Pep Guardiola will leave City one day – the Jurgen Klopp news is a reminder of that

“What is sure is that Liverpool and (Manchester) City in the last years, we have raised the bar, we have raised the targets the Premier League had before,” Pep Guardiola said in April 2022, slap bang in the middle of another title showdown between the two clubs.

“It is not allowed to lose games any more, not if you want to win the title,” his Anfield counterpart Jurgen Klopp had said in December 2019, on the way to their only Premier League title under him. “The reason for that is the consistency Manchester City have shown in the last three years. They have raised the bar massively and, to be honest, they have helped us by forcing us to try and catch up with them.”

There is no doubt that this era, Guardiola versus Klopp, City versus Liverpool, will be looked back on as the highest-quality period of the Premier League’s 31 years to date, and, by extension, in the history of English football.

There have been some staggering results, from Liverpool’s 4-3 Anfield victory in January 2018 to some of the hidings City have handed out home and away, but the two 2-2 draws during that 2021-22 season, particularly the first one, on Merseyside in the October, almost encapsulate this new high standard.

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Respectful comments like those above are held up as examples of why the rivalry could never be like the one between Manchester United and Arsenal in previous years, a grudge match where managers Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger seemed to hate each other as much as their players did.

City and Liverpool never quite reached that level of enmity — on the pitch at least — and the matches between them might not have stirred the primal urges of the casual viewer. But the quality and intensity have never been matched… and possibly never will be.

Not that there has been an absence of needle over the years. Guardiola celebrates City goals at Anfield like they are a matter of life or death, born out of how difficult he knows it is to get the job done there and a belief that the home side always gets generous decisions.

Guardiola’s default position is one of utmost respect for Klopp and his work, but in the same way that the German can strike a less-friendly tone when under pressure, and has stirred the pot at times when it comes to City, the Catalan has also shown that it is not all touchline bear-hugs and quality football.

“Everyone in this country supports Liverpool — the media and everyone,” he said late in that 2021-22 title race, a sign of his frustration with the UK’s journalists and pundits as much as anything. “Of course, because Liverpool have an incredible history in Europe — not in Premier League, because they’ve won one in 30 years. But it’s not a problem at all. The situation is what it is.”

Guardiola celebrating at Anfield (Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

And all of this will soon be coming to an end.

As it stands, there will be just one more clash between Guardiola’s City and Klopp’s Liverpool, and it will come at Anfield on the second weekend in March — not early enough to settle things in this title race but late enough to have an important say.

“We left them alive,” Guardiola lamented after the second 2-2 of that 2021-22 season, at the Etihad early in the April — a glimpse into his feelings and, it must be said, his fears for what City’s greatest rivals could go on to do.

But the reason those 2-2 draws do not fully sum up the rivalry is that City have been its resounding overall winners. Some of the battles have been gut-wrenchingly close but City fans can look back, smile and remember that pretty much everything worked out OK in the end.

Although Guardiola feared that Liverpool had been “left alive” two seasons ago, and Klopp’s men did ensure it went to the wire, City won their second straight title on that final day, coming from two goals down with 10 minutes to go at home against Aston Villa to break hearts 30-odd miles to the west at Anfield.

Three years earlier, they had recovered from going a goal down at Brighton on the decisive final Sunday, and on both occasions, Guardiola’s men finished top by a single point (for those who lament the competitiveness of the Premier League these days, with some justification, two of the best title races in modern history have happened in the past five years).

While the margins have been small at times, and Klopp’s Liverpool legacy is more than ‘just’ the four major trophies (Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup once each) he has won there, Guardiola and City have won those same competitions 13 times during his reign.

And while City fans can celebrate the fact that Klopp will step down at the end of the season, the news that broke this morning will also serve to remind us of our mortality.

In this case, in the form of Guardiola’s future at the Etihad Stadium.

There is a general acceptance, nowhere near the front of anybody’s mind just yet, that Guardiola’s time in England is coming to an end.

His current contract expires after next season, which will be his ninth at City.

But, Guardiola being Guardiola, you can never be sure whether he might bring that exit forward, or indeed put it back — which he may do if City end up getting relegated as a result of the 115 Premier League charges they are facing for alleged breaches of its financial rules.

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(Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

It is unlikely that Klopp’s decision will impact Guardiola’s, however.

While Liverpool raised the bar and pushed City on to greater heights, he is a man who has enough inner drive to mean that he and he alone will pick when the time is right to call it a day, regardless of what he has or has not won in that particular moment. Staying on after clinching the treble last season is proof enough of that.

It would be surreal, though, if Liverpool were to win the title in May, Klopp was to receive his due plaudits, and Guardiola then also decided that his time was up as well. He would hardly be overshadowed by his long-time rival, but the stage would certainly be cramped.

It would be like if Gabriel Jesus had not scored that winner away against Southampton in the 2017-18 season finale — the difference between City crowning the finest season in Premier League history with a last-minute goal to take them to 100 points, and ending the finest season in Premier League history with a goalless draw and ‘only’ 98. It’s still phenomenal but, you know, you have to argue the case a bit stronger.

Such things are unlikely to matter to Guardiola, who can and will reflect on an incredible body of work that he, nor his many critics, ever imagined when he came to Manchester in the summer of 2016.

Back then, the challenge was simply proving that his style of football could work in English football. Not only has it led to all those trophies, but almost everybody else is trying to play that way, too.

Guardiola’s impact on this league, this country and football as a whole is almost impossible to quantify.

City, the institution and its fans, can only hope that those conversations will be put on hold for another 18 months at least.

(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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