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Pep’s winning the wars in spite of VAR

Hate is such a definitive term, an all encompassing emotion with no leeway for misinterpretation, no turning back from a position of hostility or a lust for revenge. It burns hot and it runs deep. It’s not a laudable sentiment, but it’s one of which we are all capable.

Depending on the level of enmity between two parties, such vehement passions can be diluted. Maybe it’s just a strong dislike, utter contempt or an entrenched disrespect, but whatever it is between Manchester City and Liverpool, it’s there for all to see.

Whether it be the hierarchies at the Etihad or Anfield, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, the players or the supporters, it’s pretty damn obvious there is no love lost.

When asked if the present day rivalry with Liverpool was becoming toxic, Pep replied: “I don’t think so, not from our side, I’m pretty sure of that.”

Now into his seventh season in English football, Pep is an astute operator when fielding questions from a media eager to make mischief and pander to the wants and desires of viewers, listeners and readers of differing red persuasions.

Exceptions to the anti-City narrative are few and far between. All too often, Martin Samuel stands alone as a paragon of perspective. It helps that he’s also the best sportswriter in the country.

With last Sunday’s clash at Anfield approaching, Klopp did as Klopp does, peddling propaganda and lies about City being able to spend what they want with impunity, whereas little old Liverpool could not compete.

In the aftermath of City’s controversial 1-0 loss, Samuel – a West Ham fan – was the only national journalist with the balls to call Klopp out, categorically stating the German was wrong.

Samuel’s factual analysis was further bolstered by TalkShite/TalkSport – delete as applicable – who examined the transfer net spends of the ‘Big Six’ clubs since 2018. United were the biggest (£545.3m), Arsenal (£440.38m), Chelsea (£383.02m), Spurs (£331.45m), Liverpool (£216.61m) and City, the lowest (£203.9m) (Source: an independent sport media outlet).

Klopp’s claptrap doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for anyone prepared to look beyond the idiocy that he tries to pass off as facts. As to why he feels compelled to perpetuate the malicious falsehoods that City can do as they please without any financial constraints is anybody’s guess.

Perhaps he believes it enhances his achievements when Liverpool win or gives him an excuse when they don’t? Whichever it might be it’s petty and unbecoming – rather like the man himself.

Pep is on record crediting Klopp’s Liverpool as the toughest opponents he has faced in his entire managerial career, more so than Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, during his days at Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively.

Liverpool are undoubtedly City’s principal adversaries. They pushed Pep’s team to the dizzy heights of having to amass 98 and 93 points to clinch the title by a single point in both 2019 and 2022.

All too often City lose their way at Anfield, but all too often those losses are tainted by controversy.

In the wake of Phil Foden’s ‘goal’ being disallowed after the intervention of VAR, Bernardo Silva quite reasonably observed; “What we expect from referees is consistency. When you go through a path of not whistling little contacts, you need to keep those decisions and keep going that way. If you want to whistle all of them, whistle all of them.”

Perhaps Pep didn’t quite get City’s tactics right or the players didn’t execute the game plan as well as they might, but the decision to chalk off City’s lead saw a huge swing in momentum, fuelling the febrile atmosphere.

When asked about referee Anthony Taylor’s decision to inexplicably go with VAR official Darren England’s call, Pep replied with three words that said it all: “This is Anfield.”

Off the pitch there was claim and counter claim from both sides; Liverpool accused City fans of ‘vile chants’ – claims which were suitably ambiguous and not independently substantiated. The City bench, specifically Guardiola, were targeted by coins thrown by home supporters and the team bus was attacked again, albeit media coverage placed huge emphasis on it being an alleged attack.

Regrettably such conflicts and conduct are increasingly the norm nowadays. It’s a sorry state of affairs as hostilities escalate. Under the American ownership of FSG, Liverpool continues to be a prime mover in seeking to undermine City. They’re forever at the front of the queue pushing for UEFA or the Premier League to sanction City in whatever way they can, always conniving with the old guard cabal of self protectionists who resent City gate-crashing the party.

Klopp’s mutterings and insinuations about state-owned clubs with limitless budgets (clearly aimed at City, Newcastle United and PSG, all with Arabic owners) leave a bad taste. If it’s a calculated ploy it’s cynical. If he actually believes the garbage he spouts it’s unfathomable.

Times change, but certain attitudes to City over the past 12 years haven’t. If anything, because of City’s success, they’ve become even more malevolent.

When this particular City blog was launched the Read But Never Red colour reference was squarely focused on the time-honoured – but post Sheikh Mansour investment – newly intensified, rivalry with Fergie’s bunch, courtesy of the 2011 FA Cup semi final and Sergio’s 93:20 heroics.

The red half of Merseyside wasn’t on the radar. They were irrelevant. One could – at a stretch – speculate there may have been some truth in the adage ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, when United were the all-conquering force. If there ever was a scintilla of substance to such a scenario between City and Liverpool supporters, it’s long since been eviscerated.

Klopp and Guardiola’s teams have clashed on 18 occasions in England. The German has eight victories to the Catalan’s five, with five draws.

Klopp may have won more head-to-head battles, but when it comes to winning the 'wars' Pep has four Premier League titles to Jurgen’s one and that's what really sticks in Liverpool’s craw.

By David Walker

Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

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