Jurgen Klopp looks like a man who senses Real Madrid have come at the perfect time for Liverpool and the Reds boss could take the fight to Zidane and Co by STARTING his Fab Four in the Bernabeu
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp seems more like his jokey, pre-pandemic self
- Reds looked like they really turned a corner with a 3-0 victory against Arsenal
- Klopp was relaxed ahead of their Champions League rematch with Los Blancos
There was a glint in Jurgen Klopp’s eye, the kind you would expect a batsman to have when he spies a short ball that needs dispatching through the covers.
He had spotted the question early – ‘would you ever have regrets about not managing Real Madrid in his career?’ – and was ready to have some fun. In recent months, such an inquiry would have received brusque short-shrift but, this time, Klopp was ready to engage.
‘When I came out of the plane, I regret already that I don’t live here!’ said Klopp, after he had finished laughing. ‘The weather is so much better here… you cannot imagine! I have a gilet with me and all these kind of things! You are blessed living here. We go the hard way.’
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was in a very jokey mood in his pre-match press conference
Then came another opportunity for some fun. Again, Klopp’s face lit up as he was asked which of Spain’s three superpowers – Real, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – would best fit his character. Again, it was swatted away with a dollop of humour.
‘I’d fit to all of them,’ he said. ‘The only problem my Spanish is really bad. You wouldn’t enjoy having me in Spain and I speak this broken Spanish. We joke about (me) ordering a beer. You can’t work with that for a long time! Who is manager of Real Mallorca? That would be nice, to live at least!’
This was the kind of press conference you saw from Klopp pre-pandemic, when he was engaging, witty and good value; they always happened in Europe and the relaxed way he went about the theatre reflected his belief in his progressive team.
It seemed significant, then, that Klopp’s state of mind here was so relaxed. Though it would be folly to read too much into Saturday’s 3-0 skewering of a dreadful Arsenal team, it is impossible to shake the feeling that Liverpool have turned a corner and their manager knows it.
Real, away, is a completely different challenge to the ones Liverpool have faced of late but Klopp only tends to behave this way when he can see momentum building and there are many reasons he is relishing the chance to tackle the club who believe the European Cup is their private property.
Klopp’s side will face Real Madrid in the quarter-final, in a replay of the 2018 tournament final
First, of course, this is an opportunity to settle a score from three years ago. Klopp says revenge for the 3-1 defeat Liverpool suffered at Real’s hands in the 2018 final is not in his thoughts but he would not be human if those memories didn’t suddenly come flooding back.
Many of the squad who played in Kiev still feel hollow about having to watch Madrid lift the trophy, as if it was an everyday occurrence. Equally, they have never forgotten the way Sergio Ramos – absent against them for this match – bounced Mohamed Salah out of the contest like a wrestler.
‘When we got the draw, of course I remembered the game,’ Klopp reflected. ‘I said after the game that if someone asked me in a press conference a week or a month later if I would invite Sergio Ramos to my 60th birthday I would have said no. Meanwhile, I would think about it again.
‘It is not because he is a great footballer, but it was because I didn’t like what happened that night. It was a strange night. But it is long ago. I cannot get that feeling back, that anger or whatever, so I don’t even try. What I try is to prepare my team to show how good we are as a football team.
‘In a strange and difficult season for us, we want to show how good we are and if we are better than Real Madrid or score more goals then we go to the next round and if not then it is Real Madrid. It is pretty easy, really.
Liverpool appeared as if they turned a corner with a dominant 3-0 victory against Arsenal
‘We had good games before the international break. We came out with a really good game after the international break and now we hope to keep that momentum. That would be really helpful as we should play better. We should play a really good game otherwise we don’t have a chance.’
He is right about that. This might be a Madrid team without Cristiano Ronaldo or a peak Gareth Bale but it would be risible to suggest they do not have a punch. Karim Benzema, for instance, is a glorious footballer and he will test Liverpool’s defenders Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips like never before.
It is also only three games and 30 days since Liverpool lost 1-0 at home to Fulham, so it would be wrong to get carried away about their prospects. Then, however, you saw Klopp engage in that way of his and you sensed that maybe, just maybe, this is the right game at the right time for Liverpool.
‘Things are really in the flow and we have to keep contact with that,’ said Klopp, who could unleash his former frontline attackers – Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota – from the start. ‘We have to chase the teams ahead of us and we have to chase Real Madrid.
‘They are in a very good moment. They are a really good team and very experienced. If somebody knows how to win the Champions League then it is Real Madrid. But we are the opponent. I think we should give it a proper try.’
Klopp may play Mo Salah (left), Diogo Jota (centre) and Sadio Mane (right) and Roberto Firmino
Three key clashes: Reds v Real
Raphael Varane v Sadio Mane
Mane has not hit the heights of the last two seasons but will need to be at his best to get the better of the lightning-quick Varane. The Liverpool forward has found the net just three times in his last 14 games, although he did score the last time these sides met — in the 2018 Champions League final.
Varane, 27, has won the competition four times and if Liverpool are to get something in Madrid they’ll need to outwit the France centre back. The question is, how will Varane cope without his usual partner in crime at the back, Sergio Ramos?
Karim Benzema v Nathaniel Phillips
Centre back Phillips has really impressed after being thrust into Jurgen Klopp’s team in recent weeks. However, he has still only played 13 times for Liverpool and will be up against Karim Benzema — scorer of an astonishing 273 goals for Real Madrid.
Benzema knows what it takes to win in Europe, having triumphed in the competition four times. He scored in the semi-finals and final (against Liverpool) when Madrid last triumphed in the Champions League in 2018.
This is the biggest game of Phillips’ career and if the 24-year-old can keep Real’s main goal-threat quiet, then Klopp’s side have an excellent chance of taking a result back to Anfield.
Luka Modric v Fabinho
Fabinho must suppress the threat of Madrid’s midfield wizard Modric if Liverpool are to progress. The Croat can create chances out of thin air and Fabinho’s reading and understanding of the game are the key to stopping him.
On the attacking front, the Brazilian’s impressive range of passing could cause Madrid problems — especially in the absence of key defender Ramos.
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