Jurgen Klopp says Tony Pulis would make worthy manager of the year
It is a sign, perhaps, of how Jürgen Klopp has adjusted to life in English football that he thinks Tony Pulis would make a worthy manager of the year.
Klopp, the Liverpool manager, has not always been so appreciative of his West Bromwich Albion counterpart; they were involved in a touchline confrontation the first time they met, as the German was finding his way in the Premier League 16 months ago.
Yet on Sunday, as Liverpool try to move a step closer to Champions League qualification at the Hawthorns, Klopp is open about his respect for Pulis. He expects Chelsea’s Antonio Conte, or perhaps Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, to take the individual coaching awards given out by the League Managers’ Association and the Premier League, yet sees Albion’s head coach as being among the very best in the country.
“It’s a players’ game,” Klopp said. “The better the players we have, the better we look in public. But as a manager, you always respect the things like Tony Pulis is doing at West Brom a lot.
“You should not think he has a bad football team. They are really good. They have a few outstanding players. So yes of course he will have a chance [of being manager of the year].
“For me, Antonio Conte is the obvious choice, but Mr Pochettino is not far behind him. There are a few managers you could think about. If it’s only half a year, you could think about Marco Silva from Hull.
“If the Championship is involved, then there are another few interesting guys: Dave Wagner at Huddersfield, Slavisa Jokanovic at Fulham, Chris Hughton at Brighton.
“All of them have difficult situations and obviously they deal really well with it, so I’m happy I don’t have to make the choice.”
Klopp and Pulis got off on the wrong foot on that Sunday afternoon at Anfield in December 2015; the Liverpool manager was critical of West Brom’s tactics, and angry about a challenge by Craig Gardner that put Dejan Lovren out of action for a month.
He refused to shake Pulis’s hand at full-time – the match had finished 2-2 – although he subsequently apologised for that.
Wind the clock forward, and Klopp has forsaken complaining about Pulis way in favour of making sure his players can combat his counterpart’s style of play.
In fierce winds at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground this week, Klopp forced his players to deal with defending wave after wave of high crosses. The idea is that, for a team who have struggled to defend set-pieces all season, practice will make perfect against Albion’s expected aerial bombardment.
Klopp joked: “There will be no player under 6ft 3in on the pitch in a Liverpool shirt at the weekend.”
He added: “There was one full session on Wednesday when the weather was not too good, and it was very windy. That was the main thing we did: Defending set-pieces.
“Everybody had to react all the time because of the wind, so I thought it made sense to use these circumstances for doing this. It worked well. It was not perfect because that was not possible. But it worked really well.
“We have to be spot on in these situations, but in football you should do that many things right that nobody thinks after the game about the few things you did wrong. That’s what we try to do.”
On an attacking front, Liverpool will look to the Brazilian Philippe Coutinho, who recovered from a bout of illness to step on as a substitute and help turn impending defeat into victory at one of Pulis’s former clubs, Stoke City, last weekend.
Coutinho’s recent form has led to suggestions that Barcelona will try to sign him this summer,just as they did Luis Suárez three years ago.
Klopp is unperturbed. “Actually, I think it’s positive when there is interest,” the German said. “I am not concerned because I think Phil fits in really well and comfortably here. He had a difficult time with injury, coming back fighting for shape, I would say. That’s normal.
“In the last three games, you can see immediately, when he is in a little bit of shape, how big the difference is he can have in a game. That’s wonderful for us.
“I am not concerned, actually, because we give the boys enough perspective that they really want to be part of this for the next few years.”