The last time that Jose Mourinho faced Jurgen Klopp, in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Chelsea last October, he grew increasingly agitated with the Liverpool manager’s movement around the technical area, to the point he mentioned it as an aside his press conference afterwards.
You could understand the Portuguese being a bit sick of the sight of Klopp, because it seems that he only sees him at the toughest times of his career. Trace the thread of their five hugely consequential meetings.
They first met in the group stage of the 2012/13 Champions League, when the German’s Borussia Dortmund side beat Real Madrid 2-1 in rousing fashion to eventually finish top of the group, and cause the first cracks in what was to be a calamitous final season at the Bernabeu for Mourinho. By April, those cracks had widened to chasms – especially between the Portuguese and many of his key players – and Klopp supremely exploited that in the Champions League semi-final, with a 4-1 Dortmund first-leg win. Real did pull it back to 4-3 in the return, but it wasn’t enough. It was enough for Mourinho at the Bernabeu, though, as he left that summer.
It could even be said Klopp had cost him his job there, given that Florentino Perez was willing to grant Mourinho the powers he wanted in what amounted to a near-ultimatum… so long as he won that season’s Champions League.
He could not, but you could also say that Klopp played a huge part in Mourinho losing his Chelsea job as well, given the nature of last October’s defeat. It was a result that turned a tough season into a torrid one, as it was part of a week that saw them lose 2-1 away to West Ham United and then get knocked out of the League Cup by Stoke City, before being overpowered by Liverpool.
That was what was so galling about it, and what made those early-season concerns that something deeper was wrong so concrete. Mourinho just didn’t have an answer to what Klopp’s side were doing. Chelsea submitted.
Now, as they meet once again, questions are being asked of Mourinho once again. His management of United might be nowhere near the crisis levels of those previous roles, but it isn’t exactly the brave new era the club had hoped for either. There are a fair few issues to solve and, right now, United can only dream of the kind of drive and energy that Liverpool show.
So, will Klopp again make it worse? Will he again expose Mourinho?
You could certainly argue he appears to have the better of the Portuguese given that the United manager’s two positive results amid three defeats also had a bitter tinge. The 2-2 draw in the 2012/13 Champions League group stage still saw Real finish second to Dortmund, and the 2-0 win in that season’s semi-final second leg still saw them go out on aggregate.
The emphatic way that Klopp’s teams have won those games only strengthens the view, but it’s worth remembering none of these came against top-performing Mourinho teams. At the same time, as fortunate as the German was to meet Mourinho at such difficult times, he still made them even more difficult with his own distinctive approach.
It wasn’t just a case of Klopp’s sides turning up and taking advantage. He devised very specific strategies to deepen that advantage. In the four games for Dortmund, Klopp realised that the best way to beat Real was to just turn their own approach on them. He gave them the ball. Real had an average of 566 passes over those four games, while Dortmund’s was 370. That gave Klopp’s side two advantages.
First of all, Mourinho’s team just wasn’t built to play with the initiative in that way, and didn’t really know how to attack if they weren’t breaking. Dortmund, however, gave them nothing to break from. That was because of the second advantage. The Germans were content to leave Real the ball… until one of a few targeted players got on it, like Pepe. Then, they hounded him into mistakes they scored from. Pepe had a pass completion average of just 73% across three of the games, and was then dropped for the last one – the one Real won.
What is more relevant – and more concerning for Mourinho for this match – is how Klopp changed up for their last meeting. He didn’t stick to the same style, but again just adapted to what the Portuguese was doing. Mourinho’s Chelsea were by then much more of a passing team, so Liverpool took the ball off them. In that 3-1 win, it was 568 passes to Chelsea’s 418. Mourinho’s side couldn’t live with Liverpool with the ball or without. They were just battered back.
This was another game when Klopp’s side were at a higher ebb, but that is much the case now. They are three points ahead of United in the league, but there is a gulf in what they have done to get there. Liverpool have covered the most (815km) distance in the Premier League this season, while United have covered the least (736km).
Will that tell? Will United have the legs to live with Liverpool’s pressing? Mourinho could do with finally switching things on Klopp… or else the German will once again make things so much worse for him.