Klopp shrugs off fears sparked by Liverpool's loss to rivals City
Jurgen Klopp has been here before. In 2011 he won the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, finishing 10 points clear of a crisis-ridden Bayern Munich. It was considered an astonishing achievement given that Dortmund had been on the brink of liquidation in 2004.
Yet, when Klopp addressed his Dortmund players that summer as they embarked upon defending their title, there was no rousing team talk or psychological trick designed to motivate them to climb the mountain for a second time.
‘We didn’t expect to win the league again because there was no chance, because there was a big competitor in Bayern Munich and usually, if you beat them, they strike back with all they have,’ recalls Klopp.
‘So we didn’t do anything different that summer. We lost a player in Nuri Sahin and brought in Ilkay Gundogan, which was obviously not a bad replacement. ‘What we did is we trained hard and we were positive about our future.’
Not that it initially did them much good. They lost three of their first six games before heading to Klopp’s first club as a manager, Mainz, for a crucial away game in September.
‘I’m pretty sure we were seventh in the league. Your [media] colleagues in Germany were throwing everything they could at us, “We’d lost focus. We were not greedy enough any more. We were still celebrating”. All the obvious bull****, let me say it like that.
‘Then we won a game at Mainz 2-1 away, really scrappy goal, like a 50-yard shot that rolls between the legs. And this team knew in this moment that this was for us the step [up] for that season. Because we were not bad in the beginning, we just didn’t get the results. That can happen in football.
‘From that moment on, this team broke all records in Germany: 81 points in the end, not losing for 23 games or something like that.’
They actually went 28 games without defeat in Germany in all competitions and won the Double of Bundesliga and German Cup.
‘We were really on it because we were still good,’ Klopp remembers. ‘And we would have had a chance the year after that [they reached the Champions League final but lost to Bayern] but then the team looked really different.
‘So, that’s how it is. We don’t have to change. The good things you have to keep and improve the not-so-good things. And that’s what we have to do all the time. It’s not important what we won last year, it’s all about what we can maybe win next year.
‘We never felt that we have to win the league to show the world that we are still on it, because there is a competition and all the other teams can improve.
‘It was a great season in 2011-12 but for moments it didn’t look it and everybody was directly criticising us.
‘What I learned there is that I’m prepared for all the things you will say about us if next season doesn’t start like it should start. But as long as I see in the eyes of my boys that they are ready, it will have absolutely no influence in what we do.’
And that, it seems, is the point in the wake of the humiliating 4-0 midweek defeat at Manchester City. Like those Dortmund players, Klopp has looked into the eyes of this Liverpool team and is reassured.
‘These boys are exceptional characters and I don’t even doubt them one per cent,’ says Klopp. ‘I trust them 100 per cent. They are not perfect and they make a lot of mistakes but in the end they always strike back.
‘Since I’ve known them, they have always improved, they always strike back, they always understand. They are thoughtful, they think about it and we go.’
Thursday’s match at City was curious. On one level Klopp was right that Liverpool were not far behind their usual performance levels, in that ordinarily they would have made their chances count and the game might have finished 5-3.
It also amplified just how far City have fallen this season, because to lose eight games when you’re capable of playing like that against Liverpool represents a huge failure of consistency across the season.
Yet, despite Klopp’s protestations, it would be hard to argue that the likes of Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez, Sadio Mané among others did not fall well below their usual standards.
No doubt Aston Villa will feel the backlash today, with Liverpool returning to Anfield as champions and the club desperate that supporters stay at home and respect Government rules on gatherings in the light of coronavirus.
Liverpool’s director of public health, Matt Ashton, and Klopp issued a joint message to fans to ask them not to gather at Anfield.
Klopp, who was tetchy in his post-match interview after the City game, claims his mood improved the minute he walked into Melwood on Friday morning ‘because this is the place where we change things’.
He explains: ‘Sometimes I have needed more than a night [to get over a defeat] but not much more, just because I decided long ago in my life that things I cannot change, I’m not bothered [about].
‘I cannot change the result [at City]; I can only use it for the next game. You cannot stop the feeling and a defeat feels really, really average. It needs time. But sometimes human beings give themselves too much time to suffer from something that didn’t work out.
‘I am not self-pitying. I’m not talented in that. I’m very self-critical and give myself a lot of times stick for stuff I didn’t like. But I’m not self-pitying because I think, as long as I’m healthy, I can be influential on my situation.
‘If I come in and shout at the players like crazy, we can suffer longer. If you focus on the facts, you can see: “Ok it’s done. The boss is obviously not 100 per cent but we already work on solutions, so let’s carry on.’
Mail On Sunday