Men's Team

'It's going to be electric': Henry Winter's view from the press box

Ahead of Sunday’s key Premier League clash between City and Liverpool, Club journalist Neil Leigh spoke to Henry Winter, highly respected chief football writer from The Times, to get his thoughts ahead of the most eagerly awaited game of the season…

Henry, this is a game that seems to have captured attention all around the globe not just in England. Where do you think the match-up stands in terms of elite club games right now?

The first thing to say is that it is so, so good that fans are back in grounds, particularly for a game like this.

This is a heavyweight title fight, and can you imagine Ali vs Frazier being fought out in an empty stadium?

That’s what this is. This is about 22 players and the two great managers but it’s also about the 55,000 fans. You could probably sell this fixture three or four times over and there will be a global TV audience in the billions.

The atmosphere will be electric in the build-up. We often overhype things in this country, but we will rightly be going into overdrive with this one.

And the great thing is its going to be a fantastic game.


You look at these two teams with slightly different philosophies in terms of Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, in a way it's embodied by Trent Alexander-Arnold and it’s all power, flying forward and the chaos theory and all that energy and movement.

And then you have the slightly more chess-like intelligence of Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in the City side, so it’s going to be electric, full-on football.

Because of what is at stake and that Liverpool have clawed back on City’s lead, it’s going to be one of the great games.

Even if it’s 0-0, it will be an epic 0-0 but I don’t think it will be goalless.

You have two of the best goalkeepers in the world, marshalled by two fantastic defences.

The great thing about watching Pep Guardiola teams is that you look at the range of players and firepower that he can bring in even without an orthodox centre forward.

Just look at the way Phil Foden has been playing this season.

Everyone talks about Bernardo and absolutely correctly, Raheem Sterling is having a fantastic few months, and we know what a class act he is, but Phil Foden - his touch, movement, his tenacity, his strength...

You could put Phi Foden in the Dutch total football team of the 1970s and he wouldn’t look out of place.

He’s kind of a perpetual motion player too, he’s always on the move.

I call City a team of all the talents and it's invidious to point out just one, but you look at Foden, the way he plays… I just think he’s an absolute gem.

City fans know how good he is but I’m still not sure the country appreciates what an unbelievable talent he is.

He starts for England as he is so important for the national team and he is so important for City and then you have Kevin De Bruyne - what a player he is.

I would love to go to training and watching a player who strikes the ball completely true like he does.

Alexander-Arnold does it, Beckham and Scholes did it too, some of his passes are like shots, they are so straight with minimal back lift and he just gets his feet moving quickly.

So when you walk into a game like that there’s a real sense of excitement.

I like it at City as, at my advance age, it’s quite a long walk to the ground from the car park.

You collect your media accreditation from the lovely staff at the CFA and then you walk over that flyover and see the stadium in the distance.


As the son of an architect, I love it visually. It sits so well on the Manchester skyline and that just adds to the sense of anticipation.

I always find that I’m walking slightly slowly and then your pace quickens as you know you are going to see Foden, De Bruyne, John Stones stepping out of defence, Kyle Walker flying down the wing, Joao Cancelo, who I’m sure will be on the shortlist for player of the year.

And then you throw into the mix the Liverpool players, Luis Diaz, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota, he will get goals as he is remarkable be it left foot, right foot, headers, and then the great players in midfield whether its Thiago or Jordan Henderson.

It’s an absolute feast.

The two sides have dominated the race for the title for the past four years. How is it that they have raised the bar so much do you think?

I do think there is a sense of respect between the two sets of players and, certainly, between the two managers.

Two completely different personalities of course. Klopp is far more exuberant, but we are very fortunate to have them in this country.

When Pep was appointed, I wrote to the FA saying we have this visiting emeritus professor of football coming to the country for however long, let’s see if we can pick his brains and learn as a country and try to get him to talk to our aspiring young coaches because he’s a revolutionary.

He has changed football.

If you talk to those who like to play football, whether they are six or seven, 16 or 17, 22 or 23, the impact of Pep Guardiola is huge.


If you have a full back who is trying to bring the ball out from the back and play it across goal, you’ll say ‘Hang on, the best manager in the country, Pep Guardiola, does that.'

Likewise, with Klopp and the pressing and the energy that he has inspired.

I think we will look back on this as a golden era of coaches and you could throw Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea into the mix too given the impact he has had.

We are incredibly lucky to have the two of them and in terms of their supreme hunger and will to win, you can see it on the touchline.

That sets the tone and its why they are the two best teams. They have got the best technique, the most tactical intelligence and ferocious hunger which emanates from both coaches.

What would you say are the key differences between the two sides?

You always get the impression that Pep would like to pick 10 midfielders!

Even Cancelo and Walker speak about stepping into midfield and I guess the full backs are the contrasts.

You look at Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold… they like to play high up the field, but they are very, very quick to switch play.

It’s like they would be happy playing 60 yard one-twos, cutting out midfielders.

It will also be interesting to see if Liverpool play a high line to try and squeeze City. But then you have a player of Sterling’s pace who can get in behind, while Foden’s movement is so clever.

If I’m looking at contrasts in the team, I’ll look at the full backs – and all of them are outstanding players

In terms of the overall title race, how defining do you think the game will be?

I think if City win it, they will hold it to the line. The momentum is still with City and, you know what, a draw at home, I don’t think would be the worst result.

Both teams will go for the win and that’s the great mentality of both managers, but I just think a draw would not be disappointing for City.

I’m still backing City, but the great thing is we have a fantastic title race.

People want to play for both these teams and great managers and both clubs' recruitment has also been outstanding.

Do you think the fact that City and Liverpool will also meet in the FA Cup semi-final and are both also going for the Champions League too have any bearing on the league game?

Absolutely – I think it’s almost like an Ashes Test series!

I think it’s great, and the FA Cup semi-final will have even more riding on it as one team might be perceived as being out of the title race and will be wanting to make a point.

I love all those little issues that will continue into the next game.

I’m sure there will be a focus on the referees in the two games and let’s hope the matches are not overshadowed by VAR and instead remembered for some outstanding football

Can you also talk about the roles of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp and their importance and impact on both the English and wider game?

I think if you look at the people who come to this country and make an impact, you look at Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen when they came to Ipswich in the late 1970s.

You can look at Dennis Bergkamp when he went to Arsenal, Eric Cantona at Manchester United.

You can then look at the managers who have stepped into our game from overseas like Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, the impact they have had and you would absolutely say Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, particularly Guardiola, have been revolutionary.

The mindset is so, so different to anything we have had before.

The possession, with building out from the back… it’s literally a whole new ball game that Pep has introduced us to.

They are both so important, and we are so fortunate to have them in this country.

For the past 10 years the Premier League probably hasn’t had the two number one football superstars in Messi and Ronaldo playing over here - but we’ve always had the superstar managers in Klopp and in Pep.

Pep has just revolutionised football, not just in the Premier League but throughout.

Kids want to play the Pep way, that’s what people want, and that legacy will be properly appreciated sometime in the distant future when Pep leaves these shores.

It’s the All-Black philosophy of leaving the shirt in a better place than you found it.

He’s been so good for Manchester City but so good for English football too in terms of his philosophy which is being adopted at so many levels.

The fact you have Under 6s playing out from the back, Pep has legitimised creative, ball-playing defenders which English football has not always been the best at.

Finally, do you think City and Liverpool’s domestic fight for honours and rivalry will continue for some time? Can anyone else challenge the pair?

Manchester United have the resources if they get the right man in and I think Arsenal will be a threat as they have a young team and Mikel Arteta has learned from some great coaches. Spurs, if they can keep Harry Kane also have a top coach in Antonio Conte, but if you were asked who are going to be the top two next season you would go Liverpool and City.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.