Saturday 3 December 2016

Henderson insists Klopp has players prepared for anything Mourinho might throw at them

Klopp’s men not afraid of Mourinho’s mind games as captain stokes up Kop cauldron

Chris Bascombe

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

Jordan Henderson and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to be smiling again after tonight’s match. Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Jordan Henderson and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to be smiling again after tonight’s match. Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Liverpool are gearing themselves up for the return of the great Anfield spoiler as Jose Mourinho steps into the Kop cauldron for the first time as Manchester United manager.

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The scars of Mourinho's most notorious win at Anfield - Chelsea's 2-0 victory, which cost Liverpool the title in 2014 - have not healed or been forgotten.

And Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson raised the stakes by warning Mourinho that his renowned mastery of football's dark arts will have no impact on Jurgen Klopp or his players.

"We will be prepared for whatever is thrown at us," said Henderson, underlining the bullishness on Merseyside ahead of tonight's Anfield showdown. "We'll play as we have been. If we keep doing that, it doesn't matter what other teams will do. They'll not live with us."

Henderson reflected on the suffering Mourinho inflicted two years ago as he considered what fresh stunts he might have in store to disrupt the flow of the current Liverpool team.

"The way that they came and played was very clever from Jose," he recalled. "At the time, we were on fire and the way they played the game was very slow, sat in. It was difficult to watch.

Impact

"They made it very difficult -throw-ins, goal-kicks, they were taking forever and that got everyone worked up in the stadium.

"It worked to their advantage in the end because they got the result they came for and the one that had a big impact on us not winning the league. I will never really forget that.

"It was frustrating for me. I was a fan. I was in the crowd. I was shouting at the ref to get things going a bit quicker.

"It wasn't a nice game to watch, but full credit to him. It was tactically very good from Jose and he is a great tactician. He is a world-class manager.

"They will be prepared and they will have a game plan and we need to be ready and prepared for anything that is thrown at us.

Henderson accepts that, while the 2014 team was dominated by the match-winning contribution of Luis Suarez, Klopp's side has threats across the pitch.

"For me, every player is raising their game and performing really well," he said.

"In the final third we have been very good. Ruthless. We have some very talented players going forward and creating opportunities.

"We're all getting on the scoresheet, we're all getting assists, which helps us as a team.

"If you are the opposition, you don't know where the goals are going to come from because they could come from anywhere.

"We were a good unit when Luis was here, but obviously he stood out because he is a world-class player."

In recent weeks, Klopp has ordered his players not to become distracted by the praise coming their way.

His usual pre-match preparation meetings have been accompanied by post-match briefings reminding the Liverpool players of how much more needs to be done.

After victories over Chelsea and Arsenal this season, the additional scalp of United would send a message about Liverpool's title-challenging capacities this season.

"Sometimes I think the (United) rivalry is more than the derby with Everton," said Henderson, speaking ahead of the game as part of the club's 'Seeing is Believing' charity campaign.

"That's still huge, but Man United has got a different edge to it, if you like. I was quite blown away when I first came here and played in the first one or two. You don't realise how big it is.

"A win would give everyone around the club the belief to go on and keep winning games to challenge for the title.

"It's early days for us. We're still improving, even though we've started well. We've got to see how the next few months go, but we're going in the right direction. There's a lot of confidence and we've got to keep that going."

Henderson is clearly enjoying working life under Klopp - not least the little chats he has with the manager, like the one in the aftermath of Liverpool's win at Stamford Bridge last month, when, despite arcing a 30-yard goal into the top corner of Thibaut Courtois's net, he was spoken to about where he could have done better in the game.

This does not seem dissimilar to the legendary Rafael Benitez chat with Fernando Torres, in which the striker's potential technical improvements were pointed out in the immediate aftermath of a hat-trick.

Henderson believes the Liverpool players actually like the way their manager can be in their ears at any time - or anywhere.

"Individuals are different," he said. "He knows everyone, how they all react and how to get the best from them.

"When I spoke to him after that (Chelsea) game it was more about what I needed to improve on and the things I could have done better in the game.

"It's not about the things that you did well, it's about the things you didn't do so well and what you need to improve on for the next game."

Henderson was reaching to the core of what makes Klopp so unusual as a manager - that capacity to retain a professional distance, preventing his players from ever feeling entirely relaxed, while pouring such energy into the effort that, from the outside, he seems to be at the hub of the Liverpool collective.

Of course, that balance is far easier to accomplish when your decisions prove judicious.

Henderson has been the subject of a substantial one - a relocation this season into the deep-lying midfielder who sits and shields the defence while others execute the press.

In a Premier League landscape occupied by two managers who played that role and now preach it - Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman - it certainly seems de rigueur. It has worked better than many expected for Henderson.

The new role requires a strong defensive aspect and he has ably demonstrated that capacity.

It also means that he has more time to receive and distribute the ball than in the past. That has helped his game.

There have been times in the past few years when the midfielder has lacked control in possession. Now there seems to be more poise and calm.

Mighty

He has developed in other ways, too. The captaincy took time to grow on Henderson when he was asked to fill the mighty boots of Steven Gerrard 18 months ago, but the 26-year-old has cast off the slightly gauche demeanour which made some doubt his ability to lead - sometimes in a highly personal.

It was United legend Alex Ferguson who questioned his "gait" in his autobiography.

"You still hear it now and again," he said of the criticism. "But I wouldn't go looking for it. I wouldn't go reading it or watching what's said about me on the TV.

"It's not about how much you hear, it's about how you deal with it. It's about what you think, it's about what the players think inside the dressing room.

"No-one else can affect that really. It's about being focused on what you want to achieve. That's all I do.

"You will get criticised, you will get praised - that's just the way football goes. I've learned over a few years now that it can change within an instant.

"You have to try and stay consistent. Whether you win or lose, you need to stay on a level platform.

"You can't get too carried away when you win, and can't get too down when you lose. Just focus on the next game and what you need to do. You give everything. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always have to move on quickly."

(© Daily Telegraph, London.)

l Jordan Henderson and Liverpool FC are supporting Standard Chartered's 'Seeing is Believing' charity initiative, which helps the 285 million people around the world who suffer from preventable blindness. For more information or to donate, visit www.sc.com

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