Saturday 25 May 2019

Klopp factor gives Liverpool Real reason to believe

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

It is not too bold to make two predictions ahead of this month's Champions League final.

First, it will not be a 0-0 draw. Those who see trophy-winning football as the art of defensive endurance ought to take the night off on May 26. Liverpool versus Real Madrid will be an attacking fiesta.

Second, regardless of who extend their extensive list of European Cup wins, Real Madrid will meet a Liverpool team worthy of their name, unlike when they last met.

While memories have been stirred of the 1981 European Cup final in Paris, Alan Kennedy's winning goal and a period when the balance of power in the continent rested on Merseyside, you find the most perceptible sign of modern progress by considering how far Liverpool have come in four years.

Over the course of 13 days in 2014, Liverpool were given a severe reminder of their diminished European status when Real won 3-0 at Anfield and 1-0 in the Bernabeu.

They were demeaning experiences for the players and manager Brendan Rodgers.

Most criticism was reserved for him following the away tie, when he felt his strongest team incapable of landing a punch so rested his best players for a forthcoming Premier League game.

Rodgers never recovered trust, such was the disgust of veterans of Liverpool's proud European campaigns.

In fact, the one-sided home fixture prompting this decision was more shameful.

For the first time in its decorated history, Anfield hosted a game amid an air of deference.

There was no crimson inferno awaiting the Spanish conquistadors. Instead, the red carpet was rolled out as the visitors outclassed the hosts, who were duly afforded reverential applause.

For the only time in living memory, Liverpool took to the field seemingly honoured to be sharing it with eminent opposition.

Real Madrid may go on to win their 13th European Cup - and third in a row - at Liverpool's expense, but they already know a different beast awaits in Kiev.

Liverpool will never be deferential under Jurgen Klopp. There is respect for a formidable opponent, but no awe.

A theme in every one of his post-match interviews during the splendid European run has been to dismiss all anxiety, and to claim that it is defenders preparing to face the most productive attacking trio in Champions League history who ought to be concerned.

"We do have a lot of respect for Madrid, they are one of the best teams in the world, but we are Liverpool. We are strong, we can beat any team in the world," said Sadio Mane, whose strike in Rome gave Liverpool's front three their goal record.

"We believe we can go there and beat them. We are going to go there and fight - for the fans, for the clubs, - and fight without fear and win the final. We have the players. We can score goals. We have shown that. There is no reason to be afraid."

This soaring belief comes from Klopp (below) overseeing what his chairman Tom Werner described as "thrilling and deserved" progress to the final - a run which has already guaranteed £67.71m (€76.9m) in winnings, a figure which may yet rise to £71.71m (€81.4m).

"The manager has changed many things in the club, not just the players," said Dejan Lovren.

"He has changed the mentality. How we think. Everything is more positive now. Even when we don't play good, he always finds something good. There is no negativity.

"He deserves this. It is not an accident that he already reached the final of the Champions League in 2013 with Borussia Dortmund.

"He has given the club pride back. Everyone feels that. Everyone lives that. Everyone should be proud that we have a manager like him."

Real will see Liverpool not only as a threat to their title. Given that Cristiano Ronaldo's ego would put that of a Fifa or Uefa president to shame, he will embrace the chance to make a statement to the player jeopardising his position as world and European player of the year.

"It is not going to be a final between Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo," said Liverpool's 43-goal forward.

Best of luck with that, Mohamed; the sub-plot is too delicious to ignore, the pretender gloriously assuming his place on the pedestal or being shot down by the established superstar.

Real Madrid's experience, nous and ability to take the game away with moments of individual brilliance should dismiss any suggestion they are not favourites.

Klopp and Liverpool will not care. It will be difficult for his players to replicate the scenes of Paris in 1981.

The confident expectation that they will not resemble those in Anfield and the Bernabeu in 2014 is proof enough of the Liverpool manager's transformative power.

The Left Wing: Leinster's succession plan, Munster's missing piece and the art of contract negotiations

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport