By Preye Campbell
Thursday’s game against the newly crowned Premier League champions was much more than a dead rubber encounter. Even as the new kings of England walked out of the tunnel and into the field, camped by a group of erstwhile champions, you could see the reaction of the men in sky blue. You could feel the regret and the rage.
Thursday’s game was a clear signal Pep Guardiola sent to Merseyside and the rest of the cities that unite England. Even when Liverpool were well out of the pace in the game, Guardiola’s body movements on the sidelines suggested that he was as serious as he was cold-blooded to the end.
And that encapsulated City’s ruthless performance, neutralizing their mightier opponents in the first half (Liverpool’s worst first half since a final day 6-1 defeat to Stoke City in the 2014/2015 season) before swallowing them in whole in the second half.
As anyone would have expected, the Guardiola camp became too much of a wounded Lion this season, after Liverpool left them in the dark to secure a first league triumph in 30 years.
It wasn’t just about Liverpool winning the title, rather, it was how they did it; reducing City to catch-up boys amd opening a mammoth 23 points gap (before Thursday’s encounter) to show class. And, even when both sides met earlier in the season, you could see how Klopp’s masterclass outsmarted Guardiola’s tactical abilities.
Much of the pre-match discussion has been on how Guardiola would receive the idea of performing the traditional ‘Guard of Honour’ rites with his players to the champions. Sure, he said Liverpool were deserving of such as they had won the title, but we all could have guessed how hurting such activity would have been. The highlight of the game for me was when full back Benjamin Mendy nutmegged Senegalese forward Sadio Mane while City were 3-0 up. Guardiola was enraged. It wasn’t a game to dilly-dally. It was a game of business.
The end of the season will provide the Spanish manager the chance to rebuild his armoury and we can be certain what his target is for the next season.
While we may be locked in a two-way battle for England’s most coveted trophy, it should be known that Pep Guardiola has just dropped the gauntlet.