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Liverpool v Man City: Pep Guardiola needs Plan B to conquer Jurgen Klopp


Old foes: Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp clashed in Germany

Old foes: Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp clashed in Germany

Bongarts/Getty Images

Old foes: Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp clashed in Germany

"They are like a steamroller, unstoppable, and I have never seen anything like it," said Pep Guardiola of Jurgen Klopp's side. "They are completely focused for 90 minutes, waiting for you to mess up a pass so they can set their sprinters on you."

This was not Guardiola speaking of Klopp's Liverpool yesterday at the City Football Academy in Manchester. This was Guardiola speaking on November 24, 2014, the day after his Bayern Munich team had beaten Klopp's Borussia Dortmund 3-0 at the Westfalenstadion, after the Spaniard's changes turned the second half.

Despite that emphatic scoreline, Guardiola pledged to spend more time studying how Klopp's Dortmund played in an attempt to overcome them. He knew that one win alone did not mean that he had cracked the code. "I must take some time to really study this and see if there is a way to stop them," he said.

If Guardiola sounded like he was on the defensive, that is because he feared that Klopp's teams could exploit a weakness in his own sides. While Guardiola football is about dominating the ball and attacking, Klopp football is about waiting for a mistake and pouncing with a ferocious counter-attack.

That is why, despite that early triumph in November 2014, Guardiola and Klopp ended their two-year rivalry in Germany with honours even.

But before Klopp stepped down in the summer of 2015, he met Guardiola's Bayern eight times, in the league, the Cup and the Super Cup. It finished 4-4, with the fourth Dortmund win, in the semi-final of the 2015 Cup, coming on penalties. Today's game at Anfield will be their first meeting since.

The story of those eight games is that Guardiola needed to innovate to beat Klopp. Even though Bayern dominated German football, winning the Bundesliga at a canter in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Even though Bayern signed Mario Gotze from Dortmund in 2013, to Klopp's fury, and then took Robert Lewandowski from them on a free transfer the following summer.

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That financial muscle undermined the competitive balance of the Bundesliga, and Klopp and Guardiola have never quite met as equals. But despite all this, Bayern were still vulnerable to Dortmund's counter-attacking and Guardiola knew it.

That was the lesson of their first meeting in the Super Cup in July 2013, when Guardiola went for an open 4-2-4 system which Dortmund ran straight through, winning 4-2.

When they next met four months later, Guardiola knew that he could play the same way and went to the Westfalenstadion determined to flood the midfield. They won 3-0.

But that win was followed by another bad defeat to Dortmund, again on the break, meaning that when the teams met in the 2014 German Cup final, Guardiola again had to find a new system.

Their natural game was too vulnerable. So he went for a 3-6-1, realising that Dortmund liked to counter down the inside channels. Those were the spaces Bayern had to shut down. It worked, as Bayern won 2-0 in extra-time.

Guardiola's last big win against Klopp, in April 2015, again came with a 3-5-2 system which was compact, secure and restricted the space Dortmund could break into. They refused to open themselves up and that caught Dortmund by surprise. Bayern won 1-0.

The evidence of these eight games is that when Guardiola plays his natural game against Klopp, his teams are too open. Only when he does something different, sitting further back, constricting the space, can his teams survive the onslaught.

What we have seen of Liverpool and City this season suggests that the same thing is true now, in England. Liverpool have mastered Klopp's pressing and countering game almost as well as Dortmund did, although they clearly do not have as strong a defence. They are the highest scoring side in the country.

City have been brilliant in flashes under Guardiola but have also shown they are vulnerable on the break. That was the lesson of their second-half collapse against Chelsea, or their meltdown at Leicester.

If City play the same way at Anfield today, high, wide and open, then they will create the spaces that Klopp has taught Liverpool how to attack into.

But if he can find a Plan B to constrain Liverpool, then City surely have enough quality, with Sergio Aguero returning, to hurt Liverpool's own vulnerable defence. The onus, not for the first time, is on Guardiola to adapt.

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