Darren Gough: Why it is time to salute Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER CITY took the Premier League to another level last season, but Liverpool have kind of upped the game more this year.

Pep Guardiola

The counter-attacking football they play and speed that they play at is outstanding and they have taken it to another level.

I was present at the Etihad Stadium at Thursday’s game between the pair, working for talkSPORT, and it was a privilege to be there.

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It was just such a great game to watch and savour an electric atmosphere – two great teams trying to outdo each other.

What is fascinating about the title race is that everyone is talking about Liverpool and Man City and no one is giving Tottenham any chance whatsoever.

It reminds me a bit of the Leicester situation where everyone wrote them off all the way through and somehow they just kept winning. Spurs are not far behind, though realistically, it looks like being between Liverpool and City.

Thursday’s result makes it exciting for neutrals as everyone wants to see how Liverpool will come back from this defeat.

Looking at City, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho have not started a league game together all season for them yet and that is their first-choice midfield.

You wonder if this is when City kick on to another level or when Liverpool bounce back and carry on their previous form.

You look at City manager Pep Guardiola and, while people say he only goes to the big clubs, you have to say that he has changed the way that Premier League football is being played forever.

Liverpool and Spurs have taken things up a notch and you also have the likes of Wolves trying to play this counter-attacking style of football.

All the teams are playing the same type of entertaining style of football, which has all come from Pep’s example.

On the night there was not much brilliance in the game, but the effort, desire and everything else that goes with football was plain to see.

What surprised me more than anything was City’s physical presence. Liverpool have some giants, but City controlled the midfield until Fabinho came on.

Jordan Henderson and James Milner were basically passengers and I thought Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho were outstanding and controlled the midfield – where the battle was won.

Fernandinho just has a habit of getting away with some challenges without getting booked. Not many have that art. He was outstanding on the night.

I did think City got it spot-on in putting Aymeric Laporte at left-back. Mohamed Salah didn’t get a kick until he moved through the middle.

Liverpool lost, but were not outplayed, and it was close. But in the final analysis, if you put your neck on the block, you would have to say that City just deserved it.

Sergio Aguero’s finish was also world-class; a moment of brilliance which sometimes settles these games.

As for the comments from Dejan Lovren about Liverpool going unbeaten in the league season, you would not have minded if the comments had come from Virgil van Dijk – not Lovren.

Watching van Dijk in the flesh, he is by far the best centre-back in the world. He was everywhere on Thursday; a real Rolls Royce of a player. If Liverpool win the title it will go down as the greatest signing in Premier League history – he is that good.

The game crowned off a brilliant Christmas and New Year period for sport and I just loved it over the festive season.

I have also enjoyed the darts, which has been amazing, and then there have been the Boxing Day Tests in Melbourne, Auckland and South Africa. There’s the horse racing, too.

Christmas has become such a celebration of sport and I have been glued to it.

Praise, too, for Leeds boxer Josh Warrington for his brilliant win over Carl Frampton a couple of days before Christmas in Manchester – he can really look forward to 2019.

It just goes to show that when you have got belief in yourself and train the hardest you can and push yourself to the boundaries then you can really achieve.

Warrington’s performance against Frampton was one of the best I have seen. It was full of guts, determination, skill and desire.

As a Yorkshireman, I loved watching every minute of that fight.