Liverpool versus Man City is still not the greatest rivalry in Premier League history. It’s not even the biggest feud involving the two teams
It was in early April when Jamie Carragher prised open a can of something unappetising, unimaginative and barely edible.
‘Liverpool versus Manchester City has become the greatest, most intense and highest quality rivalry in English football history,’ was his matter-of-fact take, rejected wholesale by fans of Manchester United, supporters of Arsenal and advocates of violence dressed up as ultra competitiveness, nostalgia and pizza being thrown in tunnels.
Carragher laid out his argument perfectly reasonably. He suggested this was ‘the first time the two best teams in England are the two best teams in the world, led by the two greatest coaches of their generation,’ postured that ‘the parallels run out of steam when applied to European competition’ and described Arsenal’s battles with Manchester United in the late 1990s and early 2000s – generally accepted as peak Barclays – as ‘a domestic squabble’.
But for many, Liverpool against Manchester City lacked that intangible quality. It missed a certain something to be considered truly definitive. This was too soulless, sanitised and sterile, too friendly and fun.
The feud was finally elevated to elite status at Leicester on Saturday. The Community Shield achieved a few things: it laid bare precisely how clear these two teams are of the chasing pack; it allowed Jurgen Klopp to complete his set of trophies in England; and it provided the foundations for the sort of utter f**king tedium which promises to transcend these two teams, these two managers and all but two of these players.
Even before this fixture, it had long become physically impossible to mention only one of Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez in the same sentence. The pair were intrinsically linked by whichever body part represents The Narrative. As centre-forwards signed at great expense by the two absolute best teams in the country, both of whom were altering their tactical set-up to accommodate them, that is understandable to an extent. But the discourse reached such levels that Liverpool versus Manchester City was no more, the sides taking a back seat to the actual main attraction of Haaland versus Nunez.
And what this budding conflict needed was a definitive winner. Haaland missing an absolute sitter from a few yards out after Nunez, far brighter as a substitute than his bitter enemy was as a starter, scored the decisive goal in a game that can either be branded as a final or a glorified pre-season friendly to suit whichever agenda is being pushed? You literally couldn’t write this script. Your hands would not let you. F**king try it, mate. Your funeral.
Nunez had the upper hand even before he came on. By half-time the Haaland fail compilation videos had been painstakingly rushed out for maximum engagement. All but those in City blue revelled in one particular statistic: that he had the fewest touches of the ball in the first half. Pep Guardiola, of course, had signed this goal machine for his intricate build-up play and variety and volume of passing.
Nunez sensed his moment, taking to the pitch for the second half like James Milner on a lactate test. He was foiled twice by Ederson, glanced a header wide from Mo Salah’s sublime cross, ‘won’ a penalty for handball and then snuck a header in to make it 3-1. The wild celebration was of a man who knew he had avoided being called a fraud by @Haalegend and @MagicMartial on Twitter. The unadulterated relief was etched on his glorious face.
Haaland’s response to his glaring miss moments later was to chuckle in disbelief as he accepted his fate. The Norwegian also had a goal disallowed and honestly it would save everyone a lot of time and energy if Manchester City just loaned him back to Borussia Dortmund in quiet disgrace now.
Join us next week when Haaland scores a hat-trick at West Ham and Nunez skies five penalties as Liverpool are beaten by Fulham. It’s the rivalry we all deserve.