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The big debate: Will Liverpool or Manchester United challenge Manchester City next season?

Omnisport
NEWS
1.78K   //    08 Mar 2018, 14:30 IST
Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho
Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho

Manchester United versus Liverpool is the most decorated and prestigious rivalry in English football.

United's 20 top-flight titles to Liverpool's 18, eight European Cup/Champions League wins between them - it is a rivalry steeped as much in history as it is animosity.

But, while both retain an interest in claiming Europe's biggest prize and United still have designs on the FA Cup this season, they are absent from the conversation over who is the best team in England right now.

In truth, it isn't much of a conversation. Manchester City's swashbuckling, goal-laden procession towards Premier League glory looks certain to be completed over the coming weeks.

Second-best is not usually something worth contemplating when it comes to United-Liverpool matches, but aside from the usual bragging rights, it is a status worth locking down this weekend. 

Which of these teams is best equipped to shoot for the summit next season and derail Pep Guardiola's plans for an era of dominance in England, similar to those he enjoyed in Spain and Germany? Two Omnisport writers put forward the case for either end of the East Lancs Road.

Dom Farrell - Liverpool

The simplest way to demonstrate Liverpool are closer to City than any other rival in the Premier League this season is the manner of their performances against Guardiola's side.

January's undulating, gripping 4-3 triumph at Anfield remains City's only league loss in 2017-18 and the recent limp efforts of Arsenal and Chelsea against the champions elect – along with United's derby day surrender back in December – shows Jurgen Klopp is the only man with the remedy.

No one who has overseen more than 10 matches against Guardiola can better Klopp's six wins from 12. Not even Jose Mourinho.

Recent calls for teams approaching City negatively to "go for it like Liverpool" do a disservice to Klopp's work on Merseyside. When they put Guardiola's men to the sword, and on the countless other occasions Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane made merry this year, it was within a rigorously planned and expertly executed tactical vision. "Pressing from another planet", as the man himself called it.

Everything at Liverpool under Klopp seems to happen for a reason and he has a team with a clearly defined footballing identity. By contrast, Mourinho's United are slugging away to retain a place at the top table, reliant on their boss' winning knowhow and the game-changing brilliance of individuals within an unquestionably talented squad.

Those are not bad things to be able to call upon, but as Mourinho sullenly fuels his perpetual siege mentality – the only way forward he seems to trust nowadays – Klopp is building something to endure. It seems like a far less exhausting and much more joyful route to the biggest prizes.

Jamie Smith - Manchester United

Progress has been steady rather than spectacular for United under Mourinho, but the Portuguese signing a contract extension is a sign he is planning a long-term Old Trafford stay to provide the stability the Red Devils need to return to the top.

Mourinho may be spikier than ever in his middle age but there are signs he is constructing yet another relentless winning machine. Monday's stunning comeback win at Crystal Palace was reminiscent of United at their best under Alex Ferguson.

There are plenty of issues that need to be ironed out. United cannot go to rivals like Liverpool and so openly play for a goalless draw if they have genuine title aspirations, nor can Mourinho afford to scapegoat a star player like Paul Pogba.

But the pieces are slowly fitting together for Mourinho. Romelu Lukaku has scored prolifically in his first season at the club, while the likes of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial have made major strides in their development.

United have the best goalkeeper in the world in the peerless David de Gea, while players including Marcus Rashford have a huge ceiling in terms of their potential, as long as January signing Alexis Sanchez does not block his route into the first team too much.

Perhaps most pertinently, Mourinho will be determined to get one over on old rival Guardiola, United having been roundly outclassed by the Catalan's rampant City side. Being so far behind Guardiola will sting the Portuguese badly. He will want revenge - and Mourinho typically gets what he wants.

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