JÜRGEN Klopp thinks Augsburg is “really cool” and he’s right you know. It’s an attractive city with its cobbles and spires, but also has this gritty feel to it. “Real” was another word the manager used as a description and it’s bang on. There’s a Irish bar in Königsplatz too, Flanagans, which operates in conjunction with a Mexican eatery and if that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will. Guinness and an Enchilada? Okay then.
There’s no fuss or frenzy here in the third largest city on the Romantic Road, well, unless Klopp and Liverpool are involved.
Steigenberger Drei Mohren, the team hotel, has been a magnet for local football fans. Those camped outside its entrance were not just from Augsburg though — there were some from Munich, Berlin and Nuremberg and unsurprisingly many made the trip from Mainz and Dortmund. My taxi driver, who could not really speak or understand English, navigated past the hotel and shouted “Klopp is back”.
He most certainly is. The man himself doesn’t care for the sub-plot about his homecoming, but he is big big business in Germany. He is the business.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) February 18, 2016
At Munich airport’s passport control, the entry officer asked me the reason for my visit. “To cover Liverpool’s Europa League game with Augsburg,” I offered. He confidently remarked that The Reds would not just win, but demolish their hosts. I queried what he based this prediction on, worrying if it had anything to do with their Bundesliga form. “Liverpool have Kloppo,” he said. “And he is a winner. A big winner.”
At the press conference, it was standing room only. Emre Can, a German international, was present to tackle questions but he may as well not have been. The masses were interested in only one man.
And that man knows all about Augsburg. As Borussia Dortmund boss he faced them eight times in the league, losing once. 20 goals scored, just eight conceded. Klopp admitted Liverpool’s preparation for the game has been a departure from their usual methodology given his extensive knowledge on the opponents.
What can we expect to see from Augsburg? “They usually play build up, to play football. They have a good mixture of experience and young players and made some really good transfers,” the Reds boss explained.
“They have players with big potential and have one of the most physical strikers in Europe — Raul Bobadilla — who you need a navigation system to drive around.
“He is a real worker and difficult to defend. Their wingers are quick and usually one of the best players in the Bundesliga is their playmaker Daniel Baier, who plays the six or eight, but he is injured for our game which is a big problem for them.
“They have experienced centre-halves, too, and good full-backs. A good team.”
For Liverpool, the biggest challenge will be quickly asserting their dominance on a side who will be up for this match unlike any other. This is their “absolute highlight” according to Klopp and they will do everything to ensure their performance is as historic as the fixture.
Liverpool need to do everything to ensure their quality overrides Augsburg’s enthusiasm.
Klopp is sure to select a strong team given the luxury of extended rest and the fact he actually has the options to do so now. The Firmino-Coutinho-Sturridge attacking axis should get another outing while Adam Lallana is still nursing a calf injury, but Lucas is back after shaking off a tight hamstring.
How shit was the news of Kevin Stewart’s ankle blow by the way? The manager was completely devvoed when delivering it.
Why will Klopp go strong tonight? “Listen, we play Sunday and we play Thursday. That’s a good gap, enough time to recover: no problem. It’s nothing,” he explained.
“We then play Thursday, Thursday, so no problems again. We then have a final (on the Sunday). Before a final you don’t have to think about anything because you don’t need to be recovered.
“You could play the final on Friday! In the end, I will make decisions and you will sit in your chair and criticise whether the Europa League is important or not!”
It is unquestionable that Klopp feels the tournament is a major one and he wants Liverpool to believe they can win it.
It’s up to the Reds to get the supporters to buy into that, too.