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Liverpool and Man City have sadly brought diving debate into sharp focus

Liverpool and Man City have sadly brought diving debate into sharp focus

07/11/2019 at 15:35Updated 07/11/2019 at 16:41

Diving. Simulation, the ever-euphemistic footballing authorities call it in an effort to bring some clarity to an otherwise-grey area of the game.

The morals of diving are well-versed and most people know which side of the debate they fall on. They will, like some ancient custom that has long since lost its original meaning but remains a key part of footballing ceremony, go through the motions of those debates once again on Saturday night once a few drinks have been had, with the only difference being the parties whose actions trigger it.

One week it may be Marcus Rashford, another it could be Raul Jimenez but they will still get called cheat or diver, hard done by or prejudiced. In the words of Travis, "the names stay the same, just the faces change".

Video - Klopp hits back at Guardiola: Mane is no diver

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We thought that VAR might have stamped diving out, if indeed you are one of the Roundheads who believes it needs stamping out and not a Cavalier who sees it as part of the professional game and for the referees to sort out. But as has become its custom, VAR has solved nothing in this area.

The players have been talking about it forever too, as a quick dip into the archives will tell you. Ahead of the 2013 Boxing Day clash between these two sides, an exclusive interview in the Mirror with Sergio Aguero screamed 'I'd never take a dive - I'm rubbish at it'. A few days later, City won 2-1 and Brendan Rodgers lashed out at the match officials for failing to award Luis Suarez a late penalty. He had fallen, most admitted, theatrically at best.

Suarez claimed, but was not awarded, a late penalty

Suarez claimed, but was not awarded, a late penaltyGetty Images

Rodgers insisted he was fouled. He asked other managers who vilified Suarez - "an easy target" in Rodgers' words - to look at the log in their own eye before picking the speck out of his. Diving, as he saw it, was a universal part of the game.

Suarez is of course in the pantheon of Premier League divers alongside St Gareth of Bale and St Wilfried of Zaha, each with their own creation miracle and reputation deserved or undeserved in equal measure.

Two years earlier, Kenny Dalglish had found himself defending Suarez from similar accusations, when the likes of Tony Pulis led the torch-and-pitchfork brigade asking for players to be banned for diving. Liverpool players weighed in too.

"He doesn't dive," said full-back Jose Enrique.

"Some Manchester United players go into the swimming pool," he added, referring to Sir Alex Ferguson's own criticisms.

The irony is that had the decision right at the end of City's Christmas win over Liverpool back in 2013 gone to VAR, it likely would have been awarded and the Reds would have won a title they lost by just two points. But that way darkness lies if we are to start retrospectively refereeing games.

Mane has been accused of diving by a number of managers

Mane has been accused of diving by a number of managersGetty Images

We should not be talking about this in the run-up to a game that even at this early stage, will go a distance towards deciding the title.

While the prospect of a two-horse title race is not the most appetising one - we would rather a Grand National-style pin-stickers effort - we do have two mouth-watering steeds contesting it. Both play attractive football, are expensively assembled and are recognised as two of the best sides in Europe.

They also have two of the best managers in Europe and it is here that the crux of the matter lies. Pep Guardiola knew that as soon as he said the D word in an interview with Match of the Day in relation to Liverpool and Sadio Mane, it would be the talk of the town all week.

Instead of discussing Manchester City's injury crisis in defence, the fact they could be nine points off Liverpool if they lose or how fresh Klopp's men might be after he was able to rest some of them in the Champions League while Guardiola had to take his team to "the dentist" as he called their trip to Atalanta.

Guardiola has been playing mind-games again

Guardiola has been playing mind-games againGetty Images

It was one of Guardiola's more genius moves, knowing Klopp would have to respond and then Mane himself as well. The media cycle has been dominated by talk of diving.

But if there was a further ulterior motive on the part of the City boss, to sew some seed of suggestion into the referee's mind about Liverpool's simulation, it looks to have failed - because Michael Oliver, by far England's best referee, has been appointed to the game.

As tedious as the relentless criticism of referees has become, it will be the biggest shock of them all if he has a bad day at the office on Sunday. Every football fan in England should be hoping he doesn't, and that it is football, not theatrics, that dominate Monday morning's conversation.

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