Jurgen Klopp had a warning for Pep Guardiola 12 months ago - it turned out to be sound advice
A year ago when Pep Guardiola’s appointment by Manchester City was first confirmed, Jurgen Klopp offered a friendly warning. “I don't think that it will be the same situation as he had in Spain, with Barcelona on the top level, or in Germany with Bayern on the top level,” the Liverpool manager said.
Unusually, this was not a venture into the Machiavellian world of Premier League mind games or an attempt to undermined Guardiola before he’s even started, it was sound advice from Klopp, a manager who was already trying to come to terms with football in England compared to what he had been used to in Germany.
Reflecting on those comments on Friday ahead of Liverpool’s visit to City on Sunday, Klopp derived no pleasure from his prediction having been proven right, not beyond the satisfaction of a rival being unable to kick on as they had hoped anyway, and once again he was at pains to stress that his admiration for Guardiola remains strong.
Jurgen Klopp confirms Henderson and Sturridge have "no chance" of facing Manchester City.
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) March 17, 2017
If anything, though, his own growing experience of the Premier League, its competitiveness its contrasting styles and its idiosyncrasies, has led to his opinions hardening.
It’s not that Klopp doubts Guardiola’s ability or even that he wonders whether his coaching talent can thrive in this country, it’s that he believes the tests that he is facing, both culturally and in terms of personnel, are unlike anything he has experienced before.
"The squad that Pep Guardiola had at Barcelona was the perfect role model for a win-win situation: having all these ideas with players who can obviously fulfil all the plans he had was fantastic. It was an outstanding combination,” Klopp said. “People who know more about Bayern Munich would say it was another good generation what they had there; good players at the best age and then this world-class manager. There was not a second team in Germany. We (Borussia Dortmund) tried as hard as possible to be it (a rival on terms) but for different reasons it was not possible.
“It is a big difference coming here, the most difficult league in the world. A lot of teams have a lot of money and a lot of teams have a lot of good players and that is the one thing which makes it really difficult to become champions in England. What is more than in other countries is the result is everything. No-one cares how you get a result, no-one. In other countries it is different, with a few styles of play you would play with the stadium empty.
“Here it is different: do it and afterwards if you defend with 10 players in the box and block many shots that is perfect defending. It is allowed, 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. I am not in doubt about his quality. Maybe a few people are but I am not. I respect him a lot. I've played against him a lot and I can say it is quite difficult to play his teams.”
Sven Goran Eriksson, who has managed in eight countries, is of a similar opinion to Klopp.
"It is more difficult for any coach to work in the Premier League than any other league. When you go to the Premier League, you have six, seven, eight teams who are fighting to win.”
The problem for Guardiola is that such logic does not make him immune to the heightened expectations that inevitably accompany one of the world’s most revered coaches when he takes charge of one of the world’s wealthiest and most ambitious clubs.
This is the cross that Guardiola has to bear and one which will only become more burdensome when City fall short of those expectations, as they have in both the Premier League and the Champions League in his first season in England.
But rather than shy away from that reality or make excuses for an underwhelming debut campaign, Guardiola is ready to embrace even greater responsibility in the belief that by doing so he will underline both his own pre-eminence as a manager and City’s status as a dominant force in English football.
Having been given the go-ahead by the club’s owners to overhaul his squad, Guardiola will make significant changes as he looks to shape City’s playing staff according to his own vision, although he ruled out suggestions that the planned exodus could see more than a dozen players leave City this summer.
“I met Sheikh Mansour in Abu Dhabi recently,” Guardiola said. “I heard the plan. I have more power than ever to shape the squad. It is a big challenge. People write that I will change 12/13 players. Impossible. They have contracts. You have to pay them and buy others. It would cost £500-600 million.
“Speculation is normal when you are out of a competition, it happens everywhere not just the Premier League and England. I have said many times I’m so happy working with the guys and how they try to do and their performances. We’re going to improve a lot next season. A lot of these guys will be here next season.
“We’re going to do what we’re going to do but knowing that a lot of players, I don’t know the average, they are going to stay here next season to help us because we believe in them because they did really well. Of course we have to improve and be better in the competition for next season and be more stable.”
Whatever changes are afoot and regardless of Liverpool having gone unbeaten against City in the Premier League since August 2014, Klopp views Guardiola’s team as the most difficult opponent that his own side can face and urged his players to take the game to them or else run the risk of being undermined by their own passivity.
“For me City is the most difficult team to play,” he said. “I know their image at this moment in this country is a little bit different. I've heard about Pep Guardiola's style and all that stuff but it is real football and it is difficult to defend against them and a lot of teams have failed already. If you can win the ball there are maybe a few spaces you can use.
"We know what we have to do there. If we can do it, I don't know in this second but we will try everything to do the right things and then it could be a fantastic game to watch. If you are passive against City you have no chance. You have to be active and to be active you need to brave.”