Football, like comedy, is often all about timing. You can have the best material in the world, but if the execution is not correct or the environment is not conducive, then it will be difficult to produce a satisfying pay-off.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have certainly had no problems with the former in the Premier League, accruing a total in excess of 90 points for the third time in four seasons.
The problem, though, is they have achieved it during the era of Pep Guardiola being in charge of Manchester City, an alliance that, since the Catalan took a season to come to grips with English football, has routinely made the most of the obvious advantages offered at the Etihad.
MOMENTS MISSED: Mohamed Salah receives unwanted Liverpool message as Alisson Becker left fuming
PAUL GORST: What Wolves fans sang at Anfield shows they’re missing the point about Liverpool
READ MORE: Micah Richards complains about Man City treatment and makes ‘ridiculous’ Liverpool claim
In terms of timing, it could not have been worse for Liverpool having waited for nearly three decades to finally merit comparison with the Reds teams of glory days past.
Klopp metaphorically shrugged his shoulders when, shortly after once again missing out on the title on Sunday, he was asked if Liverpool would have won more championships during his tenure had City not been so dominant.
“It’s not unlikely but it’s not a thing I have in my mind at the moment,” came the response from the Reds boss. “If you hadn’t asked then I wouldn’t say these kind of things.”
City midfielder Riyad Mahrez was a bit more to the point. “Liverpool are a mad team, they are a superb team,” he said. “I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here they wouldn’t have won everything every year. ”
Mahrez is not wrong, even if hate is putting it too strongly. The flip side, however, is if it were not for Liverpool, City would have strolled to five straight titles. Opposing fans will never agree, but the Premier League owes much to Klopp and his players for ensuring the product – at the top end, at least – remains marketable.
But winning titles is now no longer enough for Guardiola and his players, it would appear.
Witness the words of former City defender and now television pundit Micah Richards. “Right now it feels like Liverpool get all the love,” he said. “The accepted narrative in many parts of the media is not only that Jurgen Klopp’s side play better and more exciting football, but that they have also achieved their success the ‘right’ way, supposedly without spending much money.
“City, I keep listening and reading, are boring to watch and have bought their titles. Apparently, anyone could do what my old team have done and it’s ‘bad’ for football.”
That’s too simplistic a take. Anybody who finds City boring to watch clearly does not appreciate top players coached by a top manager in a style intent only on winning. Instead, if anything is tedious to the neutral observer, it’s that City are so overwhelmingly successful in that approach. There is rarely any jeopardy to their game, which is what made their recent comebacks against West Ham United and Aston Villa so unusual and, dare it be said, exciting.
The far more hectic play – if nowhere near as much so as earlier in Klopp’s tenure – of Liverpool means that is not always the case for the Reds. Despite having lost only three times in 62 matches this season, many games have stood precariously in the balance for a significant amount of time.
But ex-professionals aren’t soft. There’s a reason so many without any Anfield affiliations have an affection for Klopp’s team. They would very much want the City medals regularly accrue, but there’s a sense they’d find more exhilarating, more fun playing for this vintage Reds. Plus, of course, there is the Anfield factor itself, which can never be understated.
Ultimately, though, when it comes to team sports – especially one as tribal as football – nobody loves serial winners. The Liverpool team of the 1970s and 80s, Manchester United in the 1990s and 2000s, the Arsenal and Chelsea purple patches in the Premier League era, they were all greatly admired and – sometimes grudgingly – respected. But loved? Only by the supporters of those clubs.
While Liverpool are hardly paupers, that their riches have been accrued more organically compared to the new money at City is another factor why any neutrals – an increasingly rare phenomenon in this day and age – may be minded to lean towards the Reds. Newcastle United will have the same issue in the coming seasons.
Then there is the fact Liverpool’s successes have often been rooted in initial failure. Narrative is an overused concept, but does apply in this case. The enormous and questioned financial backing at City – alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play are still being investigated by the Premier League in a case that started in March 2019 – means, by definition, their triumphs are in some way to be expected. They haven’t had to suffer to get them – although City fans who put up with their 1990s nadir may well argue they’d been hurt more than enough already.
But true rivalry, a real deep-rooted dislike, does not form overnight. Having admitted he was wrong to suggest everyone wanted Liverpool to win the title, Guardiola was given further proof of his mistake by anti-Reds chants from Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea fans on Sunday, along with a mischievously misguided tweet from Everton striker Richarlison. Certainly, there were few if any fans in the stadium outside Anfield cheering Liverpool’s goals.
Human nature suggests people always want more. But for all their desire to be greater accepted, City players will surely not have any issue consoling themselves with the many winners’ medals they have gained in recent years.
Liverpool will just have to grin and bear it for now, dust themselves down and turn their attention to attempting to win a seventh European Cup, a trophy still out of reach for Guardiola’s men. With two cups already in the bag, victory in Paris would confirm this as one of the greatest seasons in the club’s history.
And although Klopp is right to believe a settled Chelsea, an improving Tottenham Hotspur under Antonio Conte and Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United will all have a much bigger say in the title race, this season’s top two will once again be the teams to beat when the Premier League reconvenes in August.
But no matter what happens, this Manchester City side will probably never be loved. Just like most people won’t want Liverpool to ever win anything. That’s no joke – that’s just football.