THERE was an interesting moment in Jürgen Klopp’s press conference last week when he was asked why – as he had predicted would happen 12 months earlier – Pep Guardiola was finding it hard in England.
“A lot of teams have a lot of money and a lot of teams have a lot of good players and that is one thing – it’s difficult to become champions of England 100 per cent,” said Klopp.
“Then another thing that I would say is that, more than other countries, the result is everything. Nobody cares how you get the result, nobody. In other countries it is different.
“With a few styles of play you would play with the stadium empty in a few other countries I would say. Here it is different. If you defend with 10 players in the box and block when they shoot it is perfect defending. It’s different, it’s allowed and that’s all good – we need to adapt to it, and sometimes we need to do it in different games.
“Everything is legal but the culture is obviously different.”
It was an interesting insight into the multi-faceted challenge both Klopp and Guardiola face at Liverpool and Manchester City respectively.
Klopp’s record against the top sides is rightly being recognised as a step in the right direction for Liverpool – The Reds are unbeaten versus the top seven this season – yet the five defeats in the league, to Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull and Leicester continue to smart.
A look back to his taster season, when he inherited Brendan Rodgers’ squad, is littered with yet more defeats that most would file under avoidable – Crystal Palace at home, Newcastle away, a 3-0 defeat at Watford, West Ham away, Leicester away and Southampton away among them.
What is now hitting home for Klopp, and perhaps Guardiola too, is that the top teams have to find different ways to take the points. Klopp was clearly pleased with ‘winning ugly’ against Burnley and, in both that game and the draw with Manchester City, his decisions seemed to demonstrate the taking of a result rather than a desire to continue to go all guns blazing.
As Klopp says, in the Premier League for many clubs, owners and fans it is all about the result. And yet, simultaneously, that is not a luxury afforded to the managers at the top end of the table.
So while West Brom manager Tony Pulis will talk openly about a tally of 43 points in the league being “absolutely fantastic” that’s clearly something that wouldn’t ever tumble from the mouth of Klopp.
Pulis teams can rack up 40 points then turn off – and they normally do. Klopp could conceivably break 80 points this season and for many it would still be perceived as a failure as it won’t result in the title.
While rote learning on keeping tight, taking no risks and nicking one on set-pieces will see a string of teams and their managers right, Liverpool must go toe-to-toe with the top sides, pick their way through the packed defences of the relegation scrappers, compete manfully in at least three competitions and do it all in style.
Results, and only results, is not on the job description of a Liverpool manager – some weeks, yes, every week – no.
In the early days of Brendan Rodgers, when talk was rife of an 180-page dossier helping to convince John Henry and Tom Werner of his competence, the Northern Irishman revealed what was expected of him.
He added: “The vision is simple – to win the most trophies we can. That’s the bigger picture. The second is to play attractive, attacking football, and the third is to bring through as many of the young players as we possibly can.”
Fast forward to when Klopp replaced him, and Werner was highlighting the credentials that secured him the job.
“He possesses all the qualities we are looking for in a manager – he is a strong, inspirational leader, who has a clear philosophy of high energy, attacking football.
“Critically, he is also a winner and someone who can connect with and enthuse our supporters.”
Klopp has undoubtedly left us enthused. There is rightly still faith in him to deliver. But like Rafa Benitez started out with one plan and adapted it as time went on, it’s likely Klopp will do the same.
When Benitez arrived, two of his early signings were Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia. Skilled, Spanish – more brains than brawn. He followed that up in the January of 2005 with more of the same, signing Fernando Morientes.
By the summer though, with a season of results that included reverses at Bolton, Middlesbrough, Everton, Southampton, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and a home defeat to Birmingham it was clear Rafa decided Liverpool needed more backbone – a bit of height and physical presence to complement the technicians.
The non-stop running of Momo Sissoko, 6ft 2in, and the aerial power of 6ft 7in Peter Crouch were added to the armoury and they helped a much tougher to beat Liverpool jump from fifth and 58 points in the league to third and 82 points.
The Reds this season have played the attractive, attacking football Rodgers highlighted as a performance indicator for the manager. The high-energy play that so enthused Werner has also been on display time after time, not least on Sunday at Manchester City
But for those that have seen fantastic football turn to failure too many times to remember over the years, the added fight that has emerged in Liverpool’s performances post-Leicester is another sign of progress.
Klopp must mastermind not just a one-off season of hope but a regular, incessant challenge at the top end of the league. Liverpool must be there or thereabouts consistently. Ready to pounce. And to do that, the Reds have to win in lots of ways – the fluid, fast-moving, one-touch football that had all us cooing at the back end of 2016, but also the spirit-led, physical, fighting football that has prompted the recent mini-revival.
Every season will feature sides in the Premier League that are well-drilled, big in stature and heart and ready to bloody the nose of the big spenders. The names will change but the approach will not. Liverpool have to be ready for it. The manager has to be ready for it. And there are signs that could soon be the case.