The German remains adamant that his Manchester City counterpart remains the No.1 manager in football but he is now on the same level as the Catalan
The symbolism will be strong on Thursday evening.
As Liverpool’s players take to the field at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City’s will line up to welcome them – a round of applause and a show of respect for the newly crowned Premier League champions.
For Pep Guardiola, it will be a humbling moment. His sides are usually the ones receiving the ‘guard of honour’, after all.
“We are going to do it because they deserve it,” Guardiola said, graciously, when asked by reporters about the idea at the weekend.
Jurgen Klopp, his opposite number, will be greeted warmly too. There is a rivalry between the two managers, for sure, but it remains, for the most part, a healthy and respectful relationship.
Klopp insisted when asked by German publication Bild on Saturday that Guardiola remains, in his eyes, “the best coach in the world”.
He knows that City will regroup, refocus and return. He knows Liverpool will have to work harder than ever if they want to remain top dogs, though he insists there is no chance of any complacency creeping into his players’ minds.
“These boys cannot get lazy,” he told reporters this week. “It is just not in their nature. We will not stop.”
As for Guardiola, this is uncharted territory. Suddenly, the Catalan has to find solutions to questions he’s never been asked before. His supremacy is being challenged in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just a couple of years ago.
In the space of two seasons, Klopp and Liverpool have turned a 25-point deficit into a 23-point advantage. Guardiola’s side raised the bar, in terms of the consistency and level of performance needed to win a Premier League title, but the men from Anfield have risen to the challenge in quite remarkable fashion.
They have lost just two of their last 70 games in the league, and only five of their last 98 stretching back to October 2017. When City blinked, Liverpool carried on staring straight ahead; driven, relentless, winning.
The Red Machine, indeed.
That is what Klopp has created at Anfield. In less than five years, he has turned also-rans into front-runners. “Champions of Everything,” as the banner outside Anfield read.
Borussia Dortmund; get the players playing and the fans singing? Anfield was a special place, he thought, so why shouldn’t it be a happy one?
“We had to bring the people onside,” Klopp says. “But don’t forget, it’s not that long since we played a back pass and the whole stadium was like ‘oh my god’. It was not allowed!
“If we were only 1-0 up there will come a set-piece and it was clear it would either be a goal or a chance for the opponent!
“You cannot change it by saying something. We had to earn the trust and faith of the people. And we tried to do that with effort.
“You cannot get brilliant overnight but you can change the effort overnight. That’s possible. That’s what we tried and that’s what we did.”
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti among them – before hiring Klopp, but it took only one phonecall and one meeting to convince John Henry, Mike Gordon and Tom Werner that the man from Glatten was the right one for them.
“He’s just a special person,” Werner, the club chairman, told The Athletic recently. “I am honoured that he is our leader.”
He will, of course, remain their leader for some time still. In December, Klopp signed a contract which will keep him at Anfield until at least 2024. By that time, surely, he will have added to the club’s already-bulging trophy cabinet.
For now, though, he deserves the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labour. What he has created at Liverpool will be remembered forever.
The best manager in the world? He just might be – even if he’d never admit it himself.