By Miguel Delaney


You wouldn’t quite call it an epiphany from Jurgen Klopp, but it was a distinctive evolution in his thinking. At an early point in his time at Liverpool, the German realised his football would have to become even more nuanced than the raucous approach that was so successful at Borussia Dortmund. Klopp knew he needed more control.

Across the northwest of England, although largely influenced by his time at Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola was soon coming to the opposition conclusion. He realised his control-based game needed to be complemented by more directness, more chaotic electricity.

The combined effect of this is that it means both sides now play hybrid approaches, and that their meetings represent the peak of the game. City-Liverpool has overtaken Barcelona-Real Madrid as the highest-quality fixture in world football, becoming the match where the sport’s latest tactical innovations are displayed. And that at an utterly frenetic pace that is often bewildering.

That is apt because this has been the decade where the tactical development of the sport has evolved at a faster rate than ever before. It is exponential, with each new idea very quickly being absorbed into the previous to pick up more speed.

It has been the great mark of football’s last decade that the game has opened up so much. It genuinely looks so different to what it was in 2010, the late 20th century individualism having given way to a coordinated collectivism that would have seemed otherworldly then.

It was similarly why the 2008-11 Barcelona team genuinely seemed otherworldly. So much of this goes back to the start of that: Guardiola’s appointment at Camp Nou.

His reimagining and re-introduction of pressing and possession didn’t just disrupt opposition defences.

It distorted the entire thinking of the game. It aided the prioritisation of technique development above all else and led to the growth of gegenpressing – literally counter-pressing – in Germany, as well as an ongoing ripple of minor innovation followed by counter-innovation. Coaches moved from developing patterns with the ball to devising pressing patterns without it, and the transition – the speed with which you could get on the ball and produce with it – became key.

This has led to other developments like goalkeepers being able to pass like outfield players and wide players becoming the highest scorers of the team. But the sophisticated combination of so many elements at so many clubs is admittedly down to a combination of other modern factors too.

Modern European football has become a more intense, integrated network of super clubs while the international game has been overtaken and left behind. These clubs attract most of the supporters and the money, so thereby the best players, coaches and ideas. That has ensured the sport is perhaps the most entertaining spectacle it’s ever been.

The polarity between Guardiola and Jose Mourinho isn’t the only element of the game that looks very different now. So do half of the current super-clubs. In 2010, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain were messes.

Juventus were still recovering from Calciopoli, while City were still recalibrating to a takeover that remains one of the most seismic events in football history. This is something else that has accelerated exponentially in that time: the money in the game.

It now sets the agenda, crossing more borders and boundaries than almost anything else.

This has also contributed to the politicisation of football, with so many questionable states – from Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia to China – now attempting to use the sport to promote their own causes. That football has become so enmeshed in geopolitics, and imposed upon by proper realworld issues like human rights abuses, is the inevitable price of its massive global popularity – but not the only one. The glorious entertainment at the elite end is directly offset by huge financial struggles underneath and a predictability within.

Look at the last decade in terms of the winners of the five major leagues: England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Of the 50 titles awarded, 32 were won by five clubs: Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, PSG and City. European football has never seen such predictability, and that in itself goes beyond the elite. A total of 10 domestic leagues currently have champions that have won at least six in a row. So many of the campaigns look so similar from season to season, even as the football itself looks so different to 2010.





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