You could say that it is about to begin, but really it has just continued. Not the seemingly never-ending football season, which is set to ‘restart’ with Sunday’s Community Shield at Wembley, but rather the rivalry between its participants that has developed from one that was purely sporting to something with a lot more spike.
Pre-season preparations have already seen Manchester City staff privately restate complaints about the more favourable media coverage they believe Liverpool receive. Pre-season press conferences have meanwhile seen Jurgen Klopp publicly reference the champions, or rather Liverpool’s effect on them.
“I don’t think they would have got 98 points if we hadn’t been around,” the German argued.
That is someway debatable, since City got 100 points the previous season when Liverpool were nowhere close to them, and it feels far more true that the champions brought out much more in the challengers. Guardiola argued this himself in April, while someway reinforcing Klopp's own point.
“This standard was last season, we helped Liverpool to achieve it and Liverpool helped us to keep going, so thanks to Liverpool we are competing.”
That, however, reflects something that is much less debatable. The City-Liverpool rivalry has reached that stage of intensity where they push each other further and thereby bring out the best in each other. At least on the pitch.
If that continues, the Community Shield might not just launch the new season, but also serve as confirmation of the new top-table rivalry that runs the English game and one of a storied lineage that really elevates it.
That between the new City and the old Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United didn’t really last long enough, so Liverpool-City would be the first since United and Chelsea 2006-11, with a touch of the rancour of United-Arsenal 1998-2005, to follow on from Liverpool-Everton 1984-89, Liverpool-Nottingham Forest 1977-80 and Leeds United-Derby County 1971-75.
It obviously has a long way to go to get such levels, especially since Liverpool almost took everyone by surprise with the extent of their surge last season, and the big question over their campaign is whether they can get anywhere close to that 2018-19 level.
The key, however, is that it right now looks unlikely anyone else can get close.
That is ultimately how this rivalry has come about. In a football world increasingly shaped by the size of City’s resources, and the gravitational pull around that and Guardiola, Liverpool have displayed the best response. They have adapted accordingly, becoming one of the best-run clubs, and - as important as anything - one of the best at recruitment.
It is one quality they do share with City, that has put both so far ahead (https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/transfers/liverpool-man-city-transfer-news-signings-well-run-clubs-manchester-united-arsenal-chelsea-a9011701.html). The two clubs have instilled singularly defined ways of playing, which means they know within five minutes of watching a potential transfer target whether he fits into their football.
Put one way, it means they avoid they sort of situation Manchester United have got themselves into this week, where they have been negotiating over a star in Paolo Dybala who they may not completely need. That just wouldn’t happen at either of these clubs. They have no need for solve-all saviour signings. They already work so well they just get what they specifically need. Rodri and Virgil van Dijk are examples of that, the very fact they fit so well only amplifying their impact.
Put bluntly, then, it means these two clubs minimise mistakes in the market while maximising their football. Everything flows from that, including some of the best performance levels the Premier League has seen for some time.
It only adds to the rivalry that those football styles are so different, yet both are at the very forefront of how the game is played. Possession and pressing have brought the two major tactical leaps over the last decade, and Guardiola and Klopp have led on them, with the two necessarily influencing each other. The orchestra against heavy metal was how it used to be branded. It is no longer so simplistic, and there are a lot of blurred lines, but the remaining differences have led to some games of gloriously intricate tactics.
Such philosophical contrasts represent another element that properly elevates a rivalry, and it has certainly elevated their games - with that really starting in January 2018.
That was when Liverpool became the first team that season to beat City in the league with a rousing 4-3, but also the first to make them actually feel well beaten
©Miguel Delaney ©Independet.co.uk