When Jurgen Klopp’s anger started to subside, he did not need reminding about the opportunity that presented itself.
The draw for the Champions League quarter-finals paired Liverpool with Manchester City and the first issue that presented itself was the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Initially scheduled for Sunday, April 8, the game has been brought forward by 26 hours.
It will now kick off at 13.30 to accommodate the Wednesday and Tuesday dates for the Champions League tie, while City’s derby with United stays on Saturday, kicking off at 18.30. Klopp’s bewilderment that the Premier League would sanction this switch in the middle of two of the biggest games of the season could not be mistaken. His frustration was such that he had to stop himself from swearing in front of the television cameras.
‘I’d like it at nine o’clock in the morning,’ he said. ‘What the . . . Why not at three o’clock, normal game? Usually it was Sunday, quarter past two. Put it on at a normal time and not at breakfast. Obviously whoever made the schedule didn’t think we’d go to the quarter-finals. Oops.’
Then his mood began to change. Immediately after the draw in Nyon had been made, Klopp’s phone buzzed with a text message from Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, the midfielder he coached at Borussia Dortmund, that simply read, ‘See you soon’.
Klopp would have preferred Liverpool to avoid this assignment but as he watched the footage being broadcast from UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, the German took note of how Txiki Begiristan, Manchester City’s sporting director, reacted – head bowed and brow furrowed.
‘When you think about the draw, if it is the team around the corner you can go by bus, you don’t want it,’ said Klopp. ‘Everybody is a little like this. They didn’t want us. We all know about that. Begiristain’s face after the draw, it didn’t look like it was Christmas and Easter on the same day.
‘We are not the team they love to play constantly, let me say it like this. City are one of the strongest teams in the competition but we want to go to the next round. It’s not our job to decide how we go there. Our record is not too bad against City.’
Begiristan, who pointed out that City won the first meeting between the sides this season 5-0, countered: ‘We are playing against a Premier League team, it’s something that you don’t like when you play Champions League but it’s what it is, we have to accept it.
‘It doesn’t matter what happened in the league – you have to be right in both games and be solid and you have to try to score. It’s going to be a difficult one because we know each other very well.’
Klopp remains the only manager to have outwitted Pep Guardiola in the Premier League this season, so there is scope for a rivalry to develop between Liverpool and City in the same way that Liverpool and Chelsea were at loggerheads when managed by Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho.
‘I don’t really think Pep and myself have a relationship,’ said Klopp. ‘From my point of view, I have respect. That is normal when you see his teams playing and the work he did in the last few years. If you are a football manager, you think, “Ooh! Not too bad!”.
‘We don’t know each other really well, so it is not like the relationship I have with Huddersfield manager David Wagner. That is a friendship. We cannot lose anything. During a game he is always 100 per cent in, so am I.
‘I respect Pep, of course, and that is all. My respect will not change, I have no idea what he thinks about me. One thing is for sure – it will be two very intense games.’