Just over a decade ago, the Champions League created a new “3rd rivalry” for Liverpool and their supporters. Following getting drawn together (entirely coincidental, not suspicious at all) for five consecutive seasons in the semi-finals, quarter-finals and even once in the group stage, Chelsea soon became public enemy number 3 on Merseyside after the traditional foes of United and Everton.
Gradually, since Benitez’s departure, as well as the exits of the rivalry’s founding fathers such as Terry and Gerrard, a trip to Stamford Bridge has merely become about the 3 points and league position, rather than bragging rights or a deeper cause of good versus evil.
Over the last year, that rivalry has been replaced by a new superpower of English, European and world football. Just like it was 13 years ago, Manchester City have soared up the league following huge sums of cash injections and big-name purchases. They will soon likely break the record that Mourinho’s Chelsea themselves set in 04/05 of most points in a season (95). And just like Chelsea did in Mourinho’s maiden campaign, they will have the chance to secure the title on the weekend in between a first and second leg against Liverpool.
Despite all these parallels, this newly-found rivalry is not emerging from former AC Milan and Real Madrid has-beens in suits, consistently pulling out the two sides’ names in draws in Nyon and Monaco. Rather, this derby comes from nothing more than football itself. Regardless of whether you see it as “Liverpool v Manchester City” or “Manchester City v Liverpool”, this is a footballing derby.
The sides’ 1-1 meeting in Mancland last year proved to be one of the games of the season. End to end football and chances galore for 90 minutes in a game that should’ve finished 4-4. It was a sign of what was to come for this year. City have gone on to have the greatest season ever by a Premier League team while Liverpool have gone from being a good football team to a seriously good football team, with both sides seemingly only improving in this second-half of the season.
Jon Moss, rightly or wrongly robbed viewers of another classic this season. Sadio Mane’s departure for an execution attempt via flying guillotine on Ederson meant that it was January before the North West Clasico took place again. This time Liverpool shocked the country, but perhaps not themselves by smashing Man City, before the Mancunians proved that even at 4-1 down they could embody Brazil 1970 and score at will. It came too late though, and the footballing world now awaits the next instalment of the best series since The Wire.
“The past is history and the future is a mystery”, but there is a serious chance that Liverpool become City’s main challenger over the coming seasons. With Chelsea facing the challenge of Europa League football, a new managerial regime and internal unrest, Tottenham seemingly content with European football and not financially doped enough to sustain a title push, while United are damned by perennially high expectations. Liverpool are on a trajectory in City’s direction. Perhaps not quite at the 100 point mark that City might, in fact, reach this season, but rather the 85 point mark, desperately waiting for the season that City run into problems. Or alternatively, the season that Dubai runs out of oil.
Wednesday sees the first part of a tie that no matter what the outcome proves to be, will be remembered for years to come. Klopp v Guardiola, Attack v Attack, the city of Liverpool v the city of Manchester, the Kop v the Colin Bell End. There’s a respect in between the two sides and the two managers that wasn’t there in the noughties with Chelsea and Liverpool. Ultimately both sides are aiming to achieve similar things with similar on-the-pitch methods. Although the clubs’ cultures and off-the-pitch dealings are still worlds apart.
Liverpool – Sold out Anfield for their Legends game
Man City – Can't sell out their Champions League 2nd leg game pic.twitter.com/qI8YdbJEBU
— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) March 28, 2018
Liverpool’s relatively modest spending of the last decade coupled with it being their first season back in the knockout stage of the tournament in 9 years leaves them with little pressure going into Wednesday night. A place in next year’s competition looks more and more secure with Chelsea’s ambitious attempt to finish below Arsenal taking another step forward this weekend. It’s a bit of a free hit for Liverpool as they take on the favourites to lift “Ol’ Big Ears” in Kiev on May 27th. With all omens looking good for the coming years, Liverpool supporters should be confident they’ll be back at this stage many times over the coming years. Jurgen Klopp’s squad will improve in both personnel and play, year on year. All in an attempt to catch the high-flying Manchester blues.
However, the past is history and tomorrow’s a mystery. That semi final in 04/05 was a bit of a free hit too…
All the best.