Of course, it is absurd to talk about who decides the title in early November. As Liverpool and Manchester City prepare to meet in Anfield on Sunday afternoon, there will be a familiar desire to adorn the occasion with overheated foam, to lean over the lighted pedestal of the TV and pronounce in stentorian tone the largest, most stressful. , the Superest of all Super Sundays.
We already know what to do now. The Premier League is, at bottom, an act of sale. And, like any good seller, it's always closing, who decides the November title and all.
And yet, here we are all the same, 11 games this season, all set for a real-life title decision in early November. This time the bold headlines look right, such is the difference between these two top performers and the rest of the league.
Another 90 point season, another 80% win rate looks like the minimum requirements here. Last season, City and Liverpool have won their last 18 combined games from spring to summer. They really can't afford to lose each other now.
How Pep Guardiola responds to this tense moment, a third of City's fourth season, seems like a subplot by itself. As with any Guardiola team, there are two stories intertwined here: the progress of the host craft, built as always around cultural change and a dizzying trophy course; and besides, the manager's own story. Where are we, anyway, in that familiar Pep parable?
There was a distinct pattern here. Many things lose their shape as they get older, take on other forms, become less, not more, like them. Guardiola teams go the opposite way, becoming more Pep-like, more extreme, and more ascetically pure in their methods.
It is a process that may have already begun to affect this champion team and will be tested in extremis at Anfield. There was a feeling City had stumbled a little this season, based on some early drop points. But on a Guardiola scale, they leveled up and became a more extreme version of themselves.
The numbers are revealing. More goals per game than last season. More shots per game (and more than anyone else in Europe at the moment). A pass completion rate just behind that of Paris Saint-Germain and with an increasing increase.
There is also something different about the texture of this City team with few injuries. Guardiola loves midfielders, wants to turn the whole world into a midfielder tone, ideally would simply replace the word "midfielder" with the word footballer. Three months after the season, this team went through the full midfield. Seven City midfielders scored a goal in the league. City's eight midfielders have started five league games or more compared to three career defenders.
This has mostly to do with who they have available. Without Leroy Sané, whose absence was slightly underestimated, City has no vital point of difference in attack. With so many defensive injuries, the option of playing Fernandinho deeper, keeping the ball more, reducing the risk of defending less, makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, this is also a Guardiola stumble. Bayern Munich's team in the final season also became more or less the same, with more kicks, possession, playing with five strikers and quarterbacks. His Barcelona team last year had 69% possession of the ball throughout the season and lost to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, despite being virtually on the ball throughout the draw.
Kevin De Bruyne will be the key for Manchester City at Liverpool. Photo: Carl Recine / Action Picture via Reuters
Guardiola still has a long way to go at City. But when the end comes, we know what it will be like: 10 midfielders, David Silva on goal and Guardiola furious on chino on the touchline.
There were also signs of stress. Against Southampton last Saturday, Guardiola looked strangely furious at the moment of victory, holding his arms and barking on the bench. This is not necessarily a point of weakness. Guardiola never backs down, never drops its levels; Thomas Müller suggested that he threatened to castrate his players at halftime during a Champions League match with Juventus (fortunately Bayern won). But that same intensity, plus the feeling that this City team has become more ingrained in the Pep era, can affect the way they approach on Sunday.
This has been described as a game that you must win and certainly Jürgen Klopp has every incentive to go behind the throat. For the City, it's a must see. There is a feeling that Liverpool's speed in transitions may be too much for a City backline that has no speed in its sold out form. A draw for City, a rearguard, a robbery, a moment of pragmatism; This is probably the wise option.
But what is the Pep option? Last season City changed their lineup against Liverpool, playing Bernardo Silva more deeply as a concession to their opponents' attacking power. Will there be another control a year later?
Guardiola will surely have considered both sides. This is a sublime Liverpool team, but not perfect. The attack is whispering, working just below usual levels. At the other extreme, Liverpool have three goals in 19 matches.
They are, in a way, good opponents for City: the only teams that have had any recent success against the league leaders attacked this strength point, the quarterbacks. And this is where City also likes to play, with a game built on overloading wide areas, pulling defenders into unpleasant spaces. Under the Pep A plan, it may be on these channels that this game will be decided.
It's another Guardiola stumble – perhaps misleading, given the volume of great games he also wins – that he tends to blink at times like these, to spoil a high-stakes Champions League draw with a combination of over-thinking and tactical. . arrogance. The way he approaches Sunday will, of course, be fascinating. You can just define how the last age of Pep clubs unfolds.
. (tagsToTranslate) Pep Guardiola (t) Manchester City (t) Liverpool (t) Football (t) Sport