Comfortably the two best sides in England went punch for punch on the pitch last season, and Manchester City and Liverpool are now doing the same off it through the respective arrivals of Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez, with neither Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp willing to give each other an inch for fear of the other taking a mile in what looks set once again to be a two-horse race in the Premier League.
Manchester City signed a big, fast, prolific central striker in an attempt to adapt, develop or at least offer an alternative to their style of football to steal a march on Liverpool. Only for Liverpool to respond in kind, signing their own big, fast, prolific central striker.
Straight comparisons between the pair are reductive given they've played for different clubs with different players in different divisions. What we do know is that they can score goals and – given the competition to sign Haaland and the £85m needed for Nunez – City and Liverpool have little doubt they will continue to do so.
One point was all that could separate City and Liverpool last season, with final day drama adding to what was already one of the great title races in Premier League history.
Confirmation of their marquee summer signings leads to questions as to whether either has given one team the edge, or if Nunez and Haaland will instead cancel each other out, with respective one per cent improvements simply maintaining the extraordinarily well-matched dominance of these two wonderful football teams.
The difference between what are at first, second and third glance very similar transfers is that Guardiola has been waiting patiently for this moment at Manchester City, while it feels as though Klopp has been forced into it.
City were very keen on Harry Kane last summer and have seemingly been working on their move for Haaland ever since. For all of their brilliance, and questions over whether a proper striker is a) necessary, and b) may hamper their free-flowing style, Guardiola has wanted one for a while and he seems to know what he's doing most of the time.
While some claim City won the title because they don't play with an old fashioned No.9, one may also suggest that they managed to win it without the final piece of the puzzle; that they beat Liverpool while biding their time on the way to perfection.
Listen now to 90min's brand new podcast, Talking Transfers, with Scott Saunders, Graeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth. On their most packed show to date, the guys discuss Sadio Mane's valuation as Liverpool win the race for Darwin Nunez, how Marc Roca joining Leeds could allow Kalvin Phillips to depart for long-time admirers Manchester City, the latest on Manchester United’s pursuits of Frenkie de Jong & Antony and much more.
Similar may be true of Liverpool's move for Nunez. Klopp's glowing praise of him following his goals home and away in last season's Champions League were frequently (and overly) used in articles ahead of his confirmation to guide the transfer addicts towards a belief that the move has been on the cards for a while. But it feels reactive, not only because of the proximity to City's move for Haaland, but also due to Sadio Mane's imminent departure for Bayern Munich.
The concern for Liverpool, and perhaps the greatest difference between the circumstances surrounding the arrivals of Nunez and Haaland, is that Nunez – assuming Liverpool don't fork out money on further forward additions – will be a replacement for one of the club's greatest ever players.
Mane has been there for, and played a huge role in, all of Liverpool's success under Klopp. Times change, teams must develop, and the signings of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz are evidence of a side that are well prepared and make wise decisions when it comes to evolution. But the coming season will be their first without a member of the Fab Three. This is their first step in a revolution.
Revolution in personnel but not necessarily in style. Nunez is different to Mane – bigger, more physical and less of a dribbling menace – but Liverpool are playing more long passes under Klopp than ever before; getting the ball forward more quickly, often bypassing the midfield. Nunez is therefore arguably a signing suited to their current style, rather than one requiring them to change it.
City have a different concern. Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus may well leave, but unlike Liverpool with Mane, they are happy for them to go. Their worry will surround how Haaland's arrival will change the way they play and how quickly their new signing and the current members of the squad can adapt.
The brilliant goals we associate him with, where he charges around or through opposition players from deep before smashing the ball past helpless goalkeepers, will be rare at City – they're infrequently in a position to counter-attack such is their control of possession.
And given that dominance of the ball, diminutive players with tight ball control and quick movements – those that have been so successful for years at the Etihad – may be better suited than the barrelling man mountain.
That said, if it works it could really work. For all of the tap-ins City score, balls quite frequently flash across the box or bobble around it. There's no great aerial threat, with crosses requiring precision rather than being 'put into an area'. And along with the benefits of his physicality, Haaland's other great asset is of course his world-class finishing; that's likely to be very useful no matter the style.
Liverpool may be as good with Nunez as they were with Mane (though that's a very high bar), but their style, brilliant though it is, will be their limiting factor. That's meant as a compliment – they can't get much better at it.
But that means Klopp's side don't have the same room for improvement as City, whose need to adapt will be greater, making their ceiling higher but also increasing the likelihood of them not being quite so brilliant, in the short term at least.
Source : 90min