Ronnie Whelan: Klopp understands the mindset better than Van Gaal – It might be enough for Liverpool
Read Ronnie Whelan exclusively in The Herald
This is tribal. Forget the Champions League prize at the end of the Europa League. Forget the Premier League.
This is about stopping them getting through, no matter what and if that sounds a bit over the top, it’s not.
For a long, long time, the rivalry between Liverpool and Man United has mostly been enacted in games which don’t mean very much. No silverware at stake and no direct collision at the top of the table
Back when Liverpool were in their pomp, United were at a low ebb and Alex Ferguson’s glory march came at a time when Anfield’s trophy room was threadbare.
There was the odd moment when Liverpool fans began to believe that a title might be possible under Rafa Benitez and the clash between Alex Ferguson and the fiery Spaniard definitely cranked the intensity up a notch or two.
But even a few seasons back when Brendan Rodgers was on his remarkable title run, United were in the throes of separation from Ferguson and didn’t play any significant part in events at the top of the table.
So for supporters of both teams, there have been long spells when the whole point of the rivalry was to stop them in their tracks; no more, no less.
In the 80s, Man United fans simply wanted to put a dent in Liverpool’s success and that reversed when Ferguson set off on his extraordinary journey.
But this game is different. There is something important at stake for both teams and bragging rights which will carry more weight than usual.
I know Louis van Gaal has somehow managed to accumulate four wins from four tries against Liverpool and that adds a bit more spice.
But for all of that and the substance to the game, if this is anything like my day, everything will tunnel into one point for the players and it will be all about beating them. Nothing else will matter.
Coming into this first-leg, I would have to say that Liverpool are in better shape.
In general terms, there is evidence of progress during Klopp’s time at Anfield and if he can conjure a win over the two legs, he will be walking on water.
But he can easily survive losing to United in this one. His regime looks stable and has allowed Liverpool fans to dream again.
They understand it will take time but they see his commitment and I think they understand what he is trying to do on the pitch. I don’t think the same can be said of van Gaal at any time since he took over from David Moyes.
If someone was to ask which of the two managers is more likely to be still in his job in two years, I think Klopp would win by a landslide.
Van Gaal lurches from one crisis to the next and although he has bought himself some time and respect for his dignified and dogged refusal to be run out of his job by José Mourinho, I don’t think anyone believes he will survive beyond the summer.
Most recently on the pitch, Liverpool won a game against Crystal Palace on Sunday which they should have and would have lost just a few months ago after James Milner’s red card.
It was a very heartening display of determination and showed that Klopp has forged a very good group spirit which he can build on in the months and years ahead.
United lost a game they probably should have won in similar circumstances against West Brom and van Gaal was fuming. He needed momentum for this game against Liverpool and he has none.
Worse, it was uncharacteristic stupidity from Juan Mata which threw the game away and it’s always worse to lose to a self-inflicted wound.
That gives Liverpool an edge straight away but believe me, nothing you can do or say as a manager will count for much when the whistle blows for this game.
I remember all of them like they were yesterday.
The hairs on the back of my head still go up at the thought of them and that’s exactly what happened when UEFA managed to pair these two teams in the Round of 16 draw.
I think Klopp gets this. I think he understands the mindset better than van Gaal and I think he knows that this is United and they have to be beaten. It might be enough.