THE ITCHY & SCRATCHY SHOW
Why Jurgen Klopp’s head-to-head successes make him the itch that Pep Guardiola cannot scratch First versus second: Get ready for the match of the season so far!
“People ask me what is my secret against Pep Guardiola but there is no secret,” Jurgen Klopp says. “They have a good squad together and very good players. But if my players don’t fulfil the plan we have, there would be no chance. But, yes, I love these games, but I love them most after the game when we have won. So, hopefully, I will still love the game Sunday night.”
It is Liverpool against Manchester City and, yes, Klopp against Guardiola, however much they try to play down the personal matchup, at what will be an intense, demanding, expectant Anfield. First against second. Both teams unbeaten in the Premier League, separated only by goal difference at the top.
Both men are careful not to personalise things, and not least because there is a genuine mutual respect for the attacking football they play, but also because both have sharp tongues. Taking each other on off the pitch would be draining even if they wanted to.
But there is no denying that it has developed into a modern rivalry, with Klopp the only coach in world football who has a positive head-to-head record against Guardiola.
Of their 14 meetings, in Germany and England, Klopp has won eight and lost five and even outscored Guardiola. Just as remarkably, Klopp has won the past three games – in January, in the Premier League, and then both legs of the epic Champions League quarterfinal between the clubs which makes this fixture all the more intriguing. All were thrilling matches.
It was before that European tie that Klopp said there was no “witchcraft” to Guardiola’s success. He just had “extraordinary” players, at Barcelona, at Bayern Munich and now at City, and crucially knew how to use them. But there does seem to be some kind of magic, some kind of witchcraft that Klopp is able to weave over Guardiola.
In terms of trophies there is no real comparison between these two charismatic and driven men. The last of Klopp’s five – two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Pokal Cup, two German Super Cups – came four years ago. Guardiola has 26 pieces of silverware as a coach – including two Champions Leagues and seven league titles in three countries.
Last season, he won the title, by a country mile, and the League Cup. “He is the best manager in the world, no doubt about that,” Klopp says. “People said he has always had better teams than I had, but I would not even compare myself with him. I see his teams playing and I know that is really exceptional. I see what he did in different teams. Yes, he had better teams, that is true, more experienced – Bayern, Barcelona – we don’t have to talk about that. The target for us is to come closer.
“But what he has been doing since he started his career as a manager, I never heard of something similar. People in Liverpool would say differently about Big Bill [Shankly] and Big Bob [Paisley], but it is hard to compare eras as the times are completely different. But still doing the right things consistently is quality, obviously.”
And, yet. Klopp beat Guardiola in the Spaniard’s first game in charge of Bayern, in the German Super Cup, which was their first encounter. Of the nine defeats Guardiola suffered in Germany, four were inflicted by Klopp.
More recently and tellingly, in the documentary about City’s title-winning campaign last season, Guardiola even admits that Liverpool “scare me”, warning his assistants: “They’re dangerous, I mean it.” He was right.
The fact is this: Klopp appears to be the only manager who has made Guardiola do what he vowed never to do – compromise his principles and play differently. He did it at Bayern when he even tried to beat Borussia Dortmund’s press by playing the ball longer up to Javi Martinez, and he did it last season with City when, for that quarter-final first leg, he abandoned his default 4-3-3 and switched to a 4-4-2. City were left unsure and were 3-0 down before he sorted things out.
What Klopp appears to have – and reference back to the quote that began this article – is a “plan”. The hope is most managers would have one, especially when facing such a dominant and brilliant coach as Guardiola, but few have the bravery to take him on. Klopp does. Like Guardiola, he is a risk-taker.
“Sitting back is not a solution against City,” Klopp once said and he means that although, interestingly, Liverpool have been less full-throttle this season. Will they be against City?
At the same time Klopp is even prepared to surrender possession or – at least – not keep the ball for as long as usual as his players then fight to win it back quickly. Against Guardiola, Klopp tends to demand a faster, more direct approach to try to exploit City’s high defensive line.
There is a theory that although Klopp is able to defeat Guardiola in a one-off game, the latter will ultimately prevail over the course of a league campaign because of the control his football exerts and the squad he has.
It would suggest Klopp will always have a better chance in a cup competition and Guardiola in a league format. It may well be true. But Klopp can make life uncomfortable for Guardiola and will hope that he is getting closer to City, as most observers believe.
“I grew up in a time when Boris Becker and Michael Stich were the best tennis players in Germany and maybe for a few years in the world,” Klopp explains. “Michael Stich was an outstanding tennis player, maybe better than Boris Becker, but he was not Boris Becker. I hope for him that he enjoyed his career anyway, because I could have enjoyed his career. Now we are there. We cannot wait until they [City] are not there any more. We want to fight them. We want to have battles with them, 100 per cent.”
Klopp did not say whether Liverpool were Stich or Becker. The inference was the former, who won only one grand slam title to Becker’s six. And yet Stich beat Becker in that final – at Wimbledon in 1991.
Klopped again: No 9 Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the goal that gave Liverpool a 2-1 away victory over Manchester City in last season’s Champions League quarter-final and completed a 5-1 aggregate success for Jurgen Klopp over Pep Guardiola in the battle of the head coaches