The Premier League's two best managers face-off: Who will be the braver?
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

All eyes will be on Anfield on Sunday afternoon as two of the greatest sides in Premier League history lock horns once again in what could well be season-defining clash.

The contest, these days more hotly-anticipated than any other on these isles, features many masters of their respective footballing crafts.

Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will all be desperate to see their heroics emblazoned across the back pages. Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Fernandinho and Rodri, meanwhile, will seek to coldly frustrate and nullify.

And overseeing what neutrals hope will be controlled chaos are Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola

Many observers would rank them one and two in the global coaching hierarchy. It's fair to say there would be no such consensus on the order.

Surely there is no league fixture which demands such attention to tactical intricacies given its unparalleled quality and importance and the likelihood that it will be decided, as in January, by the finest of margins?

And thus it follows that the role of the managers takes on a unique importance.

Klopp's dilemma

Liverpool took only a point from the two instalments of England's answer to El Clasico last season, and in the final analysis, this was identified as the principal reason for their agonising near-miss.

Before Manchester City dropped eight points, Reds fans would have considered this a must-win. But now, with a six-point advantage, surely they could content themselves with a draw?

Klopp's side left Manchester in the New Year with their lead trimmed to four points and momentum back in the enemy camp. A maintenance of the status quo on this occasion would suit them nicely, particularly as a six-point lead is invaluable with the two sides so relentless.

So Klopp must decide whether to err on the side of caution or take risks in a bid to attempt to land a gut-wrenching blow. 

Embed from Getty Images

Another key task for the manager is to maintain calm in his ranks. The squad is desperate for glory but must have ice running through its veins from the moment the whistle blows.

Last time out at The Etihad, Liverpool fell behind after a jittery first-half display, their anxiety intensified by their opponents' high press and a raucous atmosphere. 

It was in the second period, when they regained their composure, that they started to look a real match for the champions, and they would score an excellent equaliser before Leroy Sane struck the winner via the post. 

Klopp will call upon Anfield to bully City into submission but must find a way to ensure his players do not become caught-up in the occasion. They should now be accustomed to the gravity of such situations.

And, of course, in the meantime, he must devise plans to neutralise Kevin De Bruyne et al. Klopp will need his most trusted midfield trio, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum to proverbially suffocate the Belgian, who can produce a match-winning pass at a moment's notice.

And that's even before he considers the threat posed by Aguero or Sterling, who will, eventually, silence the customary Anfield jeers.

Guardiola must take a chance

Though Riyad Mahrez disastrously fluffed his lines from the penalty spot the last time City visited Anfield, Guardiola seemed content with the eventual stalemate, which maintained parity at the top after eight games and banished memories of the chastening defeats of the previous campaign.

But, given that Liverpool have lost only one of their 49 league games since the start of 2018/19, he simply can't allow the six-point gap to stand this time.

That's not to say he will launch a policy of all-out-attack and hope his side can edge a breathless, end-to-end encounter, but what he will have to do is look to unleash one or two powerful right-hooks rather than merely trade jabs with his opposite number.

City should be confident of scoring. They're facing a Liverpool defence which has yet to settle into the imperious rhythm it enjoyed last term.

And there may well be counter-attacking joy for their wingers when the Red full-backs move forward, albeit with greater caution than usual.

But can City execute a smash-and-grab? Is their depleted defence, which caved-in at Norwich and at home to Wolves, strong enough to resist Liverpool's advances?

Embed from Getty Images

We can safely assume that Fernandinho and John Stones will line-up in the heart of defence, flanked by Kyle Walker. The choice of left-back remains a major question mark.

This almost makeshift defensive line is good enough to survive most clashes with lesser opposition. But Guardiola can't rely on their individual qualities against Liverpool's front three. He's going to need a carefully-tailored, and maybe somewhat radical, solution. 

At the time of writing, Ederson's absence appears likely, though we can't dismiss the possibility of escalated mind-games after jibes in the build-up relating to purported diving and tactical fouls.

City can hurt Liverpool on the front-foot, but should they find themselves without their no. 1 keeper as well as their only world-class defender, their rivals could feasibly run riot.

And so this is Guardiola's problem. How does he set-up to win without exposing his team to the possibility of a rampage? 

It's not for us feeble-minded observers to propose solutions. No, we merely wait to see how he wraps his genius around the great conundrum.

In the opposite dugout, Klopp is weighing-up whether to go for the jugular, to make a fully-fledged bid to seize the opportunity that seemingly presents itself, or to ensure he above all, he guards against City's supreme offensive quality and allows no incision into his team's advantage.

Do not allow yourself, then, to miss this match. This is the footballing history unfolding. Klopp and Guardiola could go down as the best of their coaching generation, and it is in these titanic scraps that their legacies are shaped.

VAVEL Logo