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!

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

“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

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