English FA Cup semi-final
Manchester City v Liverpool
Wembley stadium, Saturday, 3.30pm (Live on BBC 1)
Jürgen Klopp claimed 6½ years at Liverpool had aged him, and that was before he became the Premier League’s longest-serving manager after Sean Dyche’s sacking on Friday. The intensity of a job that will be shaped by the finest margins over the coming weeks is the culprit but, far from hastening the end, this is what exhilarates him.
With one domestic trophy in the bag Liverpool turn their attentions to another on Saturday when returning to Wembley to renew acquaintances with Manchester City in an FA Cup semi-final. Thoughts will then turn to a Premier League title race separated by one point, with Manchester United and Everton visiting Anfield next week, before Villarreal arrive in the Champions League semi-final.
There is the odd complaint from Klopp – a 12.30pm kick-off scheduled at Newcastle between the Villarreal ties currently chief among them – but if this is a time that weathers the skin it also works wonders within. It could be a good moment for FSG to dangle a contract extension in front of him.
"Only recently I saw a picture of me in 2005," said Klopp on Thursday, his FA Cup press conference brought forward 24 hours because Liverpool do not conduct usual media duties on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. "I saw a picture of when I arrived here too [in October 2015]. Unfortunately I see myself in the mirror every morning so the last six years have been pretty intense. I see a different person now.
"Chelsea have had exactly the same programme as us recently, with the same amount of games because of the League Cup final, and Thomas [Tuchel] said it perfectly: it is really super-intense. But it's good fun as well. I would love to have a full week to train. My God! Give me a full week of training in the middle of the season. But we don't have it, and that is why we make changes.
“It is always intense. This year is especially intense, but it is also enjoyable and exciting. Is it likely that we win the four competitions? No. Three competitions? No. One more? Hopefully, that would be nice.
“Pep [Guardiola] said it: if Atlético scores a goal then we don’t talk about the great mentality of the City players, and it was a great mentality. That is the difference. We draw at City or maybe we lose 3-2 and everyone says that is not good enough. That’s okay. It is our life. These small things are really important and make all the difference, and being ready for that all the time is really difficult, but it is very interesting.”
Klopp is the first manager in Liverpool’s rich history to reach three semi-finals in a season. The achievement, of course, brings only a little satisfaction to someone who could soon become the first manager in English football to win a quadruple.
“Three semi-finals and winning nothing, the world is not ready for this kind of success,” he remarked, glossing over victory in the League Cup. “But, no, I’m really happy for the boys. At this club it is so difficult to do something that our fathers and grandfathers didn’t do already. This specific thing, nobody did it in this club so it is really special. But if that is the success this year, it will not be seen as success in the future.”
Liverpool should be relatively refreshed compared with City who, while Klopp made seven changes against Benfica on Wednesday, endured a bruising night at Atlético. Mohamed Salah was among those given much-needed rest – for 57 minutes at least – and Klopp believes the forward is primed to finish with a flourish despite scoring once in his past 11 games for club and country.
"The problem we have is that in January he had the most intense period in his whole career," he said. "The [Africa Cup of Nations] tournament went to the wire. Egypt played in the final, they had all these 120 minutes, the role he has is super, super massive. There is a huge responsibility on his shoulders with dressing-room meetings and no recovery at all. Then you have the issue of being a superstar in your own country and everyone wants something from you. It is all super intense.
“A player like Mo who likes to dribble – and he is really good, he scored outstanding goals with dribbling – do I say to him, ‘don’t dribble?’ No. It is, ‘dribble in the right moments and keep the ball, keep it simple,’ all these kind of things.
“I know that Mo will finish strong. It’s just at the moment we have to reset because each game for us is a final. It has been like that from the beginning of January, and that is crazy.”