely not involved, surprisingly.

“I didn’t understand a word. It was emotion. Pep wants to win, we want to win. Both didn’t win so obviously nobody was really happy and these things can happen.”

The pair frequently praise each other in news conferences and interviews.

Countless times over the years, Klopp has referred to Guardiola as the best manager in the world.

“Pep and I are not best friends because we don’t know each other but I respect him a lot and I know he respects what we are doing as well. For a rivalry, we don’t need to be disrespectful,” the German said.

Guardiola, meanwhile, said in 2021 “his teams helped me to become a better manager”.

“He put me at another level, to think about it and to prove myself to be a better manager, to try to beat them,” the Catalan said.

“That is the reason why I am still in this business. Some managers – and Jurgen is one of them – challenge you to make a step forward.”

Guardiola, when he was Barcelona boss, was engaged in a bitter rivalry with Real Madrid boss Mourinho for some years.

But he said: “Jurgen, as a manager, has been the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career.

“The point is not a jibe to Jose. He is an exciting manager and I was his rival but I’ve played many more times against Liverpool.”

A rivalry which began in Germany… but where could it end?

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp

The pair also had two seasons together in Germany – managing Der Klassiker arch-rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

While Guardiola was still at Barcelona, Klopp was in charge of Dortmund and led them to the Bundesliga title in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Remarkably they remain the last two seasons that Bayern have not won the league – although that run is set to end this season with Bayern 10 points behind Bayer Leverkusen, who are managed funnily enough by Xabi Alonso – the favourite to replace Klopp as Liverpool boss.

Guardiola’s first game as Bayern boss in July 2013 was against Klopp in the German Super Cup, with Borussia Dortmund winning 4-2.

However, Bayern would go on to run away with the Bundesliga title and beat Dortmund in the German Cup final. A year later Klopp stepped down after a seventh-placed finish.

So where could their next meeting be?

Well, with both sides still in the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage, they could face off again at Wembley. Manchester City host Newcastle and Liverpool are at Manchester United in the last eight.

After that, though, and it is anyone’s guess.

Klopp has already said he will never manage in England again – and that he intends to have a year off in 2024-25.

The bookmakers reckon his most likely next job will be as Germany manager.

Guardiola has another season left on his City contract at the end of this one and has hinted he will stay on beyond that.

The former Spain midfielder has said he would like to manage an international team one day, with Brazil and England among the nations he has been linked to.

So could their next meeting be at the 2028 World Cup in North America?

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's head to head record in England

Classic meetings between the two

Liverpool 4-3 Man City, Premier League, 14 January 2018

Manchester City’s hopes of an unbeaten Premier League season were ended in game 23 by their rivals.

Three goals in the space of nine second-half minutes put Liverpool 4-1 up and in total control before a late City comeback fell just short.

It was 1-1 at the break with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain putting the Reds ahead before Leroy Sane’s leveller.

But Liverpool’s fab three up front – Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah – all netted between the 59th and 68th minute.

Bernardo Silva struck with 84 minutes on the clock and Ilkay Gundogan’s injury-time goal set up a nervy finale – but City could not find an equaliser.

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