Liverpool and Manchester City are running magnificent, but they smoke | FA Cup

Ethe man looks tired. Liverpool counterattack in the final minutes and Trent Alexander-Arnold (41 games for the club and the country this season) can barely make his way over the midfield line. In stoppage time, Riyad Mahrez (45 games) ran to Andy Robertson (46 games), who tried and failed miserably to keep up with him. Bernardo Silva (49 games) looks tired as he scores Manchester City’s second goal. On the touchline, Pep Guardiola, fascinated by the world – who has just left his bench in the middle – grimaces as if he was immediately contemplating the solemn and unappealing prospect of overtime.

Even when the final whistleblower arrives to seal Liverpool’s triumph, there is no great celebration, no great joy, no great anguish. John Stones and Phil Foden sink to their knees. Liverpool players come together in painful embraces: partly in satisfaction, partly in relief and partly just to keep each other. Cautiously and groggily, the two teams recognize their fans and descend into the tunnel. An ice bath, a protective cover, a bus ride, a charter flight, and then bed. There is training in the morning. Manchester United come to Anfield on Tuesday and Brighton to Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. We move.

And of course, all this will soon be forgotten. The written record will only show that Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 to reach the 2022 FA Cup final. Atlético Madrid on Wednesday, while Liverpool were able to rest most of their first team at home against Benfica.

Similarly, if Liverpool fail to beat United this week, giving City a decisive advantage in the race for the Premier League title, no one will remember their efforts at Wembley three days earlier. This is the brutality of elite football: winning, losing, and how you feel at the moment is irrelevant.

Of course, none of the city team was willing to admit fatigue as a reason for their poor and neglected performance here. “I’m not going to sit here and apologize,” Jack Grealish (41 games and a tibial injury) responded to the suggestion that four high-level games in 12 days could take their toll. “That’s what you get when you’re in Manchester City. You’re always in competition at the end of the season.”

Oleksandr Zinchenko (a 22-year-old player) insisted: “Everyone was ready to play. We may be mentally tired, but you have to solve these things at this level.”

Jürgen Klopp comforts Jack Grealish following Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup. Photo: Michael Regan / The FA / Getty Images

Yet teams at the peak of fitness do not continue to beat the drum for the well-being of the players, as Jürgen Klopp has done for most of recent years. Coaches with a fresh and hungry team at their disposal did not wait for the 83rd minute of a lost semifinal to make their first substitution. Mahrez was the only change in Guardiola’s game, and was introduced only after Gabriel Jesus (40 games) had started to limp.

Guardiola then admitted that Kevin De Bruyne (41 games) was included on the bench despite not being fit to play, following a sudden foot injury against Atlético. Aymeric Laporte (43 games), Rúben Dias (39 games), Rodri (43 games) and Ilkay Gündogan (43 games) are all somewhere on the scale sliding from fatigue to collapse.

Fans of rival teams may be tempted to play the world’s smallest violin at this point. But as this season intensifies, as Liverpool pursues its historic framework and the city’s campaign stretches towards the two biggest awards of all, it is the physical aspect that remains the big unknown here, the dark matter, the greatest game of all. Before continuity, familiarity, rhythm? Or do you play the long game, and try to stretch your resources as evenly and efficiently as possible?

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Klopp and Guardiola are very different in this respect. While Klopp has a confident hardcore of about seven or eight first-team players – Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Joël Matip – they will start virtually every big game if he is adapted, Guardiola. he was much happier to rest and rotate all season. It probably cost him this semifinal, as a team that carried seven changes ended up being overtaken across the field. Worst of all was the decision to start the unfortunate Zack Steffen in the goal: not so much an elite goalkeeper as the actor who would play an elite goalkeeper in a Hollywood football adaptation.

It was a gamble. You may be tempted to conclude that it has failed. But if at some point in the next seven Premier League games Ederson (44 games) has to sprint out of his zone to meet an opposition striker, then those saved legs, those miles that don’t travel, could try. the difference between a successful release and a straight red card. These are the margins at which teams like City and Liverpool operate these days: a game of strategy and potential and 4D chess, where entire campaigns can rise and fall on the data coming out of the medical department.

So, of course, there is the mental aspect. Alisson lost her father in a tragic drowning accident last year and was unable to travel home for her funeral. Guardiola lost his mother to Covid. Zinchenko’s country is currently undergoing an inhuman invasion. What kind of private trauma do these guys suppress and bottle up just to be out there, on the field, playing at this ugly level? What are they wearing to entertain us? We probably never know.

So perhaps the most sparkling element of this rivalry on three fronts is how high the quality remains, even as the two teams burst into the finish, breathing smoke, draining every last drop of energy from themselves. The press and the passage remain as always restless and urgent. Minds persist, even when bodies protest. Everyone is tired.

Yet by a miracle, they all still run.

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