Thursday 22 February 2018

James Lawton: Klopp's forward thinking making Mourinho look like yesterday's man

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, pictured left, with Jose Mourinho
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, pictured left, with Jose Mourinho
James Lawton

James Lawton

Wayne Rooney's agony of career adjustment may have been at least one small help to his manager Jose Mourinho.

Perhaps it has deflected a little from the fact that the Special One is also facing a searching appraisal of his status.

The re-examination will reach peak intensity as when Jurgen Klopp sends out his Liverpool shock troops at Anfield on Monday night.

After what began to seem like the interminable meanderings of World Cup qualification, the resumed Premier League saves the most compelling action for its final course of the weekend.

And at the heart of it is a most intriguing football dish. Stirred in is the possibility that Klopp's pronounced edge over Mourinho will begin to look like a rout.

The Anfield messiah has a 3-1 lead in five head-to-head games; and that one defeat, 2-0 to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the second leg of the 2013 Champions League semi-final, was not enough to prevent his Borussia Dortmund making it to the final against Bayern Munich.

Jurgen Klopp’s first victory with Liverpool was over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea last season. Picture: Getty Images
Jurgen Klopp’s first victory with Liverpool was over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea last season. Picture: Getty Images


Now, a loss on Monday would evoke for Mourinho the chilling memory of his home defeat at Stamford Bridge this time last year. That was Klopp's first Liverpool victory and a shuddering blow to his rival's fight to save his job at Chelsea.

It was also something of a tactical mis-match. Klopp's men consumed the pitch while Mourinho's troops appeared to have either forgotten or rejected the methods that had once swept through the game with dramatic effect, most recently in the 2015 Premier League title win.

The consequences of another defeat at Klopp's wildly gesticulating hands would certainly not be so bleak, not at this early point in Mourinho's regime at a club in desperate need of new horizons - and momentum - but it would certainly provoke fresh doubts about his ability to make an instant title challenge with £89m Paul Pogba at its heart.

Mourinho, though, is stripped of his aura; he is not the man who won Champions League titles so brilliantly at Porto and Inter Milan, or suggested so strongly that he would always find a way to win.

Another fall to Klopp - so soon after United's 3-1 collapse at Watford and the dismal home draw with Stoke - would bring a new hard edge to the theory that Mourinho's time might have passed.

By the sharpest contrast, for the 49-year-old Klopp it would be yet another statement that he may have something remarkable in the works.

Liverpool displayed a superb relish for the pressurising demands of their coach in their victories at Arsenal and Chelsea, pounded faltering champions Leicester City and fought the emerging Tottenham to a draw at White Hart Lane which looked even more impressive when Mauricio Pochettino's team went on to outplay Pep Guardiola's Manchester City on the same field.

It all amounts, says Klopp, not so much to a breakthrough but a dawning sense of long-term possibilities. He snaps his fingers and says that his first year at Anfield has gone just like that: a breath of wind, a flash of insight here and there, but most of all an understanding that the building has just begun.

"There have been a few ups and downs but always with a really optimistic view about the future," he declared. "It feels like a short year. Hopefully, I will have many more years here. I've never thought about the speed or the tempo of our progress. I only know that we have to get better. That's how life is."

Certainly it is one that has produced a radically different perspective to the one of the man he faces in the latest 'match of the season'.

While Klopp exhorts and cajoles and emotes, Mourinho still displays the style of a Special One deigning to bring the stones down from the mountain top.

The trouble, some football intellectuals are beginning to contend, is that the writing on the tablets is getting progressively less enlightening. They support the theory that Mourinho's mojo isn't so much mislaid as overtaken.

If it is true and Klopp is indeed the man motoring down the outside lane, the process may well have started when he was giving Mourinho's Real such a hard time in the Champions' League. Then, Mourinho snapped: "I have said a little bit about Dortmund and that is enough. Since the day of the draw Klopp talks every day."

The German, as is his tendency, simply rolled amiably with that first punch, saying, "Mourinho says I talk too much. That's what one of my teachers used to tell me. I don't care. I'm not intelligent enough to understand mind games, so maybe I'll just shut up and everything will be okay."

He did, briefly, and it was okay when Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski hammered four goals into the Real net.

Then Mourinho had something to say, albeit sourly. He moaned: "My team is so naïve. Lewandowski scores four goals and we don't foul him once."


That might have passed for football sophistication at the peak of Mourinho's formidable powers but now, in his maybe changing times and possibilities, it has the hollow ring of graceless cynicism.

Perhaps Mourinho's biggest challenge is not to re-animate United but himself.

Klopp, by contrast, says that his job is to give Liverpool a feeling that anything is possible; and among his admirers, Diego Maradona, no-one less, believes he is perfectly equipped for the job.

Maradona took time off from creating some minor havoc at the Pope's match for peace in Rome this week to single out one of the most inspiring of contemporary coaches.

He said, "Jurgen Klopp, I love what he transmits. I liked him before with Borussia Dortmund, and now in the Premier League. Klopp is always going forward."

At Anfield on Monday we will know a little better if, on the other hand, Jose Mourinho is really heading in quite a different direction.

Irish Independent

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