PEP GUARDIOLA had no hesitation when he was asked last year who his toughest managerial opponent has been.
Not Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti – although he’s had some almighty battles with them all.
It was, of course, Jurgen Klopp – the manager he has faced more than any other and who has driven him to new heights during their time together in England.
Asked for his reasons, Pep said: “First, we faced each other a thousand million times, Dortmund and here.
“Second, because he beat me a lot, and that was always a challenge to do it again and again and again.
“We respect each other, at least from my point of view, I respect him a lot.
“Of course we have arguments and I don’t like to be beaten by him, but he has been my biggest rival for the amount of times we play, how difficult it was and the pleasure when we beat them.”
There was Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish in the early days of the competition – then for many years, Arsene Wenger.
The Arsenal legend also had his clashes with Jose Mourinho during their days managing in London.
But Guardiola v Klopp has had a bit of everything – plenty of needle and some breathtaking football.
They first went head-to-head in Germany – as Guardiola was in charge of Bayern Munich regularly going up against Klopp’s Dortmund.
In total they have met 29 times – with the German (12) winning one more than his old sparring partner.
And Klopp is the ONLYmanager his Man City counterpart has lost to more times than he has won.
No doubt it is the City boss who has come out on top in terms of trophies – but to win many of them they have been pushed all the way by Liverpool.
In 2019, Liverpool had to win their final 14 games of the season to win the league by a single point on the final day.
Three years later, Ilkay Gundogan struck twice in the space of five minutes to again pip them to the post on a dramatic final day.
It may have started to bubble before the two managers took up their posts, but Liverpool and City has become one of the best rivalries in Prem history.
Their clashes – particularly at Anfield – have been controversial and bad-tempered.
Yet throughout it all the quality of football on offer when they have met has been some of the best we have seen.
Klopp’s trophy haul would undoubtedly be bigger but for Guardiola but their admiration is mutual.
The Kop boss said last year: “It sharpens your character to have a rival like Pep Guardiola
“When we meet on a private basis, something that does not happen often, it is always super.
“I am 100 per cent sure that when we meet in the future once our careers are over, we will have a really good time together.
“But for now, yes, we are rivals! On the sidelines anything can happen.
“I consider him the best manager in the world and I like how his teams play, which is the best thing I can say about a coach from another team.”