The two Bundesliga-winning coaches face each other for the first time in English football on New Year’s Eve when second-placed Liverpool welcome third-placed Manchester City to Anfield. In February, when it was announced Guardiola was to succeed Manuel Pellegrini at City, Klopp said the Premier League would provide a sterner challenge to the former Barcelona and Bayern coach than he experienced in Spain or Germany.
But while the warning has been justified, with City seven points behind league leaders Chelsea, the Liverpool manager insists Guardiola’s decision to come to the Premier League merits only respect. Klopp, who confirmed he expects to be without Philippe Coutinho and Joël Matip for Saturday’s game, said: “He came here with open eyes. He could have had easier jobs in easier leagues, that is for sure. He could have gone anywhere but he wanted to come here. He was probably 100% aware of the big challenge.
“He knew he had a wonderful squad at Barcelona and a wonderful squad at Bayern but he had big influence on the way they played football. If you go to Barcelona as a new manager they will tell you: ‘By the way, don’t forget, we play like Pep Guardiola played.’ That’s the biggest influence you can have. Bayern loved the years he was there. He is a fantastic manager.”
The Liverpool manager added: “Guardiola has a clear philosophy and it is a pretty good idea. He has had a fantastic career until now. You always have to adapt to your players and that is what he is doing and it is what we do.”
Klopp won four and lost four of his encounters with Guardiola in Germany and, despite praising his opponent’s “clear philosophy”, he says Bayern were not averse to adopting a more direct approach against his Borussia Dortmund team. Liverpool, he insists, must be prepared for all possibilities at Anfield.
“Bayern changed their style of play against us a few times, not always, but a few times,” said the former Dortmund coach. “A clear philosophy does not mean that you stick to it in every moment. If you have to adapt to your opponent then that is what we all do.
“The public view on it was that they were pretty direct, that’s true, Manuel Neuer is good with the ball so the first ball was long but after winning second ball they played football and didn’t shoot the second ball immediately in the same direction again. The style of the game isn’t everything. It is kind of important but in the end you only want to get your players looking forward with the ball. How you do it is not important. It is not about having 20 passes. If you have to play a long ball that is good and fighting for a second ball is good too. Then you want to have influence with the ball.
“It is not a big difference between the ideas but when you look from the outside there is an image that Pep is kind of possession and I am kind of counter-pressing. I don’t need names for things. We play the football we think that makes sense and Pep does the same with his team and his ideas. I never thought too much about the ideas of other managers – only until before the game when we played them.”
Liverpool’s possession statistics are not too dissimilar to City’s this season – averaging 54.4% per game to City’s 57% – and Klopp admits that was an area he sought to improve in order to break down defensive opponents.
“We knew about the problems, we knew about the name of Liverpool and the influence it has when we go to other stadiums and play another opponent,” he said. “Even when you are only ninth in the table it is enough for other teams to play Liverpool so that means sitting back. That means we have to have an idea for it, and a lot of time people said there is no plan against deep defending teams.
“First of all you have to bring through your strengths and when you are a very young team starting on your way you cannot have all the things in the same moment. You have to concentrate on making one thing stronger and if you have time and an opportunity to widen your possibilities then that is how it works. This team is a really good possession team and we have to use that.”
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