Tuesday 21 November 2017

Klopp has winning aura but now he will want to deliver

Rafael Benitez (Getty Images)
Rafael Benitez (Getty Images)

Steven Gerrard

You are sitting in the dressing room in the minutes before a Wembley final, going through the game-plan as the Liverpool captain.

You know you have the ability. You know you have team-mates who are capable of beating any side on the day, but what you cannot be sure of is how you and those around you will react once you get out there and the significance of the game hits you.

What you need to control most - to bring all the skill and game-plan together - is the emotional side of your game. The greatest challenge for any player on a cup final day is using the motivation of playing for a place in club folklore, while at the same time preventing that reality stifling your performance.

Everything about the build-up to these games is different. Your sleeping patterns change. The excitement can be overwhelming. You see how much everyone around the club wants this. Everyone is seeing this final as the potential 'catalyst' for a new era under a new manager. That raises the stakes even more.

You have huge games during the course of a league season, but it is nothing like what both sets of players will be feeling tomorrow. The difference between playing for three Premier League points and the chance to lift a trophy is career-defining. Losing to Manchester City in the league does not kill your ambitions. You know there is another game to come, where you can make amends. A final just gives that sense of accomplishment.

The pressure release that comes with a win is huge. There are occasions when you win a cup and there is a feeling of relief as much as euphoria, because the consequences of losing can affect your mood for weeks after. No one cares about being runners-up, especially at Liverpool and Manchester City.


I have been in the biggest games, where we have felt fully prepared mentally and physically but the team have frozen. Aston Villa in last season's FA Cup semi-final is an example of that.

I am convinced that had we played Villa at any other venue, in any other round last season, we would have been more relaxed and beaten them comfortably.

At Wembley, we seemed to want it too much and were outplayed, losing all our individual battles. Maybe it was the scars of the previous season, going so close to the title and wanting so badly to get our first trophy with that group, but we were nowhere near our level. The adrenalin took over in a negative way and the decision-making was poor.

Brendan Rodgers prepared us and gave us the right game-plan to beat Villa and we failed to carry out those instructions. Many of those players will be part of the Liverpool team facing City, and they need to put that right. I believe they will do it.

They have an extra element which will make a massive difference: Jurgen Klopp .

I think back to those finals I did win as a player and in the build-up the managers were crucial. Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson were meticulous, having us well drilled, in Tommo's case bringing years of experience of winning trophies and playing major finals.

When Rafa Benitez took over we had a manager who had just won the Uefa Cup and La Liga, so you trusted him to get it right when it mattered. One of my most treasured winner's medals was my last in the 2012 League Cup for Kenny Dalglish - a hero to me and my dad.

Whether it was Houllier in my first League Cup final in 2001, Benitez in the 2005 Champions League or Kenny when I lifted my last trophy as Liverpool captain three years ago, that final message was the same. "Do not come back into this dressing room with any regrets, boys."

I would say the same as captain. We were only interested in that cup. Getting to the final is no stepping stone to success. Only lifting it is. This is what separates those who go to Wembley to savour the atmosphere and enjoy the day out from those you define as 'winners'. Managers and players who regularly win trophies do not look forward to these matches because of the sense of history or the ceremonies surrounding the event.

They relish them because there is a trophy to win. That is all it is about - Winning. If you hear anyone talking about what a great achievement it is just to get that far, you are already halfway home with a losers' medal.

I look at my old club under Klopp and I am certain they have appointed another winner. I can be sure he will not be interested in trivial pre-match questions about going to Wembley, or cup final suits and all those other traditions. His obsession, just as it was for Houllier, Benitez and Dalglish, will be about how to bring that trophy to Anfield.

Those Liverpool players will be looking at Klopp and believing he is the one to lead them to numerous trophies. Klopp has a presence - an aura which I sensed when I was back at the training ground at Christmas. The way he delivers his message inspires players. There is an honesty and integrity about him and he lets his players know exactly what is expected. People see the jokey side of him in public but there is steel in there. I wish I was younger and sampling it on a daily basis.

His most important role in the days before Wembley is to dilute the occasion and take the pressure off, to ensure his team play without the shackles.

Having said all that, I also know from experience the manager can only do so much. Once you cross the line it is down to you to execute those plans.

Given what Liverpool did to City in the Premier League earlier this season, we know how they will try to go about it. It will be Klopp's full-on 'heavy metal' approach, demanding the players press harder and work harder than ever.

To me it is a good time to play City, although it might be the best chance for Liverpool to beat them in a final for a while because of what is to come next season. City will spend big again in the summer and the manager they have coming in will change everything there. Pep Guardiola will revitalise them and take them to another level. I have a feeling Liverpool must take this opportunity.

Those City players must already be sensing the shadow of Guardiola, knowing he will be watching this game from afar. They are playing for their future, and that could work to their advantage.

Since the takeover at the Etihad, City have continued to assemble world-class players, but under Guardiola I believe they will be transformed as a team.

He will develop them tactically, making all the elements of the side complement each other rather than rely on the qualities of Sergio Aguero, David Silva or Yaya Toure to win games.

We saw in Kiev in midweek what this group of players is capable of. If they have any feelings for Manuel Pellegrini they will want to give him the perfect send-off with a couple of trophies. They are not going to down tools. Players like Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Silva and Toure are match-winners. The game will be won and lost depending on how successfully Liverpool can keep them quiet and implement Klopp's plan.

The way to do it is by replicating the performance at the Etihad Stadium, with the movement of Liverpool's three attackers and running midfielders. They have the players to hurt the City defence - Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge can do some damage.


City's weakness is in defence, especially if Vincent Kompany is unavailable or not 100 per cent, or if Joe Hart is not selected over Willy Caballero. I would find that decision ridiculous given the magnitude of the occasion.

Liverpool's strength is the energy levels of their forward players, and we saw in the league meeting how they found holes all over the pitch. I cannot deny it. Part of me wishes I was out there and it will feel strange watching Liverpool in a final on television in America. When I talk about Liverpool I still find myself talking about what 'we' can do.

I would love nothing more than to see Jordan Henderson lifting that trophy. Something that goes underappreciated in football is those players who are absolutely dedicated to their profession, who from the moment they step on the training pitch are determined to learn more and make themselves the best they can be. Jordan is one of those, an example to all players.

I have to thank my manager, Bruce Arena, for allowing me to see the game at all. When Liverpool reached the final the first thing I did was check our fixture list at LA Galaxy, hoping to get to Wembley.

Instead, I will be preparing for the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League tie with Santos Laguna, of Mexico. When I told Bruce the kick-off time, he pushed training and our flight to Mexico back an hour tomorrow to ensure I did not miss it.

Like with every Liverpool match this season, I will be watching but trying to kick every ball. I will feel like I have played.

After their experiences in recent seasons, I know how hungry some of those players are for that first winners' medal. If they win, I also know how hungry they will be to win even more. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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