Monday, April 22, 2024

Jurgen Klopp vs Pep Guardiola: How two coaches learned from and improved each other ahead of final showdown -Dlight News

“We have bows and arrows. And when we aim precisely, we can hit the target. It is only that Bayern have a bazooka. The probability that they will hit the target is clearly higher. But then, Robin Hood was apparently quite successful.”

Those were the words of Jurgen Klopp back in the summer of 2013. His Borussia Dortmund team had just lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich at Wembley having relinquished their Bundesliga title too. Star player Mario Gotze had been snaffled.

And Pep Guardiola had just turned up in Munich.

The rivalry between Klopp and Guardiola, perhaps the two greatest coaches of their era, was born in Germany but it became legendary in England.

It was Klopp who won their first meeting shortly after that Robin Hood allusion – a 4-2 Super Cup win in Dortmund. But he continues to style himself as the underdog in this illustrious scrap and with good reason given Manchester City’s financial might.

And yet, this is a balanced rivalry in its own way. Guardiola may have won more trophies but Klopp has still won the lot with Liverpool.

Moreover, he has a winning record in 29 matches against Guardiola – 12 wins to 11 going into what could prove to be a title decider at Anfield on Sunday. Of the 24 coaches to have faced Guardiola eight times or more, he is the only one who can claim that.

As the pair prepare to face off for what could be the final time, in a match that the Man City boss hopes will square the record, it is tempting to see the two as opposites. Both brilliant but with their own unique vision of how this great game should be played.

There is some basis to that, particularly in the early part of their careers.

Guardiola, though proudly Catalonian, came to symbolise the Spanish school with his emphasis on possession and the positional game – juego de posicion.

Klopp was a passionate purveyor of German gegenpressing. Initially, characterised as heavy-metal football, to this day he claims to speak to his players about the virtues of counter-pressing on an almost daily basis.

It has long been styled as Klopp’s chaos against Guardiola’s control.

In truth, they have influenced each other, in ways subtle and striking.

Neither would be the coach they are today without the influence of the other.


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Guardiola, who might once have regarded Jose Mourinho as his ideological rival, acknowledges that he has been shaped by his showdowns with Klopp.

“He helped me, his teams helped me to be a better manager. He gave me another level to think about it, prove myself, what I have to do to be a better manager with our teams to try and beat them. It is the reason why I am still in this business.

“There are some managers who challenge you to move a step forward.”

If Mourinho occasionally confounded Guardiola, most memorably in that 2010 Champions League semi-final when his Inter side kept out Barcelona without making acquaintance with the football, Klopp showed that it was possible to blow his teams away with it too.

Eight years on, in a Champions League quarter-final at Anfield, Liverpool tore City apart with a three-goal burst that left Guardiola’s hopes of winning the tournament in tatters just 31 minutes into a two-hour tie. For a period, Klopp seemed to have his number.

City lost the second leg too and though they won the Premier League title, their only defeat in the competition at that stage had been a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in January. The pressing, the pace and the aggression of Klopp’s side presented a new problem.

His ideas around possession non-negotiable, it feels like Guardiola has spent half a decade now finding ways to prevent his team being so exposed on the transition – with Liverpool in mind. Typically, given his tactical brilliance, he has largely succeeded.

But he has been changed by the process. The man who once dreamed of fielding a team full of midfielders now plays with the ultimate No 9 and packs the centre of the park with defenders. “You need proper defenders,” was his verdict on last season’s title win.

This epiphany was born from a desire to block the transition, first with full-backs moving inside and now with erstwhile centre-backs such as Manuel Akanji. As for England defender John Stones, he is now operating as something more akin to a de facto No 10.

Perhaps all this would have happened without Klopp but Liverpool certainly created that sense of urgency, forcing Guardiola and his team to find the solutions, demanding that they become not only better tactically but mentally too.

The obvious example of that came in the spring of 2019 when Liverpool’s own astonishing winning run forced City to stay perfect throughout their final 14 games to retain their Premier League title by a single point. Liverpool had to settle for the Champions League.

As for Klopp, his own ideas have evolved because of Guardiola.

Most conspicuously, there is the transformation of Trent Alexander-Arnold from conventional full-back to modern midfielder.

“Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I don’t understand that really.” That was Klopp’s view when England manager Gareth Southgate tried it in 2021. Not long after, he was embracing the new hybrid role popularised by his City counterpart.

More broadly, Klopp has adopted a more patient game far removed from the one-note heavy-metal caricature that he has long since shed. Symbolically, he even signed Thiago Alcantara for Liverpool, the playmaker Guardiola took to Bayern in 2013.

Perhaps the story has come full circle.

But there is still a chapter to write.

When it is over, each will be entitled to wonder how much more they might have won had the other not been around. But they have both landed their blows, their reputations stronger as a result. This has been a rivalry that has elevated not diminished.

Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight showdown with Francis Ngannou takes place on Friday March 8, live on Sky Sports Box Office with the main event expected around 11pm. Book Joshua v Ngannou now!

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