Liverpool FC are a force to be reckoned with in the EPL

Soccer might be called the “Beautiful Game,” but let’s face it: the soap opera that makes the English Premier League so compelling is fueled by good old emotions like hatred, anger, and jealousy.

Liverpool and Manchester City haven’t hated each other very much over the years, with the main reason being that they were too busy hating other teams far, far more. After the EPL title race tilted firmly in Liverpool’s favor with a 3-1 victory on Sunday, they are certainly making up for lost time now.

English soccer’s feuds become entrenched in certain ways. This isn’t like American sports, where most teams are separated by distances of hundreds of miles. When Manchester City fans had to endure the long and all-encompassing dominance of local neighbor Manchester United, they truly endured it.

“Imagine a couple of decades of going into work every Monday to be faced by some gloating idiot, who also happens to be your friend, sounding off about his team’s latest triumph,” City fan Anthony Tyler told me.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s same-city rival is Everton, with the two stadiums situated just a mile apart. On top of that, the Liverpool/Manchester United soccer war is one that has raged since deep into the distant past, based off the collective success of the two clubs and the historic tension between the north of England’s two most prominent cities.

If anything, Liverpool and Manchester City had a common enemy. That has all changed now.

“There was a time when it felt like we were never going to be able to look past United,” Liverpool supporter Steve Redmond told me. “It felt like they would always be the ones standing in our way — and, frankly, making our lives miserable. That’s gone now. Not all our fans will admit it, but it’s true — it’s all eyes on Manchester City.”

With good reason. The top of English soccer is now both a true heavyweight battle and a two-horse race. Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp and his City counterpart Pep Guardiola both like to claim the other is fixated upon them. In truth, they’re both right.

Liverpool’s victory last weekend might have been a critical blow in this season’s race for the EPL title, even with nearly six months of the season still to run. Goals from Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ensured that Liverpool now have 34 points to City’s 25. Leicester City and Chelsea occupy second and third spots in the table, both with 26 points, but if Liverpool is to be overtaken, the challenge will almost certainly come from City.

No one has ever started an EPL season better than Liverpool has this year, with 11 wins and one draw out 12 games to date. Coaching icon Jose Mourinho, formerly of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Inter Milan, believes there’s no way back.

“From my position, I think it is done,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “Unless something dramatic happens in terms of an injury situation that breaks the team, I think the (Liverpool) team is a complete puzzle. I feel the way they play is adapted to the qualities of the players. City is capable of winning seven, eight, nine matches in a row. But I don’t see how Liverpool can lose this advantage of nine points to them.”

Rivalries can fester simply from two teams being the best in the country at any given time. However, the Liverpool/City battle exploded truly on April 2018, when the City team bus was attacked by Liverpool fans ahead of a Champions League game.

“That one incident enraged Guardiola and City fans. That is the moment that really took the rivalry to a new level and sparked it all,” Charlie Wyett, football correspondent for The Sun told me via telephone. “Ever since then, it’s been huge.”

At this point, the two clubs are not just competing on the field, but also away from it. In the transfer market, where City is backed by the huge wealth of its Abu Dhabi petroleum empire ownership group and Liverpool is funded by American consortium the Fenway Sports Group (led by Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry) both teams often have their eye on the same players.

Right now, Liverpool is firing. Salah and Mane form an unstoppable attacking force and the club are the overwhelming favorites to become champions of England for the first time since 1990. (Fox Bet has Liverpool FC at -300 to win the EPL outright, with Man City behind at +225. Chelsea and Leicester are a distant third, at +3300.) Liverpool lost only one game last season and finished with 97 points, but it still wasn’t good enough to outlast City, who pipped them by one.

City fans are unhappy at the perception that their team’s success is purely because of financial muscle.

“Most times when you hear a club or a fan base get described as arrogant, it comes after that club has spent a lot of money,” longtime fan Tyler added. “It’s a little bit silly, really. Yes, we have spent a lot of money. And Liverpool have spent a lot of money. And Manchester United have spent a lot. This is the Premier League in 2019; everyone’s spending a lot of money.”

Yet for all the cash, the thing driving this rivalry forward is passion. Part of the reason both Klopp and Guardiola have become cult figures at their respective clubs is because, for all the millions they make each season, they wear their heart on their sleeve.

“It was wild; it was intense,” Klopp said after Sunday, matched with a smile that suggested he loved every moment of it.

And so another chapter was written, and so English football’s most heated feud got a little bit spicier. They weren’t exactly friends years ago, but at least they had a common foe. Right now Liverpool and Manchester City have only one thing in common: the desire to topple the other.