As the Premier League title race turned into the final straight last season, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp were on the same page.

Manchester City held a narrow lead at the top of the table, with Liverpool hot on their heels. Both arguably deserved to win the title, but only one would lift the trophy. Guardiola and Klopp must have been sick of repeating themselves when insisting that they had to assume their rival would win every game, so any slip up would cost the title.

Guardiola and Klopp could confidently say that because they know the other’s team better than anyone else. They’ve come face-to-face in four competitions for the past five years, and so little separates them. Now, though, there is a new factor in this modern rivalry: unpredictability.

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Since Guardiola arrived at City in 2016, with Klopp already in place at Anfield, seven of the first nine meetings between the Blues and Liverpool ended in a victory for either team. In the following eight meetings, there have been four draws as both squads and coaching teams have grown in quality and have devised effective methods to stop the other.

Even the four wins for either side since 2019 have had extenuating circumstances. City’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield that year was at the height of their injury woes in the season Liverpool raced to the title, and the 4-0 win for City at the Etihad came with nothing to play for, as Liverpool had just sealed their first Premier League title, achieving their main goal for the season.

The following season, City’s 4-1 win at Anfield came behind closed doors and with a Liverpool injury crisis hampering Klopp’s selection. And last season’s FA Cup semi-final saw a full-strength Liverpool side ease to victory over a second-string City side who rested players to win the Premier League.

This rivalry is at a point where there is almost nothing to separate City and Liverpool because they know each other so well. Now, however, this summer has introduced a new factor as both clubs are active in the transfer market.

Liverpool’s signing of Diogo Jota gave City something new to think about while Luis Diaz’s arrival in January added an extra dynamic to the 2022 meetings, and now Darwin Nunez will do the same. City fans may breathe a sigh of relief to see Sadio Mane leave Anfield after six years, with a total record of 10 goals scored against the Blues in 19 appearances since moving to England, but he’s been replaced with younger, more exciting models.

However, Mane’s departure might not be the advantage City could be drawn into thinking it is. After finally working out how to (just about) deal with the fearsome front-line of Mo Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino, City will face a new Liverpool trio Nunez, Diaz and Salah when they play in the Community Shield next month and in the coming season.

Guardiola much prefers predictability over unpredictability, so Liverpool may have given themselves a slight advantage for the meetings against City this season.

But then the same goes for City, who have added two elite strikers having played two seasons without a recognised centre forward. Erling Haaland should strike fear into Liverpool’s defence, and Julian Alvarez will hardly have Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip sleeping easily.

City could still add more players n the transfer market, while three key players are being linked with exits — Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva. If Liverpool have a new-look front line next season, City most definitely do too.

Of the players who featured in the 2-2 draw at the Etihad in April, there’s a chance that four starters won’t be involved next time the teams meet, with at least three new forwards. When the sides line up in Leicester for the Community Shield, those three forwards could be making their competitive debuts.

For the last three years, defences have arguably decided the results of City versus Liverpool games — with high-quality stalemates the likely outcome when both sides are full strength. Next season, that pattern will go out of the window, as this rivalry enters a new era where the old guard are departing and a new generation are coming to make a name for themselves and break that deadlock that had been creeping in.

Bring it on.

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