Manchester City and Liverpool may not be going head-to-head for the title this season, but believe there will still be plenty of tension and hostility as they face off at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon.
Plenty to fight for on the pitch, with City desperately pursuing Arsenal – who have an eight point lead over them – while Liverpool attempt to close the gap on Tottenham in the battle for the top four. Off it, expect fireworks too – if the history of this fixture is anything to go by.
It’s no surprise that years of competing together at the top has caused friction with the stakes so high. Liverpool have finished as runners up to City three times in the last decade, while City have finished second to Liverpool once.
After Manchester United fell away as the dominant force of English football and Chelsea fluttered up and down as title contenders, the mantle of the two biggest threats in the division has fallen to City and Liverpool. And with that comes pressure. With pressure comes tension.
We’ve seen both sides battle fiercely for three points and accolades. We’ve seen managers exchanging heated words after drama-filled games. We’ve seen fans go at it too and bring an unsavoury side to the fixture. There’s a reason this has become the Premier League’s nastiest off the pitch feud.
It all seemed to start in the 2017-18 season – when City and Liverpool were pitted against each other in the Champions League knockout round.
City at the time were the favourites to win everything as Pep Guardiola’s influence began to take hold while Liverpool were still struggling to assert themselves as true contenders under Jurgen Klopp.
The Reds faithful were optimistic still and were in great spirits ahead of the first leg of their quarter-final tie but a section let themselves down by firing missiles at City’s team bus as it arrived at Anfield.
No players were hurt thankfully, but Liverpool were forced to apologise after bottles, firecrackers, flares and other heavy objects struck the coach.
The damage was so bad UEFA had to order City a replacement bus for their journey home. Liverpool ended up winning the match 3-0 – and also won the return leg 2-1.
The shocking incident was essentially the catalyst for what would become a heated saga between the two clubs.
Man City would win the title the following year with a whopping 98 points, while Liverpool ran them incredibly close and were mightily unlucky to miss out after finishing with 97 points – having lost once all season.
That sheer agony and frustration will have pained Liverpool while watching City run away with the glory as they were forced to wait for their first Premier League title – and first top division triumph for 30 years.
That came the following year as they cruised to victory during Project Restart and the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic with City finishing 18 points below them.
The following two seasons have seen City come out on top, in 2020-21 – with Liverpool finishing third – and 2021-22 which saw them finish as runners up to City once again.
In the 2-2 draw between the two clubs at Anfield in October 2021, City’s backroom staff claimed they were spat at by supporters sitting behind the dugout.
It all came to a head last October before Liverpool’s clash against City where the Sky Blues took issue with Jurgen Klopp’s rant about their rivals’ spending.
The German said City were one of three clubs who can ‘do what they want financially’ – referring to City, PSG and Newcastle, who all hold backing from the Gulf states. City then accused him of ‘borderline xenophobia’ and suggested he had inflamed the toxic rivalry between the two clubs.
The game – which Liverpool won 1-0 – would be remembered for Mo Salah’s late winner but also for a feisty contest off the field that saw City supporters chanting about Hillsborough – and also daubing graffiti mocking the stadium tragedy – and Guardiola targeted by three coins thrown from the crowd. City also claimed their bus was attacked again.
The game, which summed up the toxic nature of the clubs’ rivalry, had also seen Klopp sent off for ‘losing it’.
There were fears of more trouble between the clubs as they were drawn together in the Carabao Cup in the first match after last year’s World Cup. Both sides warned their supporters over ‘unacceptable behaviour’ and promised to issue stadium bans if any fans were found guilty of being involved in any ugly incidents.
Man City won the battle in that game – emerging 3-2 victors to move into the fifth round – but the game did not pass without incident.
A 15-year-old Manchester City supporter was ‘scarred for life’ after a Liverpool fan launched a plastic pint cup weighted with coins at her from the away end.
The girl’s head wound had to be glued by paramedics and a shocking photo of her bloodstained scarf emerged on social media. Liverpool were forced to make a grovelling apology – with CEO Billy Hogan calling the girl’s father.
In the new year, City announced they would be installing netting – common place in European games but rarely seen in the Premier League – around the away end to prevent similar incidents.
You would understand if club officials from both clubs were biting their fingernails hoping this game on Saturday – played on April Fools’ Day – passes without any making a fool of themselves.
But already there has been hints of tension in the build up after Liverpool lodged a complaint to the Premier League after Manchester City were told to slash their ticket allocation by 20 per cent at the Etihad in anticipation of more crowd trouble.
That will see Liverpool receive just 2,400 away tickets rather than 3,000 most clubs have. It has not gone down well in the Reds camp.
Although they may not be battling each other for honours this season, it promises to be just as fiery and passionate as usual at the Etihad tomorrow.