Pep Guardiola was asked which side posed the biggest threat to his side’s hopes of going one better in Man City’s pursuit of winning an elusive maiden European Cup back in February, speaking after his side’s 5-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League round of 16. Inevitably, he did not have to look too far to find his answer.
“Liverpool. They are six points behind us. Liverpool are the biggest rivals in the past seasons. Always there, ”he said. “They are a pain in the ** e all the time.”
With Jurgen Klopp’s side preparing for a third Champions League final in five years, the Man City boss has certainly been proven right in the past three months, having seen his side knocked out by Real Madrid in the semi-finals at the start of the month . And not just in Europe but in the Premier League too, with Liverpool cementing their place as City’s biggest rivals again this year.
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After the Reds’ win over Southampton on Tuesday night took the Premier League title-race to the final day of the season, with Liverpool just a point behind Man City, they are, once again, ‘always there’. But if they are a pain in Guardiola’s a ** e, then Klopp certainly knows that feeling for himself.
For the second time in four years the Reds head into the final day just a point behind Man City. For the second time in four years, they host Wolves knowing they need to win while hoping for dropped City points if they are to snatch the Premier League title. And for the second time in four years, whatever the outcome of the title-race, they have to go again, this time less than a week later, in the Champions League final as potential double disappointment or the perfect pick me up stares back at them.
This has been the most extraordinary of seasons for the Reds as they chase an unprecedented quadruple. Having already clinched a domestic cup double, they are just 10 days away from potentially achieving the previously impossible.
Of course, for that to happen then the stars have to align at both Anfield and the Etihad on Sunday, with Man City taking on Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa – a side containing both Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings. But they know it’s more in hope than expectation as they long for favors from former friends.
Having missed out on the title by just a point in 2018/19, finishing on 97 points after losing just one game, Liverpool know that 93 points might not be enough for the title this year. If not for City, Klopp’s side would have won so much more. Guardiola’s men are a pain in the a ** e.
It was painful missing out on the title by such a small margin in 2019, especially after recording the club’s best ever league season, but the Reds picked themselves up to win the Champions League final and paper over their domestic disappointment. A year later, they ended their 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England.
There was so much riding on that 2019 showdown with Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid following that league loss as Klopp looked to deliver on his promise to turn doubters into believers once and for all. Now, four years on, Liverpool fans still believe that, against the odds, an unprecedented quadruple could be on.
Yet despite this deja vu, the feeling is rather different now than in 2019. At the time supporters were desperate just to win that maiden Premier League title. To touch it, to smell it, to taste it. The thought of missing out by a solitary point again would have been too much to bear.
But that could now be their reality in 2022, after goals from Takumi Minamino and Joel Matip saw them beat Southampton to close the gap once again. Yet if the gap remains one point come the final whistle on Sunday, rather than bemoan falling short in such circumstances yet again, Reds will shrug it off and go again.
They know their efforts this season prove they’ll be fighting for the title again next season. Guardiola knows they will come for him again.
Having been as far back as 14 points in January, the Reds’ resurgence in the second half of the season has been superb. Whatever the outcome from hereon in, be it a double, treble or quadruple-winning season, their supporters can be proud of Klopp’s side efforts and excited for the future.
They have the chance to finish the season in style with a seventh European Cup win in Paris on May 28 of course, as they look for revenge against Real Madrid. But first they will try to be a pain in Guardiola’s a ** e once more on Sunday.
They are always there.