Saturday 23 March 2019

Liverpool vs Bayern Munich: How Jurgen Klopp's Reds became the Bundesliga's '19th club'

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Simon Hughes

"I don't feel like this," Jurgen Klopp responded when asked whether his personal history with Bayern Munich added flavour to the encounter with the club he now manages, one he had already recognised as "the most emotional in the world".

For the second leg in Germany in three weeks' time, Bayern have received more than 350,000 ticket requests, though this does not necessarily reflect the demand absolutely because many supporters will not have bothered making applications – already appreciating they have little chance in succeeding.

Last Wednesday, the German tabloid Bild began a special series about what is happening at Liverpool, one scheduled to cover seven days – and possibly more depending on what happens tonight. Sunday's edition saw Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer using Bayern's training ground to recreate Abbey Road album cover by The Beatles, only the headline here was: The Bayerns, Come Together.

Elsewhere, Kicker had already printed a special edition about the tie, a magazine which has seen Liverpool's growing interest in Germany on its mobile phone app. This week Kicker's editor Jorg Jakob described Liverpool as "the 19th Bundesliga club" because of the number of page impressions whenever they play.

Liverpool's most recent game with Bournemouth created more traction, for example, than Wolfsburg versus Mainz last weekend and if standings were to be ranked this season according to online popularity, Liverpool would be sixth in the Bundesliga.

Jakob believes this indent is an anomaly and not a sign that the Premier League is capable of taking all of the focus away from the Bundesliga.

"There is a special feeling about Liverpool here because of the history and the culture," Jakob said. "But Klopp has helped bind this altogether into one package by building a team in his own image."

The appetite for this game is explained, indeed, because of Klopp's involvement but also because of the past. If you discount the European Super Cup, it has been 38 years since Liverpool last met Bayern in a competitive fixture. That it has not been received so excitedly in England – or perhaps even by Liverpool supporters – is a reflection of Liverpool's progression under Klopp. 

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Sometimes a lot more about realities can be gleaned from the questions being posed rather than the answers given. Klopp was informed of a story by a journalist who was taken aback by the response of a supporter who told her that he'd "roll over and have my tummy tickled by Bayern" if it meant Liverpool won the league. This alone shows how far Liverpool have travelled under Klopp: to a moment where desires are not necessarily choices put they are realistic possibilities.

"It is two big clubs facing each other and I am really happy to be part of this game, it's a big one," Klopp admitted. "It is a game you want to see and maybe that is the biggest achievement for my team so far – we are back not only in the competition but people think we could win it. That's good but still a lot of work to do."

When Liverpool were routinely the best team in Europe – back around the period when they last knocked out Bayern at the semi-final stage – Bob Paisley would warble his way through interviews, offering what he called "toffee" to opponents: making them believe they were better than they really were, thus leading them into the trap.

Bayern, a club with more recent experience of understanding what it takes to get across the line, have fawned over Liverpool since this draw was made – telling anyone willing to listen that the scale of their challenge is enormous even though Liverpool are without their three best central defenders, while Roberto Firmino is a doubt because of illness.

"Tomorrow we're playing against an opponent that's the most difficult draw," insisted their coach, Niko Kovac. "If you look at what Liverpool did in the Champions League last season and what Liverpool are doing in the Premier League this season, then you have to say Liverpool is the most difficult draw that there is."

Klopp had not heard Kovac's thoughts by the time he spoke, insisting Bayern were "still a force" despite an underwhelming performance domestically, which still ranks them as the second-best team in Germany.

Klopp has watched seven recent Bayern games, "and you can't see any obvious problem." He believes their league form actually makes them more dangerous in Europe. "The game is in a situation where the club (Bayern) is not overly happy, then it makes them more focused," he reasoned. "They will try everything to win this competition and we have to try to avoid that."

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