Why Manchester City vs Liverpool is the Greatest Rivalry in Premier League History
There’s been a lot of discussion in the past few days as to where the Manchester City and Liverpool teams of the Guardiola-Klopp era rank in the all-time great footballing rivalries. As ever, the discussion gets mired in Language Games as we see what individual commenters value in a sporting rivalry. It’s hard to compare this particular rivalry to, say, Birmingham-Aston Villa, because the two are entertaining for different reasons.
I think everyone can agree that there are different kinds of rivalries. Some have historical, sociopolitical, or geographic significance (think: Rangers-Celtic, Sunderland-Newcastle, etc). Some are more contextual, springing into life from a specific incident, personal enmity, or controversy (think: Chelsea-Liverpool, Stoke-Arsenal, etc). Others still are the products of simply competing for the same trophies at the same time. I think the Manchester City-Liverpool rivalry falls into the latter category more than any other. These are two teams that have come into their prime at exactly the same time, each of whom- were it not for the existence of the other- could undoubtedly claim the mantle of the greatest Premier League dynasty ever. And I don’t say that lightly.
In this sense, their rivalry reminds me a lot of that between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors that emerged in the N.B.A. in 2015. Neither of these teams had a history of rivalry between them, but they became great teams at the same time. If one of them hadn’t existed, then the other would have won four straight championships. Everyone knew that the two of them were in a league of their own. More than anything else, they were fighting for legacy.
During those four seasons from 2015 to 2018, the Finals matchup was always the same. Lebron versus the Splash Brothers. I remember at the time a not insignificant number of fans bemoaned this state of affairs. To them, the N.B.A. had become stale and boring. They argued that we might as well do away with the regular season and all the other teams, and just host an annual showmatch between the Warriors and the Cavaliers. That game was the only one that mattered. I could understand this frustration; generally speaking, I don’t enjoy monopolies in sports. If my particular team has no shot…