Sport Champions League

Friday 19 October 2018

Jurgen Klopp: 'Big-balls football' has made Liverpool a superclub again

Mohamed Salah carries the goal during Liverpool’s training at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah carries the goal during Liverpool’s training at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Jurgen Klopp has declared that Liverpool are back among Europe’s elite because of the “big-balls football” played in their exceptional run to the Champions League final.

The comment was a true Klopp-ism. On the eve of facing Real Madrid here, the Liverpool manager was at his inspirational, charismatic best.

Klopp will join Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafa Benitez as an Anfield immortal if he succeeds. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Klopp will join Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafa Benitez as an Anfield immortal if he succeeds. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

He hailed the “outstanding power” that came from the bond between his team and the fans, and spoke passionately about how Liverpool were different from other clubs – which is why he made the “100 per cent” emotional response to join them in October 2015.

Winning a sixth European Cup –  and denying Real a 13th, and a third in a row – was, however, not required to return Liverpool to superpower status. “I don’t think we need that moment to restore it,” Klopp argued. “I think it is obvious we are back.

“To qualify for a final, it shows you are back. To win it? You need a little bit of luck. But we are back, first and foremost. Even if you win, you cannot stop. If you lose, you cannot stop. I really like the way we are as a club, as a team.”

This season’s feats, therefore, are the start of something. “Yes, 100 per cent,” Klopp said. “We feel in a good place. Not in a place to rest or whatever. No. Not at all. This is really a good place to use.”

Liverpool fans are already descending on Kiev.
Liverpool fans are already descending on Kiev.

That place brings expectation that they will do well next season, and history shows reaching Champions League finals is often followed by more appearances. Of the previous 10 finals, four clubs have been involved three times each, and three have been there twice.

“What I said to the boys before the semi-final was that I don’t think we are the last time here,” Klopp said. “I don’t think that. I didn’t want to take the pressure off them or whatever, I only think we are a club and a team next year that could be here again, far in the competition. That’s what I said.”

Not that Klopp, attempting to win a European final at his third attempt, is unaware of the importance of seizing this incredible opportunity. “We are Liverpool. And that is what we will really live in that moment,” he said.

“We are Liverpool. We are different. We have been different the whole campaign and we want to be different again in that final. We have a chance. That is all.

“I don’t know exactly why I think it constantly but we are Liverpool. It is like it is,” Klopp said. “That’s why we are in the final, not because we are the best team and everybody thought before the season, ‘Yeah, Liverpool and we will see’. It was exactly the other way around. The boys played this kind of football that was different.”

He then clicked his fingers three times to emphasise that Liverpool had done it “again and again” during their exhilarating campaign. “We had so many game-changing moments. Unbelievable. We showed them [to the players] from time to time because nobody really thinks about them,” Klopp said, before detailing three moments: against Porto, Sevilla and even lowly Maribor.

“These moments, and we had them 500 times, and we need them again,” he said.

“You need these game-changing moments. Not waiting for something, not hoping for something. No, change the game in the moments you can change it.”

It was illuminating that all three examples described by Klopp involved Mohamed Salah, who many believe  is the one player who carries Liverpool’s hopes of derailing Madrid; and not one involved him scoring a goal.

Having defeated Porto, Manchester City and Roma in the knockout stages, and being the competition’s highest scorers with a record 46 goals, Liverpool undoubtedly deserve to be here.

“The home games were like, ‘Wow, what’s that?’” Klopp said. “It was kind of a new level in the Champions League. It was not that we are so much better, but it was so different, so brave, it was big-balls football. I really loved it. The power we had against City, for example, was like, ‘What’s that?’ They were better in all the other parts of the game, they played until they were in our six-yard box, but when we were in possession, it was massive.”

And now Liverpool have to “do it all over again” against the holders, with all their experience, know-how and big names.

"We have to defend with all we have," Klopp said. "Let them do a cross and you need the fire workers [fighters] in the box. Avoid all crosses, avoid all shots, avoid all passes... I know the pressure will come, but in this moment I only feel the opportunity."

So, Liverpool must take that opportunity. The crowd, even in a neutral venue, with tickets criminally limited and logistics cruelly tough, will play their part, especially those in Liverpool red.

"Outstanding power, that creates an outstanding power," Klopp enthused.

"It's difficult to describe but fantastic to be involved in. That's really big. Atmosphere in a club like Liverpool makes a difference. This club is used to it, the crowd is used to having influence, they want it. When I came in, it was a little more that they had influence but they didn't want to use it, it was now, 'You start to deliver before we start to perform'.

"That was a little bit the situation. Now it is like both batteries are recharged, both can perform and that makes it really special. It's big."

Unsurprisingly, the emotional pull for Klopp was significant.

"I don't know why I was so attracted, but when I got the call, I knew my break would be finished," he said of taking the Liverpool job three years ago, five months after leaving Borussia Dortmund.

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of Dortmund's defeat to Bayern Munich which is one of five defeats Klopp has faced in his last six finals, including the 2016 Europa League reversal to Sevilla with Liverpool.

The feeling that he was in the right place, however, has never left him.

"It's not that I have read books about different clubs so I can give an explanation and say, 'That is the club that attracted me most' or 'They are in the most difficult situation, maybe I can help them the most'. It was only a feeling. And that feeling, obviously, was right.

"After the game (the Champions League final defeat against Bayern), I knew I would want to have this opportunity again. It took a while, but I'm here again because my boys gave me that chance again.

"I'm really happy to be here with this group of players. They fought so unbelievably hard for this, I really think they deserve to be here. I'm really proud of them already. And now, let's play football.

"This club gives you the power, the players, the teams, that you can win big things from time to time."

"It does not come any bigger than this. That time is now. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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