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Does Jurgen Have Pep’s Number?

Jurgen Klopp is one of the only managers in world football who has proven over time he can go toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola.

The rivalry between the game’s most intense and innovative coaches began in July 2013 when Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund beat Pep’s new club Bayern Munich 4-2 to win the German Supercup.

Overall, their current record is five wins apiece with two draws from their dozen head-to-head encounters.

Whoever emerges victorious from the greatly-anticipated Champions League quarter-final between Liverpool and Manchester City will take a step closer to club football’s biggest prize, but also personal satisfaction for beating a long-standing adversary.

For all the similarities between the two men – energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, intensity, man-management – there are also differences which can create friction and mind games in the heat of battle. What goes on in the technical area at Anfield for the first leg on Wednesday could be as entertaining as what happens on the pitch.

When Guardiola’s arrival in Munich was known, Klopp welcomed him with an interview that referred to Pep’s volatile relationship in Spain with Real Madrid’s manager: ‘I will be his Mourinho,’ said Klopp, with his huge trademark smile. ‘If Pep Guardiola does not like me in the 90 minutes or because of the result – no problem.’

The verbal sparring, pointed rather than hurtful or extreme, has followed them to England. Klopp appeared to anoint City as Premier League title winners as early as October 27 by claiming: ‘It looks like they are champions in January.’

Guardiola sensed the Liverpool manager may have been trying to apply pressure. Two days later, he retorted: ‘Totally unrealistic. That is not football at the highest level.’

It’s a sign of respect towards Klopp that Guardiola takes him very seriously indeed. When, in 2013, Dortmund hammered Bayern in the German equivalent of the Community Shield, Guardiola liked goalscorer and man-of-the-match Ilkay Gundogan so much, he later signed him for City.

Both coaches operate in a rarified atmosphere. More than any other managers, they will be seen as football visionaries who defined a generation; Pep’s tiki-taka at Barcelona, Klopp’s heavy metal gegen-pressing at Dortmund.

There were doubters these styles could be adapted to to the Premier League. After a mixed first season, Guardiola has proved his critics wrong and his City could win the title by a record margin, currently standing 16 points clear. He has also won his first trophy in England, the Carabao Cup.

Klopp hasn’t lifted silverware yet and until he does, there will always be a level of cynicism, but he has already reached two finals, restored Liverpool to the latter stages of the Champions League, and created an excitement at Anfield that harks back to the glory days.

Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne are the two outstanding individual players of the season and that is largely down to the managers who have allowed their talent to explode within a team structure.

After Klopp’s struck his initial blow, Bayern and Dortmund won one league game apiece in 2013/14 before Guardiola gained revenge in the German Cup final, which Bayern won 2-0 with extra-time goals from Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben.

Klopp and Dortmund were upset however that a header by their defender Mats Hummels was was wrongly adjudged not to have crossed the line.

There were more great struggles between them in 2014/15; Bayern did the league double over Dortmund, but Klopp’s men knocked them out of the German Cup.

The rivalry was then resumed in England. In Guardiola’s first season, Liverpool took four points off of City. The Manchester club responded by thrashing them 5-0 at the Etihad in September, only for Liverpool to respond with a thrilling 4-3 at Anfield in January. It remains City’s only league defeat this season and whets the appetite for the two European games to come.

Perhaps, the pair feel more kindred spirits in England, where they received the same accusations of being tactically naive when they arrived, than in Germany, where Guardiola was going into Klopp’s house.

‘Maybe he is the best manager in the world who creates teams attacking the back four,’ said Guardiola about Klopp earlier this season. ‘I learned a lot playing that first game against him in Germany. It was like ‘Wow’. A good lesson for me.’

For his part, Klopp indicates the only way to challenge Guardiola teams is to take them on. ‘If you are passive against City you have no chance. You have to be active and to be active you need to be brave,’ he said.

It augurs well for a Champions League thriller. Results show that Klopp is the one manager in world football with no need for an inferiority complex against Guardiola.