It’s a bright, crisp Friday morning at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground and Jurgen Klopp is feeling refreshed.
For the first time in months, he and his players have had a full week to prepare for their next match. There was no midweek game and a rare day off on Monday. “A day off in this period feels like two weeks!”, he chuckles to Sky Sports.
Switching off when he’s able to isn’t a problem, either. What does he do? “Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Hanging around in a corner. I had a two-hour afternoon nap. There were two dog walks and that’s it,” he says. “Great!”
After 14 games in 44 days it was a well-deserved rest.
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Liverpool were relentless during that hectic schedule through November, December and into January, winning 12, drawing one and suffering just the solitary defeat, when Club World Cup commitments forced them into fielding a team made up of academy players against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup.
But despite all the success it was a challenging period.
Klopp compares the role of a manager when faced with the run of games Liverpool have had and the once-a-week programme he enjoyed at Mainz and initially at Borussia Dortmund as “completely different, like between being a cyclist and an astronaut.”
Tottenham vs Liverpool
January 11, 2020, 5:00pm
Post-game and pre-game analysis, for instance, had to be dramatically condensed over the festive period.
“I always made long analysis of the games at Mainz,” says Klopp. “My duty for myself was to prepare the analysis overnight [after a game] and the next morning session was to tell the boys, ‘OK, look at this, that was good, that was not so good’.
“Now it’s like this – you come in on Monday morning and you play on Wednesday another opponent, so the analysis is now like [Klopp clicks his fingers]. ‘It was like this, this and that, now here’s the preparation for the next game’. That makes it really difficult.
“At Mainz, I used to watch five games by myself of the next opponent. If I do that now then I don’t sleep between Sunday and Wednesday!”
Klopp and Liverpool found a way through. At the end of that demanding spell they stand a seemingly insurmountable 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Tough tests await over their next two fixtures, away to Tottenham and at home to Manchester United, but pass those and it will become difficult to contain the excitement on Merseyside.
Just around the corner from where we’re sat is ‘The Champions Wall’, listing the trophies in Liverpool’s cabinet. The figure 18 under ‘league titles’ could soon need amending.
There’s no talk of that from Klopp, though. He has just used his press conference to underline that neither he, his players nor his staff are focusing on records, points totals or their place in history. The focus remains, as ever, on the next game.
“We were looking forward to that [day off] after the last game. But OK, it’s done,” he said. “Then you get in the next morning and your only concern is Tottenham and nothing else.”
What can Liverpool expect from Tottenham?
Klopp has been wary of Liverpool losing their intensity this week and adjustments have been made in training. “It was dum, dum, dum, dum and now another rhythm and we have to make sure we go out there on Saturday with all we have,” he says. “We have to make sure we use that time, with a little bit of mental rest.”
So what have the analysis preparations for Jose Mourinho’s side entailed? “It’s a mix of what Jose did at United and what he’s doing now because we haven’t played Jose at Tottenham yet,” said Klopp. “We don’t know for 100 per cent but we try to use our experience with Jose and Tottenham to be as well prepared as possible.
“We know it will be a tough one. Tottenham is a top side in a not so good moment. Not the moment they want to be in. And that makes a team always dangerous.”
Earlier this season, while he was a pundit for Sky Sports, Mourinho highlighted how a low block – or deep defence – had allowed Manchester United to stop Liverpool at Old Trafford.
It’s a formula the Portuguese manager has used many times himself and a likely tactic for a Spurs side shorn of their star striker Harry Kane this weekend. But Klopp wasn’t put out by Mourinho’s criticism of his team’s struggles to break down United that day and says his side are a different proposition themselves now.
“Oh, we are a different team since then,” said Klopp. “But it’s still the biggest challenge for each football team in the world, playing against a low block.
“I would say the best team in the world at it is Manchester City, but even they struggle from time to time because it’s just difficult.
“It’s about always right decisions, forcing the opponent into a situation he’s not comfortable with, using the space behind the last line as long as you can because when they drop there’s not a lot there any more… All these kind of things. But we are a completely different team. We developed a lot in the last months and years.”
“Improve the good things”
While Klopp notes Liverpool’s recent development, he raised eyebrows last week when he insisted his team – unbeaten in the Premier League for over a year – still have room for improvement. If that’s the case, does this week of preparation offer the opportunity to experiment with new ideas?
Not quite – rather than overload his players with different approaches, Klopp’s focus is on making Liverpool even better at what they already do so well.
We just have to remind again why we are the team we are at the moment. What did we do so that we became that kind of team? And that’s what we try to do in training.
“If I know the boys are in a really intense period and play, play, play, play and then we use that one break where they don’t play for one week for immediately new things, then that’s not OK,” he says.
“If when you were in school, you go there and have four or five tests in a row, then you have three days off until the next test and someone comes in and starts telling you something completely new, you think ‘come on, I’m not ready for that’.
“So, what we do is we try to improve the good things. There are not a lot of things that are completely not acceptable, so we don’t have to worry about that. We just have to remind again why we are the team we are at the moment, what did we do so that we became that kind of team and that’s what we try to do in training.
“Like focusing on our strengths, our philosophy, what are the things we want to see on the pitch? It’s not bringing new things. Developing means doing the right things again and again. That’s what we try to do.”
“We had tough, tough moments”
One thing this Liverpool team certainly have right is their mentality. After all, racking up 37 games without defeat requires a certain mindset. Klopp says it is how his players have learnt from setbacks in the past – and how they help their younger team-mates not make the same mistakes – which is the real key.
“A lot of things lead into the mentality,” Klopp says. “The big defeats lead into the mentality. If you can get a mentality of, let’s say, ‘never give up’, before that you have to give up once or twice to realise that’s how it feels to give up so don’t do that again. This is the learning process.
“So we had tough, tough moments. We lost big finals, the biggest finals in world football, which made us ready to win it the next time and we did that pretty much with that group.
“We brought in one or two players but the majority of the group is together for two or three years and some of them for four or five or longer, so that means we did that together and that’s the most important thing.
“And then for the younger boys, they have the perfect role models. So they make some of the mistakes they could make but now but they don’t do that because Milly, Hendo, Adam, Gini, Virg tell them ‘don’t do that’. It helps, although some of the mistakes you have to make yourself to realise that’s not OK.
“And the other thing is, if a 30-year-old player doesn’t give up, why should an 18-year-old player give up? You need to learn from the best and in this part of the game we have for sure some of the best in the world, and that’s clear.
“The boys have had really tough times. Now they have better times.”
It could turn into great times if Liverpool can maintain their levels and celebrate their 19th league title come May.
But for Klopp those thoughts can wait. His attention remains set on how to beat Tottenham – so much so, he admits he hadn’t even thought about Saturday being his first trip to Spurs’ sparkling new home. “I hope when they built the new stadium they did a very nice away room because that’s pretty rare nowadays!” With another laugh he heads off to his office and back to his work.
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