Premier League English

The Anfield curse continues for Pep Guardiola

Why has Pep Guardiola never managed to win in front of an Anfield crowd as a manager in the most competitive, the most keenly fought and the most fiercely contested rivalry of his managerial career, especially when on his rivals’ home soil?

What is it about this ground specifically that can defy and deny arguably the manager regarded by even many of his peers as the best in the business?

“Basically because they have a good team,” he said. “Of course the crowd is involved in every stadium but basically because they have a good team.”

Of course, he was right that Liverpool’s quality is the greatest factor, even if we all needed a reminder of it leading up to a 1-0 victory for Klopp’s side which has the potential to reinvigorate their season.

The gap to the champions is still in double figures but down to 10 points now, with a game in hand too.

Guardiola refused to count Liverpool out in their prospect of any title challenge – insisting that they, not top-of-the-table Arsenal, are still City’s biggest threat. His respect for Liverpool as a team is sincere as he obviously holds Anfield in equal regard. He would eventually, when pushed, describe the atmosphere as “one of the biggest ones, one of the nicest ones, and it’s a joy to be there” in the build-up.

One can’t help but feel Guardiola certainly has been awkward on that particular touchline over the years as he, like many other managers, buys into the legend of Anfield, as the vociferous masses can turn the game against any visiting team, specifically his. And legends somehow do matter in only as much as much as you believe in them.

It was the disallowed Phil Foden goal that ignited the crowd in this game as they had prior to that been witness to a first half that was lacking in the quality expect from a fixture of this standing, despite the marauding presence of Erling Haaland lurking menacingly, yet oddly spurning the best opportunities offered by both sides.

Guardiola was in the visiting dugout at the start of the second half with furrrowed brows trying to figure out a way to win but the computations were again scrambled when Foden’s goal was chalked off on review for a shirt tug by Haaland.

The Spaniard’s pantomime act of frantically waving his arms in the air only served to energise the crowd and spur them on to another level, ending up with him being the conductor of the kind of atmosphere that visitors to Anfield dread. And the curse struck.

Seconds later, when Diogo Jota headed a Liverpool counter-attack against the top of the crossbar and his team-mates turned to rev up the crowd, the City manager joined in again, then started pointing to the ground beneath his feet, shouting: “This is Anfield! This is Anfield!”

It was decidedly from that point onwards that the game became frantic and frenzied – an antithesis of the complete, near perfect command and control on which the Catalan’s near-domination of English football over the past five years has been perfectly scripted.

Guardiola repeated the same line – “This is Anfield” – when asked for his opinion on the disallowed goal post-match. At some point between those two confrontations with the Main Stand, it is alleged that coins were thrown at Guardiola from the crowd.

“Next time they will do it better. They didn’t get me,” he said. “They tried but didn’t get me. They got it on the coach years ago but not this time.”

His explanation for this jousting with the fans was simple. “They shout, we shout more.” This was after criticising his players in their last two outings against Liverpool as “soft”.

At the sound of the final whistle, he made a point of getting them to go over to the travelling support and applaud their efforts.

Guardiola knows that the sound and fury of football is just as important as its more cerebral elements. That sometimes you need more than just “a good team”.

Yet for City, this was yet another visit to Anfield where Guardiola started by playing against the team out on the pitch and, as it proceeded, instead began to play the crowd.

For as long as that happens, you imagine the greatest managerial talent of his generation will see his strange curse on this ground continue.