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Managerial Adversary: Klopp and Pep in Battle of Wits

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have met eight times during their managerial career, but there will be a different sensation when they shake...

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have met eight times during their managerial career, but there will be a different sensation when they shake hands at Anfield this weekend. 

For the first time, Klopp is taking on his adversary on a level playing field. In fact — with eight months head start in the adaptation process to English football — it could be argued the Liverpool manager has a slight advantage in a way never possible during their German Bundesliga tussles.

For all Klopp’s success at Borussia Dortmund, the financial muscle of Bayern Munich was overpowering.

When Guardiola took over in the summer of 2013, Klopp was still reeling from the transfer to Bayern of his protégé Mario Gotze, the announcement before the clubs met in the previous season’s Champions League final one of the most cynically timed in history.
Managerial Adversary 

“Bayern are not our rivals this season,” Klopp said, revealingly, after his first meeting with Guardiola (a 4-2 Dortmund win in the German SuperCup in July, 2013). We will compete with the other 16 teams but when we face Bayern we will always want to beat them.”

Robert Lewandowski followed in 2014, Klopp’s title-winning side destroyed by market forces. He has often confided that had he been able to keep the players that narrowly lost the Champions League final to Bayern, he could have continued to repel their dominance.

There must have been times when Klopp felt he was little more than an extension of the Bayern Academy as the wealthier rival plucked the gems he’d been polishing. Their wage bill was double that at Dortmund.

Klopp would never have felt inferior to Bayern — the head-to-head record with Guardiola is four wins apiece — but insecurity was inescapable.

Whenever one of his Dortmund players shone against Bayern, he must have feared a phone call from the Allianz Arena direct to that player’s agent. Such is Manchester City’s wealth you could never rule out such circumstances being replicated in England.

They paid £50 million for Raheem Sterling in the summer before Klopp’s arrival at Anfield, after all. But if City’s bank balance eclipses Liverpool’s, Klopp already knows in terms of global stature, reputation and world renown his current club could never be bullied in the same way as Dortmund by Bayern.

Whatever suspicions Klopp held about Bayern’s approach, it was never directed towards Guardiola. Anfield will be the venue for a mutual appreciation society on New Year’s Eve, with both the manager and Liverpool supporters appreciative of the former Barcelona coach’s idealism.

Klopp agrees with those who regard the Spaniard a genius, justifying the hype and believing him the best coach in the world.

He recognises Guardiola as one of the few whose training ground instructions are visible when his side takes to the field, determined to play a certain way and achieving it. Privately, Klopp has been relishing the chance to take him on since it was confirmed Guardiola was heading to England.

He knows the City manager’s presence in the Premier League enhances the competition.

Guardiola feels the same about Klopp and has been effusive in his praise of Liverpool throughout his career, his presence at Anfield on Tuesday probably a reflection of his eagerness to sample what remains a most unique atmosphere.

He knows the power of the stadium on emotional nights, having been part of the Barca side defeated amid deafening noise in the UEFA Cup semi-final in 2001. Guardiola was gushing about the Liverpool manager earlier in the season when looking ahead to the prospect of taking on his former rival.

“I admire Jurgen Klopp a lot for his passion and idea,” he said. “I read that he said I don’t just want my team to win, I want to enjoy seeing the team play how I want to play. It’s simple. When I am sitting there, I want to stand up, looking at my team, and what I see is what I want.”

Klopp will take some satisfaction from being the manager most likely to force Guardiola to compromise his purist ideals. In their second meeting, a 3-0 away win for Bayern in November, 2013, Klopp suggested Bayern played “more long balls in one half than in the previous three seasons” in a successful effort to deal with Dortmund’s counter-pressing.

Dortmund repeated that scoreline in the Allianz Arena in April, 2014, although by then Guardiola’s first Bundesliga title was secure and the gap between the clubs had grown so much that the speculation has begun about Klopp’s future.

Bayern beat Dortmund in the 2014 German Cup final and completed a league double over Klopp’s side the following season. Within a fortnight of his last league defeat in 2015, Klopp announced he would be leaving. Dortmund’s German Supercup win and victory in the German Cup semi-final on penalties (Bayern missed all four of theirs) completed the sequence.

Both managers were perennially linked with moves to England, envious glances cast towards the Bundesliga whenever they met as we wondered when it would happen on our soil.

Now Anfield will play host to the English Premier League’s latest parade of A-list coaches. Liverpool may still trail City financially, but they are just about ahead on points in the league table, and are arguably a season ahead in their development.

Most enticingly of all, in terms of their coaching reputation, their managers start as equals. — The Daily Telegraph.

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