Friday 17 January 2020

Eamon Carr: 'It will take a monumental effort from Mourinho to take down 'king of the jungle' Klopp'

Spurs manager Jose Mourinho will pit his wits against Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp on Saturday (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Spurs manager Jose Mourinho will pit his wits against Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp on Saturday (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Eamon Carr

The etiquette of the jungle dictates that even the rhinoceros gives way to the mighty elephant at the watering hole.

The big beast is afforded special privileges.

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Where does that leave us when Liverpool visit Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday?

Jurgen Klopp is proving to be the Premier League's big beast this season, coaching a team that has dropped just two points out of a possible 60 so far.

Liverpool are 13 points ahead of the chasing pack. And they have a game in hand.

The last time Klopp’s side lost a league match was on January 3 last year when they went down 2-1 to Manchester City.

The only league blip since then was their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October.

On Saturday they meet a host team managed by Jose Mourinho.

The last time Klopp went head-to-head with a team managed by Mourinho was when, thanks to a couple of late second-half goals by impact sub Xherdan Shaqiri, Liverpool handed Manchester United a 3-1 defeat at Anfield in December 2018.

Sadio Mane (right) and Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah are on fire at present (Peter Byrne/PA)

Despite trailing Liverpool by 19 points, Mourinho declared after the match: "We can still finish top four."

Two days later a statement from Old Trafford announced: "A caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the season."

While Klopp carried on winning, Jose sat tight until Spurs came calling in November.

Announcing the 56-year old’s appointment, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy said: "In Jose, we have one of the most successful managers in football. He has won honours at every club he has coached."

His stature may be somewhat diminished, but there’s no doubt that Mourinho believes himself to be one of football’s big beasts.

Which should make for interesting times in north London tomorrow.

In the past, Mourinho has seemed reluctant to accept Klopp's credentials.

Three years ago, when he heard Klopp’s name listed as one of the great managers in the Premier League, he snorted derision believing the German coach had yet to prove himself worthy.

This time last year, he pointedly remarked: "If you speak about Guardiola, if you speak about Ancelotti, about the ones where obviously I belong, who have a career of victories over a long period, where are the young ones with a real impact in terms of results? Where are they?"

Of course, since then, although failing to win the league, Klopp’s team added the Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup to the Anfield trophy room.

With one win (against Brighton) in their last four league matches, Spurs have yet to show signs of improvement under Mourinho. In sixth, they’re six points off fourth-place Chelsea.

But don’t expect Mourinho to graciously concede the managerial high ground to Klopp.

On Sunday, while he praised the current Liverpool side as "the best team in the world", he was less willing to give Klopp credit for a virtuoso performance at the helm.

The loss of Harry Kane until April, due to a hamstring injury, is a big blow for Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho (Mark Kerton/PA)

"Jurgen arrived October 2015," he said. "October 2015, 16, 17, 18, 19 and now 20. I think eight transfer windows."

"I think in the first season they finish something like sixth or eighth or something like that," he added. "And four years later they are not just the world champions, I think they are the best team in the world, in this moment."

Veteran Jose watchers will know that the Portuguese is talking about himself here. Hinting that, given time and resources, he’s the man to make Spurs great again.

But there’s no escaping that tomorrow’s visit by the league leaders will be something of an acid test for Mourinho and his injury-hit squad.

If some of the ‘Special One’ gloss has been chipped away from Mourinho’s armour in recent seasons, it can’t be denied that he can still pose a threat. And tomorrow presents him with an opportunity to prove a point and underline his belief that he’s one of the greats.

Jose isn’t thick-skinned like a rhinoceros so memories of Liverpool fans taunting him at Anfield with the chant ‘Don’t sack Mourinho’ during what was to be his last match with Manchester United will still be an itch he needs to scratch.

While Spurs will be without their star striker Harry Kane, in Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura, they still have players who can find the net.

The stats aren’t promising though, with Spurs having won just one of their last 14 league matches against Liverpool.

Klopp or Mourinho? It remains to be seen who gives way on Saturday.

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