Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have been the Premier League’s most successive managers of the last couple of years and have gone head-to-head on many issues – but the Liverpool manager is actually a huge fan of his Man City rival
It is one of the great, supremely intense managerial rivalries in football history.
But Jurgen Klopp says there is one key difference between his epic bouts with Pep Guardiola and the other battle of the bosses which have detonated the Premier League…he actually likes his adversary!
The two go head to head once more this weekend when Manchester City visit Anfield, with a remarkable record of nine wins each – and three draws – since they first locked horns in Germany back in 2013.
In English football, the great rivalries tended to involve Sir Alex Ferguson, with the key feature one of searing hostility towards the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez.
Yet Klopp says he doesn’t feel the same towards Guardiola…even if he knows he REALLY angers the Spanish coach at times!
“It’s true. I’m not sure if I ever told Pep, but I like him!” he said on the eve of another titanic showdown.
“I annoy him with things I say in press conferences that are not meant to say anything bad about him or Man City. Somebody on the City staff tells him that ‘Klopp said this’ and I can see in his conference he gets really angry. Sorry for that!
“No, I respect him a lot. I want to win desperately, he wants to do that, and we are completely different personalities, but nonetheless I like him and I respect him.”
Klopp’s Liverpool have done that with Guardiola, and also in Germany when his Dortmund resisted the might of Bayern Munich.
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Their record in two countries is breathlessly level. Klopp won four and Guardiola four in Germany, while both have won five each since battle was rejoined in the Premier League in 2016.
But the pair have mixed socially, and Klopp revealed: “About two years ago we had a few situations where we went together to Manchester for awards, and our families met.
“And I can tell you that somebody with a family like Pep Guardiola must be a good person, because Mrs and the kids are outstanding and that is what is important to me. So during the game whatever he says and whatever I say; it is not that important.”
In fact Klopp says he is inspired by the rivalry with Guardiola, and the intense tactical headache he presents – with his City side so merciless in exploiting any weakness or mistakes. That doesn’t bring pressure, he says, but excitement.
“It’s really one of the biggest challenges for all managers in football to face Pep’s teams because they are so good.
“I like that because it is one of these games where people say about the Premier League, Bundesliga, Champions League – on this level there is no mercy for mistakes.
“If you make a mistake you get punished, and that is pretty much the game against Man City always. So you had better not make a lot of mistakes because otherwise you will get a knock.
“But if you don’t [make mistakes] – at least when you are Liverpool – then you have a chance and I really think it is interesting to give it a try.”
Tactically, Guardiola is at his imaginative best against the Reds, but no matter what he comes up with this, Klopp says the key is to stop City possession.
“They have different possible organisations, a clear structure with some changes from time to time. Let’s see what Pep does this year. But the main thing is to keep the ball as long as possible – that gives the opposing team no chance to finish any kind of situation.”