Pep Guardiola launches into Catalan ‘Basil Fawlty’ with a theatrical twist
Not that it was an occasion without hard feelings. City complained that one of its backstage employees got spit on it, a grotesque incident if proven, but one that shouldn’t be allowed to disfigure the glorious breathlessness of this battle. While the upheavals imposed by the pandemic have made the last two campaigns unbalanced affairs, the Premier League landscape is finally returning to its pre-Covid state, with City and Liverpool striking in territory beyond the reach of any rivals.
Chelsea might bristle at this portrayal, as league leaders and European champions, but the most luscious brushstrokes in the English game are painted in red and sky blue. It’s a sign of a game to be cherished when Guardiola looks for superlatives to describe an opposing player. “The best winger the league has ever seen,” he exclaimed of Salah, after the Egyptian’s slalom glow overtook City’s four defenders. City weren’t short of star turns either, with De Bruyne crafting a delicious equalizer to silence the Kop after Phil Foden gave Milner an acute case of twisted blood.
There were examples of little dots, as always. Guardiola was adamant that only clean energies at Anfield had convinced Tierney to keep Milner on the pitch, while also displaying an almost fatherly concern for the brutal tactics inflicted on Foden. But it was a spectacle that needed to be savored above all for its aesthetic merits. Rarely is football in this country such a fluctuating thrill ride, where each foiled attack triggers a moving counter-power. Here are two teams forged in the image of their managers: restless, passionate, perfectionists.
The quality was so bright it crossed the tribal lines. Long after a pale autumn sun slipped behind the main stand, Guardiola and local hero John Barnes were patting each other on the back, struggling to absorb what they had just seen. One highlight spawned another: No sooner had Mane electrified the atmosphere with his opener than Gabriel Jesus conjured up an evil crossfield run, changing the game in an instant to kick off a superb Foden finish. The double masters of Salah and De Bruyne confirmed this game as the rarest of vintages.
At times, the early-season skirmishes between the one-to-one title challengers can be frustrating and toothless, with no team willing to concede any advantage. These teams deserved a lot of credit for standing up to such a casting, clashing with seething, teeming intensity. It was no wonder, under the circumstances, that Guardiola seemed fit to burst.