This is a titanic clash among not only two of the Premier League’s best teams, but two of the most dynamic and tactically brilliant managers.
Both Guardiola and Klopp have such clear and distinct philosophies; you know exactly how they will send their teams out. And they’ve assembled their squads to these ends as well, making sure they are as best positioned as possible to play the way they want to play.
So what would happen if they swapped teams? What would happen if, this weekend, Pep Guardiola was forced to manage Liverpool whilst Jurgen Klopp had to take control of Manchester City? Squawka has had a look and come up with what we think would be the two teams put out:
Orchestral Rock n’ Roll
Klopp’s Manchester City would be quite a sight to see because, thanks to City’s summer spending spree they have a few players who would actually fit in quite well with Klopp’s fast-paced style of football. The energy required to play Kloppball is quite president at the Etihad.
Ederson plays in goal, although knowing Klopp’s attitude towards goalkeepers he’d probably bring Claudio Bravo back into proceedings at some point. Meanwhile Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy are the unquestioned choices at full-back; their athletic dynamism key to helping Klopp’s City explode from back to front in that oh so typical manner. Both players are also well-suited to playing a pressing system.
The in middle of defence, Vincent Kompany starts (because of course he does) and Eliaquim Mangala comes out of exile to start. Klopp’s love of defenders that can win individual duels and be physically dominant will see him eschew John Stones and Nico Otamendi.
In midfield Fernandinho still holds whilst ahead of him Ilkay Gundogan and David Silva complete the trio. On paper this is a very Guardiola line-up, but it would play so differently with Fernandinho and Gundogan providing an incredible amount of box-to-box energy (Gundogan has done this before for Klopp when the pair were together at Borussia Dortmund).
David Silva, meanwhile, is this side’s Coutinho. About a year ago, Klopp said: “I like David Silva. I like his style of play,” before adding: “he’s everywhere and so skilled and he has such a good attitude.” Given this admiration he would surely feature Silva, and the Spaniard has the skill to dominate.
In attack, Gabriel Jesus would play on the left and Leroy Sané on the right. Two inverted wingers who cut infield with tremendous pace and decisive intent. Their raids are into space vacated by Kevin De Bruyne playing in a false nine role.
Sergio Aguero is nothing like the kind of striker Klopp plays and whilst he’d definitely keep him around, like Daniel Sturridge has at Anfield, he’d see his role dramatically reduced. De Bruyne, meanwhile, has played false nine before and has the tactical intelligence and skill on the ball to thrive there. He would pull deep and then link with Silva to thread balls through to the wingers flooding infield.
Pass n’ Move it’s the Liverpool Groove
Pep Guardiola taking charge of Liverpool would be a much greater challenge given the relative weakness of the squad when compared to that at the Etihad. But there are certainly enough quality players to form a very Guardiola type of side.
The lack of truly dynamic full-backs would see Pep switch to a back three, using Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren either side of Joe Gomez. The young Gomez would be the defensive anchor, acting as a sweeper whilst the much more expansive Matip and Lovren stepped up into midfield to begin attack (Karius gets the nod over Mignolet as his passing skill would help with this).
Out wide it’s a double-barrelled bonanza: on the right Trent Alexander-Arnold plays wing-back whilst on the left it’s new boy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The former Arsenal man wants to play centrally but his skill-set (excellent dribbling and not much else) lends itself to playing as a wing-back, offering tactical width and helping move the ball up the pitch.
Alexander-Arnold fits the Guardiola profile almost perfectly, given that he began life as a central midfielder so has the skill-set needed to keep Pep’s Liverpool in good possession of the ball by linking with Georginio Wijnaldum and Coutinho as centre-midfielders. Wijnaldum would be the athletic box-to-box presence, providing energy and defensive cover whilst Coutinho is the team’s creative hub.
Attacks begin at the back but they all flow through the Brazilian, who Pep would feature and protect. Ahead of them, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino play in the half-space as inside forwards. Firmino would drop deep to link with Coutinho and Alexander-Arnold, forming the core of Liverpool’s possession machine (the true heart of any Guardiola side) on their “strong side.”
Meanwhile on the left, Mohamed Salah would play primarily off the ball, starting deep and making dangerous runs into spaces. He would be a constant direct option for Liverpool’s “strong side” enabling quick transitions and the switch-of-play.
In attack Sadio Mané has free reign to do pretty much what he wants. An excellent defensive presence, he would lead the Liverpool press. When the Reds have the ball he could drop deep to involve in play, even carrying the ball if he needs to, before spinning out and making the same kind of deadly runs that Salah is making – but obviously into different spaces so Liverpool have multiple options.
Who would win?
Jurgen Klopp has beaten Pep Guardiola more times than he’s lost (5 wins to Pep’s 4 with one draw) but this record is misleading. One of Klopp’s wins was on penalties and another was Pep’s first ever competitive game in charge of Bayern (the 2013 DFL Supercup). Klopp has won just two of the six league meetings between them and one of those was a dead rubber after Bayern had secured the Title. And when they met in the German Cup final Pep’s side won then there too.
But Klopp’s City would undoubtedly play with a kind of direct energy that could threaten to overwhelm Guardiola’s Liverpool. Gabriel Jesus coming off the left would be particularly troubling but with Trent Alexander-Arnold dropping back he would help cover that threat. Moreover City’s physical defenders would struggle to cope with the whirling mass of movement that was Guardiola’s Reds.
Under Guardiola’s instruction, Liverpool would compress play too well with their Coutinho-Alexander-Arnold-Firmino triangle and expand it too rapidly with Mané and Salah, for City to be able to cope. Especially as Kompany and Mangala are the kind of defenders who look good for 90% of the game and inexplicably terrible for the rest of it, and under Klopp that would only be magnified.
City would press high and try to expose the defensive weakness, but the extra central defender acting as a sweeper (Joe Gomez) would be the insurance that Lovren and Matip need to play their expansive passing games and bypass this press; and once you beat the Klopp press you can gut his side due to the relative open amounts of space left behind them.
With Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva on the bench, Jurgen Klopp would have much better options to change things in the second half, but by then the game could already have been lost. One thing’s certain, there would definitely be lots of goals.
Verdict: Guardiola’s Liverpool 4-3 Klopp’s Manchester City