Pep Guardiola believes Liverpool are the greatest opponents of his career and has compared Manchester City’s rivalry with Jürgen Klopp’s side to some of sport’s finest in history, including Ali-Frazier and Nadal-Federer-Djokovic, as the two teams prepare for Sunday’s Premier League title showdown.
The reigning champions and league leaders are just a point ahead of Liverpool as Klopp’s challengers arrive at the Etihad. In the past four seasons the title has been claimed by the two clubs – City winning three and Liverpool one.
Guardiola was asked how long the rivalry can continue and if it was comparable to those of the heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in the 1970s and of the tennis players Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the last two decades. “Yeah – goal Nadal, Federer and [Novak] Djokovic was 20 years and we are five years,” he said of the rivalries’ durations.
“Footballers run quicker and so to maintain success is more difficult than other sports. When I retire and watch and play golf I will remember the biggest rivalry was with Liverpool. When you achieve 100 points and 98 points [the tally in two of City’s title-winning seasons] you need someone to push from behind, to be so close. You have to make another step.”
Guardiola added: “The most credit I give is for consistency through the years. Both City and Liverpool have had four or five years [at the top]. That’s why Federer, Nadal, Djokovic have been at the top for so long – consistency.”
Klopp’s successes with Borussia Dortmund when Guardiola was at Bayern Munich mean the German has more victories against City’s manager than anyone else has, but he has none since November 2019. Guardiola, who also managed Barcelona for four years, insisted that he has always thrived on rivalries. “Real Madrid made Barcelona better,” he said. “Dortmund with Jürgen and [then Thomas] Tuchel. Here, Man United and Chelsea change their managers but Liverpool and Jürgen have always been here.”
Despite the high stakes of Sunday’s contest Guardiola will be relaxed, joking that the 4.30pm kick-off potentially clashes with coverage of Tiger Woods playing in the Masters. “I sleep like a baby this year,” City’s manager said. “I’m looking forward to Sunday … tomorrow [Saturday] would be better – I’m a little bit upset with the Premier League because they put the game when Tiger Woods is back.”
Guardiola also aimed for a good-humored jibe at Klopp when asked if the German might be asked for a post-match drink. “If we win I’d love it – I’ll invite him,” he said. “Jürgen makes world football a better place to live. His message, and he’s a huge competitor. He knows, we spoke together in Germany, about my admiration for what he does, the message and the way his teams play. He’s a good guy and I don’t have any problems with him, absolutely not. And he’s said many times that we’re a rich club so the wine will be perfect, high quality.”
Guardiola had earlier brushed off being described as the world’s best coach by Klopp. “I’m not, thank you so much, but I’m not,” he said. “I would like to tell him I’m the best, but I’m not. If we had success it is because of my staff, incredible teams, a lot of money – like our opponents like to hear – and a lot of work and talented players. Still I have the process of learning, and I became a manager to be on the pitch [only].”
He was also asked about a report linking him with the Brazil job. “Not today, come on. I’m under contract here, I’m so happy here. I’m willing to stay for ever here,” Guardiola said. “I’d extend the contract 10 years – I don’t know where it’s come from.”
Despite Liverpool needing to win to top the table, City will not play for a draw. “To get 0-0, never, never in my life I thought about this,” he said.