Jamie Car­ragher The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Liver­pool and United? It’s Klopp

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - JAMIE CAR­RAGHER

The most im­por­tant fig­ure at a club is the man­ager – get that right and ev­ery­one looks bet­ter

It was early in Jur­gen Klopp’s first full sea­son at Liver­pool and he was pre­par­ing to face Manch­ester United. Klopp was hop­ing to cel­e­brate his first an­niver­sary by go­ing level with Manch­ester City at the top of the Premier League.

In­stead, Jose Mour­inho se­cured a 0-0 draw by nul­li­fy­ing what he sar­cas­ti­cally de­scribed as “the last won­der of the world” – Liver­pool’s at­tack.

A for­get­table game did not dis­guise the fact Liver­pool were be­com­ing a force again, head­ing in the right di­rec­tion un­der their rel­a­tively new coach as he faced up to the first ob­jec­tive of Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Three years on, Klopp is cel­e­brat­ing an­other an­niver­sary in vastly dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, this time tak­ing on United to con­sol­i­date league lead­er­ship.

Now it is the United man­ager seek­ing to re-es­tab­lish his club’s sta­tus at the start of his first full sea­son. So much of the build-up to to­mor­row’s en­counter has fo­cused on com­par­ing the Liver­pool and Manch­ester United of 2019. This is ac­tu­ally wrong and un­fair on Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer. His work should be com­pared to that of Klopp in 2015-16.

The stats might say that Sol­sk­jaer’s record in his first 29 matches is equal to Klopp’s, but the re­al­ity is far grim­mer. What­ever hap­pens to­mor­row, he is nowhere near repli­cat­ing Klopp’s early im­pact. There is no ex­cuse for be­ing so far be­hind, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances in which Sol­sk­jaer took over. The United start­ing XI against New­cas­tle is the worst I can re­mem­ber in the Premier League era, and yet the prob­lems can­not all be at­trib­uted to a poor legacy.

The side Klopp in­her­ited in Oc­to­ber 2015 were no bet­ter, ar­guably a lot worse, yet his im­pact was im­me­di­ate. From Klopp’s line-up against Tot­ten­ham on that first day, only Divock Origi, James Mil­ner, Adam Lal­lana and Nathaniel Clyne re­main at the club. The back four in­cluded Ma­madou Sakho and Al­berto Moreno, while Jerome Sin­clair and Con­nor Ran­dall were sub­sti­tutes.

Be­fore Klopp’s ap­point­ment, Liver­pool’s own­ers and re­cruit­ment team took as much flak as Ed Wood­ward to­day. Un­der Klopp, those same ex­ec­u­tives and scouts are hailed as among the smartest in the world, with the struc­ture im­ple­mented by FSG pre­sented as a tem­plate for oth­ers to envy, study and copy – the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of pa­tience be­ing re­warded. In the story of the mod­ern Liver­pool, we will talk about the club be­fore and af­ter Klopp’s ar­rival. The club’s trans­for­ma­tion quick­ened af­ter he was un­veiled.

It may have taken him three full sea­sons to win his first tro­phy at Liver­pool – and he may win the Premier League in his fourth – but any ri­val chief ex­ec­u­tive (or pun­dit) study­ing his work and claim­ing it took a while to yield pos­i­tive re­sults is rewrit­ing his­tory.

Klopp led Liver­pool to their cur­rent po­si­tion by meet­ing a se­ries of de­mand­ing but re­al­is­tic tar­gets one step at a time.

Af­ter a few months, he had al­ready led the club to two fi­nals and notched up no­table vic­to­ries against Chelsea, Manch­ester City, Manch­ester United and Borus­sia Dort­mund. It was a work in progress, but the work was al­ready promis­ing, bor­der­ing on the ex­cep­tional, as Liver­pool reached the Europa League fi­nal.

He achieved Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion in his first full sea­son af­ter adding only three sign­ings – Sa­dio Mane from Southamp­ton, Schalke’s Joel Matip and Ge­orginio Wijnaldum. None was re­garded among the most cov­eted when they joined. Wijnaldum was part of a New­cas­tle mid­field who had just been rel­e­gated. Liver­pool have been jus­ti­fi­ably praised for mak­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of as­tute sign­ings un­der Klopp.

Man­agers should never just be judged on who they sign or how much they spend. It is what they get from those play­ers that tells you about their coach­ing abil­ity.

Liver­pool did not make a se­nior sign­ing last sum­mer, yet they look even bet­ter now than a year ago. That is what truly sep­a­rates Liver­pool to­day from when they fin­ished run­ners-up in the Premier League in 2002, 2009 and 2014, got busy in the trans­fer mar­ket and went so far back they did not even qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League a year later. It is also what dif­fer­en­ti­ates them from Manch­ester United. United have tried to re-es­tab­lish them­selves by sign­ing play­ers who were con­sid­ered game-chang­ers. They can hardly be ac­cused of fail­ing to back their man­agers. For an as­sort­ment of rea­sons, tal­ented play­ers have not im­proved. Most have gone back­wards.

I wrote two years ago that if United had ap­pointed Pep Guardi­ola, they would not be wait­ing long for the ti­tle. The same logic ap­plies with Klopp. If he was United’s man­ager, the ta­ble would look very dif­fer­ent. It sums up why the most im­por­tant fig­ure at any club is the man­ager. Get that right and ev­ery­one else looks bet­ter. So, what does this mean when Liver­pool travel to United to­mor­row? Ab­so­lutely noth­ing. Liver­pool will fin­ish well above United af­ter 38 games, but a meet­ing at Old Traf­ford is a dif­fer­ent beast.

There is much talk about Liver­pool match­ing an 18-game win­ning streak in the Premier League, but there is an­other 18-game se­quence worth em­pha­sis­ing. Liver­pool have lost 13 of their past 18 at Old Traf­ford in all com­pe­ti­tions, which is stag­ger­ing given United’s de­te­ri­o­ra­tion since Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s re­tire­ment.

I am re­minded of a meet­ing at An­field in 2009. We had suf­fered the worst se­quence of re­sults for more than 20 years and all the pre-match talk was of a United ham­mer­ing. We won 2-0.

We en­joyed our short-term tri­umph, only to re­alise that while we could al­ways give United a bloody nose once a sea­son, we were un­able to in­flict any last­ing dam­age by keep­ing up with them. Now the clubs are head­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how and why will con­tinue.

But if you want to sum up what Liver­pool pos­sess that United lack, it re­ally comes down to this; a world-class man­ager.

In Klopp we trust: Liver­pool fans show sup­port for their man­ager, his place in the club’s his­tory al­ready se­cure

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