Klopp and Mourinho a right fit for Liverpool and United
Mourinho’s Manchester United side are the best of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era
Rival managers José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp: expect their rivalry to dominate English football for foreseeable future. Photograph: Phil Noble/Livepic/ Reuters
During the pregame build-up José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp were careful to talk up each other’s qualities. Cut to his arrival at Old Trafford and the Liverpool manager quickly dropped that stance and ended the game arguing with his opposite number saying: “I read the programme notes and it is the first time that there was nothing about welcome to Liverpool or something like this. Then I wanted a coffee and in the can was only tea. It’s started already, yeah? It’s all okay. It’s football and we are ready for it.”
So, too, was the crowd, whose vibrancy gave the stadium a cauldron-like feel, the United support answering Mourinho’s midweek demand to “come and play” with his side. All that really mattered to the two managers, of course, was the result and how 90 minutes of play might illuminate how clear the vision is for their respective Manchester United and Liverpool teams.
Klopp’s side might not have won in 2017 but do so here and the gap to the leaders, Chelsea, would return to the five points it was at the start of the weekend. Mourinho, in contrast, came into the game with nine successive victories and a 15-match unbeaten sequence.
More importantly, the 53-year-old had United performing precisely as he wishes before what was a litmus test. “I’d say to my guys don’t lose the identity that we built up in these last couple of months,” he said before kick-off. “We have to play the same way because this is the identity we want to develop.”
Mourinho also touched on how Klopp can be the more animated during a match. Just before the 25th minute both made a first retreat from technical area to bench, but within moments Klopp was back out and was soon followed by Mourinho.
The 49-year-old’s football master plan has constant pressing at the forefront. So it was that Liverpool’s opener came when Roberto Firmino harried Phil Jones into a mistake that yielded the corner from which Pogba handballed for James Milner’s penalty.
Cue role reversal for the managers, as Klopp could enjoy the control this gave Liverpool and Mourinho hoped anxiety would not disrupt United’s rhythm.
Of Klopp’s team Rio Ferdinand, the former United defender who experienced many of these games, said: “This Liverpool team is exciting. They’re great to watch. They play with verve. They have a direct, aggressive, quick, attacking mentality and attack in numbers. While I think, defensively, they have an Achilles heel, if they’re going to outscore teams then they’re going to be a big threat.”
This was surely the weakness Mourinho instructed his men to exploit when they wandered out for the second half with Wayne Rooney now among their ranks and Michael Carrick removed. The rejig had the captain at number 10 and Pogba dropping into Carrick’s midfield berth as Mourinho made the first move in this battle of the number ones.
It had an immediate impact as Rooney linked with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Liverpool struggled to get out of their half. United were the ones pressing now a la Liverpool, and when Firmino hooked a ball skyward the tension that coursed through Klopp was shown by him going ballistic.
Ferdinand had said: “José has had one of the hardest jobs out of the top teams in terms of personnel, changing the mentality at the football club, going against the philosophy that had been drilled in over the last couple of years.”
Ibrahimovic’s late equaliser showed how far along Mourinho already is on this chart. United’s display was the latest evidence the dour days of Louis van Gaal Ferdinand referred to are gone. Mourinho’s team are the best of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. A similar claim can be made of Klopp’s Liverpool. They are the club’s most complete since the Premier League began and their manager is to thank for this.
Just as United have the right man in charge, so do Liverpool. Near the close they clashed and Klopp refused Mourinho’s offer to make up, though they did shake hands at final whistle. Expect their rivalry to dominate English football for the foreseeable future.