Saturday 7 December 2019

German homecoming takes on extra significance for Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (Nick Potts/PA Wire)
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (Nick Potts/PA Wire)

Simon Hughes

Jürgen Klopp will manage in Germany tonight for the first time since taking charge of Liverpool, with the Europa League suddenly taking on greater significance for his club, as it has for others.

Like Manchester United, Liverpool are struggling to reach the fourth-place finish in the Premier League that offers Champions League qualification for next season, so winning the Europa League is probably the only way they can achieve that aim.

As a result, a positive display for Liverpool here against Augsburg might prove to have extra meaning and, though Klopp did not say he would prioritise Europe over a faltering league campaign, he recognises the benefits of doing so.

"I think there are a few teams when the competition starts that believe they can win it. I think we are one of these teams," the German said. "We are not one of the clubs that says, 'We have no chance.' If you look at the Europa League now, it is like a mini Champions League. There are some high-quality teams.

"Sometimes you look for the shortest way to achieve your goals. The Europa League, for sure, is not the shortest way to reach the Champions League. It's a hard way and not the normal road. It's interesting."

He concluded: "At this moment I would say we have a better chance this way. Maybe the top four clubs will have a crisis. But we have to solve our own problems."

Dressed in a woollen sweater, jeans and a pair of Converse pumps minus the socks, Klopp eased back into his seat as he spoke, swigging on a bottle of water like a rock star backstage at the start of his homecoming tour.

At the end of the press conference, without request, he advised those journalists staying in Munich - half an hour from Augsburg by train - which tourist traps to steer clear of and where to go drinking.

"You should also try pork knuckle," he said about one beer hall, a grin stretching across his bearded face. "Very, very good."

By spending time with Klopp, it is easy to understand why people want to listen to him; why, indeed, he packs out rooms on moments like this. The reality of being back in Germany did not really bother him. Yet his indifference was cool and friendly.

"It is more special for other people because there are not too many German managers working in foreign countries," he explained. "Most of my colleagues are working in Germany so if a German manager works somewhere else and comes back, yes it is possible to be a more interesting story. But, for us and for me especially, it is just a Europa League game."

Klopp admitted he knows more about the strategy of these opponents compared with those he has faced in the Premier League so far, defining the rise of Augsburg as a "special story".

Bernd Schuster was born in a city that had never boasted a Bundesliga club until 2011 when promotion to the top flight was sealed for the first time. Many have tipped Augsburg to go back down to the second division before every campaign since, but they have so far always managed to pull themselves out of trouble even when all has seemed lost.

Although their football has never dazzled under coach Markus Weinzierl, thanks to a close harmony, resilience and an ability to remain calm Augsburg have achieved some improbable results.

"Markus is one of the highest-rated coaches in Germany and a lot of clubs are thinking about him," Klopp said. (© Independent News Service)

Augsburg v Liverpool, Live, BT Sport Europe, 8.05pm

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