As rivals in Manchester and Merseyside collide, so do their ideas of how to win
The fiercer the derbies, the more the participants can appear opposites. It sometimes suits them or, at their least, their supporters, to differentiate themselves from rivals and to present themselves as antidotes to their enemies. On this particular derby day, however, there is a truth to it. The leading men are opposites. On Merseyside, Jurgen Klopp is no Sam Allardyce. In Manchester, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have long represented contrasting approaches to management.
A common denominator between Klopp and Allardyce is the cultivation of a managerial persona. They become the face of the club in a way some counterparts don't. If the German seems to have a practised zaniness, the Englishman displays a boastful confidence. On the field, however, Allardyce is seen as the damage-limitation specialist who stops things getting worse, Klopp the transformative figure who can take a team to the next level. If each is associated with defending, it is in a different way: Allardyce concentrates on clean sheets, whereas Klopp is seen as the cavalier figure whose adventurous tactics deprive his side of solidity and who spends most of his funds on more progressive players.
Klopp's Liverpool may excel in open play, when they are at their fastest and most fluent. Allardyce's sides tend to be set-piece specialists in both boxes, whereas Liverpool have an unfortunate habit of conceding from dead-ball situations under the German. Klopp's style of play is more ambitious and more attacking. Each has showed his thinking with his choice of wingers: in his Bolton days, Allardyce often used Kevin Davies on the right flank, allowing his side to aim diagonal balls at a target man; at Liverpool, Klopp's top scorers, first Sadio Mane and then Mohamed Salah, have been nominal wingers, prolific sprinters who actually operate infield. Many an Allardyce defensive midfielder has been a converted centre-back, one of a battalion of six-footers he often fields. Klopp has preferred to use box-to-box midfielders, whether Jordan Henderson or Emre Can, in the deeper role. His full-backs double up as wingers; some of Allardyce's have been centre-backs.
If both can be tactically flexible, each has shown a preference for 4-3-3 in his time in England. But Allardyce's formation has tended to be a structured defensive unit with a physical striker. Klopp's is more unconventional, far narrower, with a false nine instead of a sizeable centre-forward, and an inverted front three. Perhaps Allardyce is the more influential: he provided a tactical blueprint for smaller clubs looking to survive whereas no one has quite copied Klopp.
Their CVs show pronounced differences, too: the sort to irritate Allardyce, given his infamous assertion that he was better suited to managing Real Madrid or Inter Milan. Klopp was parachuted into Liverpool for his first Premier League job; Everton is the biggest club post Allardyce, who has long maintained English managers are not afforded the same opportunities, has had. But it is also his 11th managerial position to Klopp's three; he has no major trophies to his counterpart's two Bundesliga titles and Champions League final appearance. Big Sam is the journeyman of the pair, Klopp a man whose thrill-a-minute style of play makes the route entertaining.
Allardyce has become one of Mourinho's managerial friends. They belong in the bracket of pragmatists whereas the purist Guardiola is an admirer of Klopp. The managers of the Manchester clubs represent the two competing approaches in recent football. Guardiola is proactive, Mourinho reactive. The Catalan plays a possession-based game, the Portuguese uses a counter-attacking blueprint. Indeed, Guardiola, with high pressing, tiki-taka and perpetual passing, spearheaded a tactical revolution after Mourinho's brand of football became dominant in the first decade of the century.
Guardiola was the ideologue whereas it felt Mourinho's philosophy was winning even if, with two Champions Leagues apiece and 21 and 25 trophies respectively, they have similar amounts of silverware. Yet the differences between were starkest when former allies represented Barcelona and Real Madrid and were epitomised by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Guardiola's work is concentrated on the training ground. Some of Mourinho's is done in the press. "In this room, Mourinho is the f***ing chief, the f***ing boss," Guardiola said in a famous 2011 outburst. On the pitch, Guardiola has tended to be the superior.
The definitive Guardiola display against Mourinho was a 5-0 win for Barcelona over Real in 2010, a masterclass of attacking football. The definitive Mourinho display against Guardiola was a 1-0 defeat, but a 3-2 aggregate victory, when Inter Milan's 10 men had 24 percent of possession at the Nou Camp in a 2010 Champions League semifinal and still progressed. It was a masterclass of defensive football.
Each has a positional game, Guardiola looking for passing angles on the ball, Mourinho for tactical discipline off it. If the quintessential Guardiola player -- Messi apart -- is a passing midfielder, Mourinho's sides have been built around defensive midfielders; sometimes, after that 5-0 thrashing, he fielded three against his counterpart's Barcelona. Like his friend Allardyce, he will field the taller team on derby day. He will look to exploit an advantage at set pieces. They may look to stifle, subdue and then snatch victory. Klopp and Guardiola are likely to look to out-play, rather than just out-thinking and out-defending, opponents. As local rivals collide, so do ideas of how to win.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.