Across four seasons it was virtually impossible to separate Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the Reds accrued 357 points in the league. City in that same period amassed 358 points.
It’s a near-identical return that demands further context, so as to better illustrate just how remarkably neck-and-neck their duopoly was throughout this spell.
After 300 games of Premier League football, which equates to 450 hours of Premier League football, all that divided them was a single, solitary point.
It is reasonable to expect therefore that both teams were venerated, these astounding creations who averaged 89.25 and 89.5 points per campaign respectively. After all, here were two sides, put together by fascinatingly eccentric geniuses, who were each pushing the boundaries for consistency and excellence.
We will rarely again see their like. We will likely never again see two emerge simultaneously.
How utterly bizarre it was then to see both sides portrayed very differently in the media, with one lauded to the rafters, and the other damned for their dominance.
Liverpool’s four-year epoch was ‘incredible’, ‘sensational’, ‘unbelievable’. They were a ‘machine at the peak of its power’. They ’crushed’ their rivals ‘en route to history’ and were absolutely and unapologetically celebrated for being ‘mentality monsters’.
Their 2020 title success even had a Chief Football Writer for a broadsheet newspaper proclaim them to be the ‘greatest champions ever’. Really.
City’s skyscraping brilliance however, by stark and depressing contrast, was accompanied largely by doom-mongering and negativity. Their title successes were ‘inevitable’ with each significant victory largely attributed to ‘sportswashing’.
Moreover, every league crown was met by much hand-wringing regarding the competitiveness of the English top-flight.
City’s dominance was considered unhealthy, unsporting. In the words of one recent headline, reflecting on this season’s title triumph, Guardiola’s Blues were ‘destroying’ the Premier League.
Whether you deem it unjust or otherwise how City’s era of supremacy has been portrayed that must be a debate for another time.
Because just as intriguingly, what this fatalistic coverage prompts is an altogether different angle that deserves to be explored.
Which is to query why Liverpool are glorified – and in such an exaggerated, hyperbolic manner - for the very same thing that City are castigated for?
A reminder. Across four years and 300 fixtures, these teams were separated by a mere point. A draw essentially among hundreds of combined wins.
The answer of course lies in the indisputable fact that Liverpool get a notably easy ride from the media and to demonstrate this, let’s briefly stick with the double-standards that have been at play towards the Reds and City’s era-defining greatness.
The journalist who described Liverpool as a ‘machine at the peak of its power’ went on to exalt the manner in which they decimated all-comers in 2020, ‘marching the Premier League around in a headlock, ruffling its hair, flicking its ears'.
It’s all rather playful, isn’t it. Bravo Reds for being so brutal.
But when City win a title at a canter suddenly there is grave concern. Is this even a sport anymore, he has previously asked.
The writer who proclaimed them to be the greatest champions ever, meanwhile, quantified his decision by focusing on the scale of their superiority. "There has, quite simply, never been a level of dominance like it," he gushed.
It was he who recently claimed City were destroying the Premier League for showing similar pre-eminence. Elsewhere, beyond the hypocrisy and jarring comparisons, we find a club routinely excused for any and every failing.
This season, Liverpool have encountered a season of struggle so severe that for an ever-so-brief spell they even featured in the Premier League relegation betting.
Did the knives come out from the media, complete with speculation surrounding the manager’s job security, as we’ve seen so many times before when Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Spurs succumb to crisis? No, far from it.
Instead, perfectly reasonable explanations were offered up, pragmatism that is never afforded rivals when in the depths of despair.
Liverpool, it was said, were exhausted from pushing City so hard in recent seasons. As for Klopp, if he was guilty of anything it was being ‘too loyal’ to players approaching their sell-by date.
Even on the very rare occasions when the German coach is criticised, it is served up as a back-handed compliment.
Which is par for the course really when it is acknowledged that Klopp is, by some distance, the most indulged Premier League coach in modern times.
His propensity to bully journalists and harangue fourth officials is routinely dismissed as passion, at worse he is said to be a sore loser.
Should he play a severely weakened side in one of the domestic cups, exiting to a side well adrift in the Championship betting, there is not a sniff of the condemnation that would be dished up to another foreign manager, accused of disrespecting our competitions.
Instead, he is shrewd for focusing on the league. All the better to take on that evil Manchester City.
So much of the positive bias that is enjoyed by Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp can be explained away by the sheer volume of Reds working within the media, while the rest of it is very probably grounded in the club possessing a huge and excitable fan-base, who lap up the praise in droves and respond to criticism extremely badly.
But still, it doesn’t feel fair or right that two clubs are reported on so very differently. That doesn’t feel fair or right at all.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*