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Liverpool vs. Manchester City in the FA Cup, another chapter in the Klopp-Guardiola rivalry

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How they got here: The road to the FA Cup semifinals (1:42)

Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Crystal Palace are the last four standing as the FA Cup semifinals await at Wembley Stadium. (1:42)

In the run-up to last Sunday's Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp compared the ongoing competition between the two clubs to another famous rivalry.

"I think Nadal and Federer enjoyed the rivalry they had," the Liverpool manager said. "That's how it is in sport. I wouldn't say I'm thankful City is that good, but it didn't harm our development."

Tennis doesn't allow for draws like soccer, of course, but the fact that three of the teams' last four meetings resulted in a tied scoreline certainly hints at the evenness of the rivalry. (So does the fact that over the last four seasons, Pep Guardiola's City has generated 339 points in league play to Liverpool's 338.)

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A draw isn't in play for the next matchup, however. Even if it takes extra time or a shootout, there will be a winner in Saturday's FA Cup semifinal (stream LIVE Saturday 10:30 am ET on ESPN+) between the two English giants at Wembley. It is their second matchup in a week -- the two teams drew 2-2 at the Etihad on Sunday -- and their third of what could be four this season if the clubs both reach the Champions League final. But as "Klopp-Guardiola Week" draws to a close, now's a good time to look back at how Liverpool-City matches tend to play out statistically. What tends to make the difference (when anything makes a difference at all)?

When Guardiola took over Bayern Munich in 2013-14, the biggest hurdle he and his team had to clear was Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. The combination of their willingness to suffer and their exploding counter-attacks were confounding to Guardiola early in their rivalry. BVB would win three of their first five battles with Guardiola's Bayern -- 4-2 in the 2013 German Super Cup, 3-0 in Munich in April 2014, and 2-0 in 2014's Super Cup -- before Bayern's quality began to take over.

"The two men make beguiling dance partners," Marti Perarnau wrote in 2014's Pep Confidential, "perhaps because they evoke Pep and Mourinho in the days when they created the tactical solutions to help their respective teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, achieve excellence. Will Klopp become the German Mourinho? ... Klopp has a similar character and the pair are like two skilled fencers who will thrust and parry to unpick football's enigmas."

That's an incredibly prognostic quote on Perarnau's part, but it's safe to say neither he nor anyone else had any idea of what might happen when both of them left for England.


Dec. 31, 2016: Liverpool 1, Manchester City 0

Possession rate: City 56% (60% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.1, Liverpool 3.9
Shots per possession: City 0.08, Liverpool 0.04
xG per shot: City 0.05, Liverpool 0.04
Transition goals*: Liverpool 1, City 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 11.6%, City 1.8%

* In this case "transition" means possessions that start outside your attacking third and last 20 seconds or fewer .

As with their stints in Germany, Klopp had established a head start on his Catalan rival, taking over an underachieving Liverpool side in October 2015 and bringing in winger Sadio Mane, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and defender Joel Matip in his first offseason.

Their first battle, at Anfield, was decided early, with Wijnaldum heading in an Adam Lallana cross on an eighth-minute counterattack. Guardiola didn't quite have all the pieces he craved just yet -- among others, City would bring in Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus and goalkeeper Ederson over the next year or so -- and Liverpool was able to effectively bunker in for most of the second half, allowing no shots over the final 31 minutes.


March 19, 2017: Liverpool 1, Manchester City 1

Possession rate: City 59% (60% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.4, Liverpool 3.7
Shots per possession: City 0.12, Liverpool 0.12
xG per shot: City 0.19, Liverpool 0.16
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 5.7%, Liverpool 5.7%

In their second meeting, City eventually found a way through Liverpool's resistance. The Reds were the more dangerous of the two teams at first, taking the lead on a James Milner penalty in the 51st minute. But City outshot Liverpool, 9-3, from that point forward. Roberto Firmino nearly doubled Liverpool's lead in the 60th minute, but Sergio Aguero scored in the 69th, and City created almost all of the good chances down the stretch.


Sept. 9, 2017: Manchester City 5, Liverpool 0

Possession rate: City 66% (51% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 8.3, Liverpool 4.2
Shots per possession: City 0.15, Liverpool 0.08
xG per shot: City 0.18, Liverpool 0.10
Transition goals: City 3, Liverpool 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 12.5%, Liverpool 3.4%

This was a mostly even match for 37 minutes. Aguero put City ahead in the 25th minute, but at the time of Mane's red card for an accidental but brutal boot to Ederson's face -- it broke Ederson's cheek and jaw -- Liverpool had attempted seven shots to City's six. It was one-way traffic from there. Liverpool didn't manage another shot, and two Jesus goals, followed by two from Leroy Sane, made this a rout.


Jan. 14, 2018: Liverpool 4, Manchester City 3

Possession rate: City 64% (52% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 6.2, Liverpool 3.4
Shots per possession: Liverpool 0.15, City 0.10
xG per shot: City 0.07, Liverpool 0.05
Transition goals: Liverpool 4, City 1
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 8.3%, City 4.6%

City would roll to the league title in 2017-18, but Liverpool's squad was almost complete. Mohamed Salah came aboad in July 2017, and while he wouldn't play in this match, Virgil van Dijk had been brought in days before. In their first full-length encounter with the Salah-Firmino-Mane front line, City had few answers. (It would take a few meetings before Guardiola came up with any.)

This match was 1-1 at half-time, but each member of the trio scored in a 10-minute span early in the second half. Liverpool enjoyed decent possession numbers early in the match but went into full counterattack mode when it got the chance, and the Reds handed City its first league loss of the season.


April 4, 2018: Liverpool 3, Manchester City 0

Possession rate: City 66% (60% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 7.0, Liverpool 3.6
Shots per possession: City 0.10, Liverpool 0.09 xG per shot: Liverpool 0.17, City 0.06
Transition goals: Liverpool 2, City 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 7.6%, City 4.8%

Over these teams' next six meetings, Liverpool would enjoy a higher xG-per-shot average four times, winning three of those battles and drawing in the fourth. This has been key for the Reds in this series -- if you've got those finishers, and you're creating better chances than your opponents, it's really difficult for said opponents to win, even with City's talent. In the first leg of this Champions League quarterfinal, Liverpool's front line again did ridiculous damage. Liverpool again scored a knockout with a flurry of punches: three goals in 20 minutes, first from Salah, then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, then Mane.

At this stage, Liverpool was very much like Klopp's best Dortmund teams; while it has slowly evolved in possession, its best moments in 2017-18 came from vertical attacks.


April 10, 2018: Liverpool 2, Manchester City 1

Possession rate: City 69% (69% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 6.2, Liverpool 2.9
Shots per possession: City 0.19, Liverpool 0.05
xG per shot: Liverpool 0.16, City 0.06
Transition goals: City 1, Liverpool 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 7.6%, Liverpool 4.8%

Down three goals from the first leg, City needed a miracle in this one, and Jesus gave the Etihad home crowd hope with a transition goal in the second minute. But Liverpool bunkered in and allowed City minimal quality looks after that. Against an increasingly desperate opponent, Liverpool calmly put the match away with second-half goals from Salah (putting the ball in after Ederson saved a Mane shot) and, after a deep turnover, Firmino.

To date, Klopp had taken 12 points to Guardiola's six in their first six head-to-head battles. As was the case in Germany, he was a problem Guardiola was slow to solve.


Oct. 7, 2018: Manchester City 0, Liverpool 0

Possession rate: City 51% Passes per possession: City 5.9, Liverpool 5.7
Shots per possession: Liverpool 0.08, City 0.07
xG per shot: City 0.18, Liverpool 0.05
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 6.7%, City 2.2%

In 2018-19, the two clubs each reached peak form. City outlasted Liverpool, 98 points to 97, in the greatest Premier League title race ever, while Liverpool consoled itself by winning the Champions League. New City addition Riyad Mahrez had a chance to make an immediate impact in the rivalry, but he skied a penalty in the 86th minute. That was the only shot either team took worth more than 0.08 xG.

Guardiola's team was far more passive from a pressing standpoint and far more wary of Liverpool's prowess in transition. It completely muted Liverpool's attack, albeit while mostly muting its own, too.


Jan. 3, 2019: Manchester City 2, Liverpool 1

Possession rate: Liverpool 51% (City 59% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.4, Liverpool 5.4
Shots per possession: City 0.08, Liverpool 0.06
xG per shot: Liverpool 0.21, City 0.12
Transition goals: City 1, Liverpool 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 7.4%, Liverpool 3.7%

Liverpool held a seven-point league advantage heading into this contest, and even though it was early January, this was all but a must-win for City. It would, of course, win it, thanks to Sane's decider in the 72nd minute. As it had been in October, City were extremely pragmatic here, attempting to move the ball down the wings more (in the name of keeping the middle sturdy and preventative against counterattacks) and in come cases sacrificing the ball altogether once ahead. It led for 46% of the match's possessions and enjoyed a possession rate of just 40% in that span.

Consequently, Liverpool generated almost no transition opportunities. Guardiola was learning to trade some of his possession desires for workmanlike results. This match provided the deciding margin in the title race.


August 4, 2019: Manchester City 1, Liverpool 1

Possession rate: Liverpool 53% (52% while tied)
Passes per possession: Liverpool 5.7, City 5.2
Shots per possession: Liverpool 0.18, City 0.09 xG per shot: City 0.18, Liverpool 0.14
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 6.5%, Liverpool 6.5%

For the first time in these coaches' English rivalry, set pieces played a role as the teams began the season in the Community Shield. Raheem Sterling gave City an early lead on an extended free kick routine, then the rarest of scoring combinations -- Van Dijk to Matip after a deflected free kick -- drew Liverpool even in the 77th minute. City would win on penalties, but for our purposes we'll call this one a draw.

City was once again extremely pragmatic here and was far more willing to attempt long passes downfield -- 13% of its passes were designated as long balls, easily the largest percentage to date in this series. It would match that figure in both meetings this season. Still, Liverpool dominated after City's early goal, attempting 14 shots (2.0) to City's three (0.52) over the final 70 minutes and hitting the post twice.


Nov. 10, 2019: Liverpool 3, Manchester City 1

Possession rate: City 55% (59% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.2, Liverpool 4.2
Shots per possession: City 0.18, Liverpool 0.12
xG per shot: Liverpool 0.09, City 0.08
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 8.2%, Liverpool 6.1%

Liverpool's ability to create high-quality chances in the Community Shield was a warning sign. City would struggle defensively for patches of 2019-20, and this match was the fourth time in 12 Premier League matches that it allowed at least two goals. Fabinho scored on a long-distance screamer five minutes in, then a switch of play tore City's defense wide open and set the table for an Andy Robertson-to-Salah goal in the 13th minute. Mane gave it a 3-0 advantage before City's attack finally started generating decent chances late.


July 2, 2020: Manchester City 4, Liverpool 0

Possession rate: Liverpool 53% (City 54% while tied)
Passes per possession: Liverpool 6.1, City 5.4
Shots per possession: City 0.16, Liverpool 0.12
xG per shot: City 0.17, Liverpool 0.09
Transition goals: City 1, Liverpool 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 11.1%, City 7.8%

Having clinched the Premier League title with seven matches remaining in this COVID-delayed season, Liverpool battled a bit of an attention span issue. It came out firing against City, though, generating a pair of high-quality scoring chances for Mane and Firmino in the opening stages. But once De Bruyne scored on a penalty in the 25th minute, the floodgates opened. Sterling and Phil Foden scored before half-time, and an own goal by Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 4-0.


Nov. 8, 2020: Manchester City 1, Liverpool 1

Possession rate: City 54% (52% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 6.5, Liverpool 5.4
Shots per possession: Liverpool 0.12, City 0.08
xG per shot: City 0.20, Liverpool 0.12
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 4.7%, City 1.2%

City's rebound wasn't yet complete following its 4-0 romp in July. It would drop points in seven of its first 12 matches in the strange, congested and mostly crowdless 2020-21 season. By late-December 2020, it had found its latest dominant form -- it hasn't lost it since -- but it was still a work in progress here, and Guardiola was taking no chances.

Walker pulled down Mane in the box to give Liverpool an early penalty (Salah converted it), but after Jesus evened the match in the 31st minute, action ground to a halt. City attempted just four shots over the final 58 minutes -- one a missed penalty from De Bruyne -- and while Liverpool attempted seven shots, none were from within 12 meters of the goal.


Feb. 7, 2021: Manchester City 4, Liverpool 1

Possession rate: Liverpool 56% (55% while tied)
Passes per possession: Liverpool 7.7, City 6.2
Shots per possession: City 0.10, Liverpool 0.10 xG per shot: City 0.43, Liverpool 0.15
Transition goals: none
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: Liverpool 11.9%, City 6.0%

Injuries overran Liverpool in 2020-21. With Van Dijk and basically every other centre-back out, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson -- both midfielders under normal circumstances -- started at centre-back for Liverpool in this one. The Reds still put up a fantastic fight. It generated loads of pressure up front and outshot City, 8-5, over the first 72 minutes.

Liverpool's transition defense was a massive problem this season, and for obvious reasons, but a pair of uniquely dreadful turnovers from Alisson flipped this one in City's favor. The first set up an Ilkay Gundogan goal in the 73rd minute, the second a Sterling goal in the 76th. This one got out of hand, but Liverpool punched above its weight for a while.


Oct. 3, 2021: Manchester City 2, Liverpool 2

Possession rate: City 51% (50% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.4, Liverpool 5.1
Shots per possession: City 0.12, Liverpool 0.06
xG per shot: City 0.14, Liverpool 0.13
Transition goals: City 1, Liverpool 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 9.2%, Liverpool 9.1%

Both teams were back at full strength and throwing haymakers. City was once again pragmatic, sacrificing some ball control to support its transition defense, and Liverpool managed zero transition shot attempts all game.

In fact, Liverpool managed just one shot attempt, period, in the first half. City attempted seven, including a short-distance transition attempt from Foden at the 20-minute mark, but couldn't find the net. Liverpool took control in the second half, taking the lead in both the 59th (thanks to Mane) and 76th minutes (Salah). But in both instances, City quickly responded to even the match.

"That's why the Premier League is the best," an exhilarated Guardiola said after the match. "It was great, really great."

This match was a reaffirmation of this rivalry's twists and turns. Neither team seems capable of holding an advantage over the other for long.


April 10, 2022: Manchester City 2, Liverpool 2

Possession rate: City 55% (59% while tied)
Passes per possession: City 5.9, Liverpool 4.7
Shots per possession: City 0.11, Liverpool 0.06
xG per shot: Liverpool 0.20, City 0.10
Transition goals: Liverpool 1, City 0
Pct. of possessions starting in final third: City 11.5%, Liverpool 7.2%

For only the second time in this series, set pieces played a role. Sort of. A quick restart on a free kick set up a Silva-to-De Bruyne goal in the fifth minute, while Joao Cancelo found Jesus with a gorgeous, long assist after a cleared corner in the 37th.

Just as City had done in the first match of the season, Liverpool responded each time. It didn't generate many chances in this match - City's possession and pressing were far more effective than in most recent matches between these two teams -- but its talent in creation saved it. An incredible long pass from Thiago flipped the pitch and eventually set up a Trent Alexander-Arnold-to-Diogo Jota goal in the 13th minute, and right after half-time, Mane scored on a fast break after a wonderful pair of passes from Alexander-Arnold and Salah. Liverpool attempted just two shots over the final 38 minutes, seemingly willing to trade a potential win to avoid the damage of a potential loss. (City would have gone up four points in a very tight Premier League race had it found a late winner, and they almost did exactly that.)

City's possession advantages were stark in this one and might make it the favorites at Wembley on Saturday. Then again, if recent history is any indication, the plot is set to twist once more. It seems one should never expect one team's advantage to last too long.