Roger Alton

Pep and Klopp, kings of England

Pep and Klopp,  kings of England
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It’s a game for the ages all right, City against Liverpool on Sunday as the Premier League moves to its most exciting climax in years: two magnificent managers, two awe-inspiring collections of players. Both teams are so far in front that the rest are nowhere.

There’s more to come as they face each other the following weekend at Wembley in the FA Cup. And both are involved in Champions League quarter-finals. The money must be a help, but still we are blessed to have Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp here, both at the height of their powers. But for how much longer? Anyone who loves football will be dreading the day either of them decides to move on.

Klopp seems to be here for the long haul: he’s almost a Scouser. He clearly gets the place, and it loves him back. Perhaps the chill wind off the Mersey might in time drive him abroad to revive one of the languishing Spanish giants. That would be a challenge. Guardiola will move on to some sort of project: either in football or politics in Catalunya. If City win the Champions League he could be off, perhaps to Barcelona or maybe to turn Girona into another Catalan powerhouse. The club is owned by the City Football Group: worth a thought.

Of the two men, Klopp probably had the hardest job at the start. Only James Milner and Jordan Henderson were in place, but look at the stunning football side he has built. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the flanks; the best defender in the world, Virgil van Dijk, in the back line; and a sensational forward trio that is replenishing itself with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz. Pep inherited a very strong City squad, with Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne, the best in Europe, in place – as well as the brilliant and now departed Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Guardiola has done a brilliant job shepherding a nerveless Phil Foden into the very big time.

Sadly City have always been slightly unfashionable, overshadowed by the obsessive interest in their once-triumphant, now shambolic neighbours. And they haven’t really had a big European moment like Liverpool winning in Istanbul, or United sealing the treble in 1999. Maybe these next few weeks will change all that.

Golf might be full of people you wouldn’t want to spend time with but let’s hope this Masters is fun. You know: a ton of players sticking it in the water at Amen Corner, someone breaking a putter over his knee, someone else blowing a six-shot lead. And let’s hope someone flamboyant wins, and not any of the Americans in the world’s top 20, who are brilliant in a boring way. If you were sitting next to Scottie Scheffler, would you know it? And he’s the world’s No 1. If you want a long shot, try Norway’s Viktor Hovland, young and fearless. I also like Spain’s Jon Rahm, who doesn’t look like a modern golfer but someone who should be working in an abattoir.

Nat Sciver’s wonderful 148 not out in a losing cause as England were beaten in the Women’s World Cup final by the all-conquering Aussies could be one of the great performances of the year. Women’s cricket is fascinating in a way men’s isn’t: more guile is needed to work the ball through the gaps instead of just blasting it into the next county. Personally I’d like to see a special mixed-gender Ashes with Australia’s women taking on England’s men. Could be interesting.

And certainly more interesting than the opening rounds of the County Championship being played in a four-sweater blizzard. Games at Durham and Derby in April are the equivalent of SAS selection. Presumably it’s part of that much vaunted red ball ‘reset’ to make our young cricketers play in conditions as closely related to Test cricket as I am to a door knocker.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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