Pep Guardiola admits Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is the biggest rival of his career as the Manchester City boss prepares for Sunday’s Premier League title showdown.
Guardiola’s side have battled with Liverpool for Premier League supremacy several times in his reign and their latest race is going down to the wire again.
Reigning champions City are one point ahead of second placed Liverpool going into the crucial clash at the Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool have overturned a 14-point deficit to pile pressure on City, who have won three English titles under Guardiola, while Klopp has led the Reds to the trophy once.
Guardiola’s admiration for Klopp is so strong that he rates the German as an even bigger rival than his old nemesis Jose Mourinho.
“In the last five years they have been the biggest opponent. They have been an incredible, marvellous contender, with good games,” Guardiola told reporters on Friday.
“Jurgen, as a manager, has been the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career and I think what both teams propose is good for football.
“Except the year we made 100 points, the rest were tight. It is because they are good and hopefully they think we are good too.
“I will remember my period here, when I’m retired watching and playing golf, I’ll remember my biggest rival was Liverpool, for sure.”
A win for City this weekend would be a huge step towards retaining the title, but Liverpool can seize control of the race with a victory.
Although Sunday’s match will clearly have huge implications for the title race, Guardiola did not want to say it will be decisive.
“It will be a massive, important three points but there will still be seven games, 21 points, and a lot of things involving the Champions League and FA Cup,” he said.
Despite their high-stakes rivalry, the two bosses share a healthy respect, with Klopp describing Guardiola as the best manager in the world on Friday.
“Thank you so much, but I’m not,” Guardiola said. “I would like to tell him I’m the best but I’m not.”
Guardiola was happy to return the compliment, saying: “Jurgen makes world football a better place to live with his message, and he’s a huge competitor.
“He knows about my admiration for what he does, the message and the way his teams play. He’s a good guy.”
Widely regarded as Europe’s top two teams at present, City and Liverpool will meet in the FA Cup semi-finals on April 16 and could face off in the Champions League final in May.
City also have to protect a 1-0 lead against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
But Guardiola showed no signs of pressure at his media briefing, laughing as he said he would share a post-match bottle of wine with Klopp, as long as City win.
“If we win I’d love it,” he said. “I’ll invite him! And he’s said many times that we’re a rich club so the wine will be perfect, high quality!”
Guardiola also joked City might be content to settle for a draw, to ensure they preserve their lead at the top.
“We trained today to sit back for 90 minutes, to get 0-0!” he said.
“No, never in my life have I thought about this, except when there’s five minutes left.”