Pep Guardiola just had his Željko Buvač moment goal Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp may know what’s next

It feels like Liverpool and Manchester City have only just finished their battle for the Premier League title in 2021/22, but the new campaign is just around the corner.

While Tottenham are set to invest heavily and Chelsea and Manchester United will hope to improve, it seems inconceivable that it will be anything else other than a straight shoot-out between the pair again at the summit next year.

And that means that the fortunes of each side will continue to be examined in the context of one another — like the inevitable comparisons between big-money number nine signings, Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez.

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But it is not only among the playing staff where changes are taking place during the close season. At Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp has only just signed a contract extension and things appear settled, but at Manchester City, it is not quite so straightforward.

Pep Guardiola’s assistant, Juanma Lillo, has just left the club. There is, of course, time to find a replacement before pre-season, and Lillo was just one member of a very large backroom team — but his influence should not be underestimated.

Lillo was, in fact, a huge influence on Guardiola as he became a coach, and the Manchester City boss played under his assistant in Mexico at the end of his playing career. The Spaniard was almost Guardiola’s mentor and has a wide-ranging experience within the game, where he has become known as an innovative thinker. Some even credit him for coming up with the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Now, though, Lillo is set to become the first-team coach at Qatari side Al-Sadd after two years at the Etihad Stadium, despite Guardiola supposedly attempting to convince him to stay.

While the relationship between Guardiola and Lillo is not exactly as long or direct as Klopp and Željko Buvač, there are similarities. The concern when Buvač left Liverpool unexpectedly was that he was the ‘brain’ behind the operation and that the Reds might struggle without him. That has not proven true (though it was just before the 2018 Champions League final, which Liverpool lost), and will not at Manchester City either, but it does still represent a blow.

Those Buvač-Lillo comparisons are even more interesting once Lillo’s seemingly likely replacement at the Etihad is factored in: Enzo Maresca is reportedly set to return to Manchester City a year after departing.

Maresca was previously the manager of Manchester City’s U23s side, but left last year to take up a coaching position at Parma in Italy. The highly-rated coach, whose background prior to leaving for a go at managing a senior team with underwhelming results was in youth football, has made a swift return to the club he left.

It almost perfectly mirrors the exit of Pep Lijnders from Liverpool — the man who has made Buvač’s departure almost an irrelevance — who once held the role Vitor Matos has now providing the link between U23s and first team. The Dutch coach moved to NEC Nijmegen when the chance arose, leaving behind a huge hole in the Liverpool set-up, only to struggle and return six months later.

It is likely that Manchester City will not be hugely impacted by Lillo’s departure. Far more disconcerting for them will be the future of Pep Guardiola himself, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the coming season.

Likewise, Liverpool’s own coaching departure under Klopp led them to even greater heights and Buvač has been resigned to the history books. But for Manchester City, it is something additional to think about — and despite the similarities, there is no guarantee that Maresca will become their version of Lijnders.

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