Klopp left exhausted by emotional roller coaster
Liverpool’s eight-point lead comes at a cost for the manager, says Chris Bascombe at Anfield
We are now in a world where dropped points in October trigger debate about a shift in the race
Jurgen Klopp was dissecting Liverpool’s last-minute victory over Leicester City when he made a request. He paused and asked to retreat a little so he could lean against a wall in the interview area before receiving the next question.
To use Liverpudlian vernacular, he looked absolutely knackered.
A small detail – certainly not the most significant or dramatic of an afternoon in which Liverpool preserved their flawless start – yet revealing. Klopp, emotionally at least, finishes these games as fatigued as his players, or those spectators whose match tickets ought to come with a free stress ball. Managers such as Klopp and Pep Guardiola invite veneration and huge financial reward for their capacity to inspire standards we have never been privileged to see in England.
What is never in rich supply is empathy, little consideration given to the effect of the adrenalin charge accompanying a frenzied and ultimately successful pursuit of a late win, and the inevitable comedown during the course of 10 post-match interviews with broadcast and print media when the realisation dawns that this is only duel eight of 38.
Klopp devours the match-day experience – barking instructions during the relatively serene brilliance of the first half, glaring menacingly at any audible whining voice in the Main Stand and raising the Kop volume when demanding another advance in the hectic closing stages of the second.
He cupped his ears to the crowd after james Milner slotted the 93rd-minute penalty, reiterating his point that the incessant cheerleading has as much purpose as the tactical tweaks that meant his other goalscorer, Sadio Mane, took on three forward positions in one game.
Then, there is Klopp’s full-time encore, his pitch patrol a feature of every Liverpool fixture as he hunts each player in huggable distance and acknowledges those fans who have not left early to beat the traffic.
As his side chased the champions Manchester City in last season’s climax, there was an extra element to this ritual. Klopp would turn his back as if making his way to the tunnel, only to pick up speed, skip towards the Kop and send three, feisty fist pumps their way.
He had not indulged with this part of the routine this season until Saturday – the cameramen stalking him made it in danger of seeming too choreographed – but there it was, making its comeback just as his players had finished scuffling with their impressive opponents in the wake of a contentious winner.
It was proof that the longest title run-in in history had begun and the stress levels on Klopp and Guardiola will only intensify. Every game and point matters as if that trophy is at stake.
“It is true. It is our life,” Klopp agreed. “That’s how it is. All or nothing.”
That is why Milner’s penalty already feels monumentally important, particularly against such an accomplished, improving team as Leicester. Liverpool and City are embroiled in an infinite pursuit of perfection, this being the 17th consecutive league victory for the leaders, one from matching the record set by City two years ago. Already there is a belief – call it a fear – that City might replicate and improve on it. We are now in a world
where if two points are dropped at home in October, it will trigger debates about momentum shifts and squeaky bums.
For Klopp and Guardiola, it must be thrilling and immensely gratifying, yet also draining – as if they are Michelangelo granted a few hours to appreciate the Sistine Chapel before receiving a request to reproduce it a few days later. Liverpool’s manager likes to evoke another image – that of an author continuously duplicating a classic.
“I said to the boys at half-time, if I had to write about all the good things you did in the first half it would be a book,” he said. “The only problem was, there were still 50 minutes to go.”
No wonder elite managers speak with such enthusiasm about the next chance they will get to take a prolonged break. With good reason, the world’s best have casually added the word “sabbatical” to the coaching repertoire. Afternoons such as this have the double impact of underlining why Fenway Sports Group is so desperate for Klopp to stay beyond 2022, and why the manager is hesitating as he wants to make sure he will have the same vigour in three years’ time.
There are 106 Premier League games before Klopp’s contract expires – a few hundred more motivational speeches; a similar number of bellows to the crowd to sing louder; and a couple of thousand interviews in which to demonstrate extraordinary levels of rejuvenation.
Given this is the 34th time Liverpool have won a Premier League game in the 90th minute, there will no doubt be more late victories to celebrate, too. Call it “Jurgie time” if you like.
However gruelling it all seems, there would be nothing more energising for Klopp’s Liverpool than one league title.