As Liverpool draw neck-and-neck with Man City in the Premier League title race, the fate of the trophy could be decided by Jurgen Klopp‘s psychological edge…
As a set of supporters, there is a certain bespoke demoralisation when your rival wins at a venue where you had high hopes that points could realistically be dropped.
We’ve lived that feeling ourselves a fair few times this season, even in recent weeks, when Man City emerged with a win from games in which there was a theoretical notion that they could slip up.
When Pep Guardiola’s side have eventually dropped points, it has been in games we arguably pinned less hopes of them doing so in.
On Monday night, Bernardo Silva opened a window to the tormented soul of the club he plays for.
Within the slipstream of City being held to a goalless draw, he fielded a question in which Jurgen Klopp’s team had not been mentioned with an answer that said everything about just how much the team from Anfield is playing on their minds.
Liverpool’s victory at Arsenal, 48 hours after City had dropped two points at Crystal Palace, will have twisted the psyche that bit more, and that extra bit of sleep will have been lost on Wednesday night.
Guardiola himself made mention of how he had never had an adversary quite like Liverpool, these the words of a man who crossed paths with Klopp for two years in the Bundesliga.
By the time that City kick another Premier League ball in anger, they might well no longer be sat top of the table, a 14-point gap (fourteen!) having evaporated.
It doesn’t matter that they likely reclaim the lead a few hours later, this is all about the psychology of football, and in the final straight, them prospectively being not only the team that threw away a 14-point lead and possibly the Premier League title with it, but also the identity of who they must hand it to and the symbolism that would be at play.
Liverpool going toe-to-toe with City is a case of one club who refreshes the parts that other clubs cannot reach getting into the face and under the skin of one for whom no transfer fee or wage demand is too big.
Two very different foundations from which to build their teams, in a world of Klopp vs. Guardiola there is great balance between the pair intellectually, but perhaps not ethically.
Whereas Klopp has had to chisel his teams into shape, creating a cause for his players to buy into, for Guardiola there has been nothing but privilege, where he has been able to cultivate three distinct brands of fantasy football – in Barcelona, Munich and Manchester.
This isn’t to say that Guardiola’s efforts are invalid, as he has created some wonderful teams that have played some truly mind-bending football, but with nine games to go and only one point splitting the two sides, the prize on offer might well be decided on the force of personality of the two managers.
Within this, it will be Klopp’s belligerence, determination, passion and commitment up against the genuine footballing genius, but also sense of entitlement, of Guardiola – and both methods have shown they have what it takes to prevail, as both protagonists are stubborn visionaries.
With Klopp and Guardiola cancelling each other out in many respects, it will again boil down to mentality and composure under pressure.
This is where Liverpool’s players have an edge, given that at least on the outside looking in they have been led to believe in unicorns, that anything really is possible, and it is in their hands where destiny is to be shaped.
Conversely, City’s players have no shortage of certainty in themselves when on the crest of a wave, and they could well go on to win all nine of their remaining games, yet it is when they suffer setbacks that they struggle to cover their tracks.
Guardiola, like his players, is unaccustomed to losing or not seeing things go his way.
They are used to their footballing lives running smoothly, thus when things go against them there is almost an element of the petulant teenager about them, and the erosion of a 14-point lead will be the biggest test of character that they have encountered.
In a game of mentality monsters, I know who I would put my money on.
At the Emirates on Wednesday night, Liverpool cranked up the pressure even further by obtaining the win that will have left that streak of underlying demoralisation at the Etihad.
FA Cup duties aside, City will now have two-and-a-half weeks to brood upon matters.
Firmino, now largely the outsider in the fight for a place in the Liverpool front three, might just prove to be the joker in the pack for Klopp.
Two months to go, and while undeniably City are gifted the easier run-in, given the points they have dropped of late have been against teams they were expected to beat, it might not be the advantage on grass that it appears to be on paper.
Having reeled Guardiola’s side in, the hard work now begins for Liverpool.
But if they do pull it off, and find themselves in possession of the Premier League trophy on May 22, then it might just be the greatest achievement in the history of the club.