This is supposed to be the business end of the season, squeaky bum time in terms of the title race, yet Tottenham’s visit to Anfield this afternoon may turn out to be more of a love-in than a leadership contest.
For one thing, games between the two clubs in recent seasons have featured exquisite goals, open football and marvellous entertainment. For another, Jürgen Klopp makes no secret of his admiration for Spurs, their manager and their leading scorer, even if they do arrive on Merseyside looking for their first Premier League win in more than a month.
“We can expect a strong Tottenham, they are a world-class team,” the Liverpool manager says. “In England, the country of transfers, it makes a pretty big statement when you don’t sign anyone at all , but in a way I could see why Mauricio Pochettino did that, why they were not too concerned last summer when they didn’t bring in any new players.
“Mauricio is just a brilliant coach and his team is really good already. Now the players have a lot more experience of playing together, of finding solutions to different problems, and that makes them a really tough opponent.”
Not many Premier League managers would admit this of a rival but Klopp even confesses to enjoying doing his homework on Spurs, taking pleasure in watching videos of their games. “Sometimes analysing opponents is a joy,” he says. “It is pretty easy to sit down and view Spurs games if you like watching good football. Even if they haven’t won their last few games they always manage to come up with good moments, in fact sometimes they have so many good moments it is hard to work out how they lost the game.”
A cynic might suspect Klopp of attempting to pressure Spurs by bigging them up so much, though the Liverpool manager has rarely been one for mind games and his respect for Harry Kane, in particular, appears genuine.
“What a striker!” he exclaims. “He is a really difficult opponent to look after and, as with all world-class players, you cannot afford to just concentrate on him. Do that and Christian Eriksen will be shooting from 50 yards out or something, Dele Alli will be getting headers in the box or Son Heung-min will be running in from behind.
“That’s part of what I like about Spurs, they have so many different attacking options, and if nothing works they can bring on a player like Érik Lamela to see what he can do. They have unbelievable quality right through the team, an outstanding goalkeeper, full-backs that can give you many different opportunities, fantastic centre-backs and a great midfield. Then you come to the front line.”
Good as Son, Alli and Eriksen undoubtedly are, it is clear Klopp has been following Kane’s career quite closely.
“He didn’t arrive as a ready-made player, a talented 18-year-old with everything at his feet,” Klopp says. “He had to work hard to get noticed and keep working to improve his game. I really like him for the way he went about building his career, he is a bit like Jamie Vardy in that respect; in fact, I have seen a photograph of them both together on the Leicester bench when Harry was on loan in the Championship. Fancy that, Kane and Vardy both on the same bench. The thought that struck me, I must admit, was that I wouldn’t want to be that [Leicester] manager.”
Both Vardy and Kane have scored important goals against Liverpool in the past, and Klopp is evidently fond of the idea that not every effective Premier League striker has to cost a fortune. Yet surely it is a bit rich for a manager who spent £75m on Virgil van Dijk and became frustrated at Bayern Munich buying up all the talent in Germany to label England as the country of the transfer.
“Germany is becoming the same, I think, but at least in Germany if you sign a player on a free transfer you still get a pat on the back,” he explains. “Here in England you are told it is no value. That’s the big difference, that and transfer deadline day. That is so much bigger in this country than anywhere else, but there is more money here so it is more interesting to watch.
“This week when Bayern Munich signed Lucas Hernandez for £68m the manager of Hannover said that figure would cover his club’s entire budget for a season. That is the football world we live in, it does not work for everyone but I think in England you still love the big numbers.”
This season’s title race could come down to quite small numbers, even goal difference in the end, though Klopp will not be instructing his players to double their scoring rate just in case.
“You score when you score, I don’t tell the boys to go out there and score six because it is disrespectful,” he says. “I’m happy if we just score the first goal and then the second.
“We score quite a lot of goals, anyway. People say it is not the same football as last year but we have not lost a lot of games. We have not been punched in the face yet like we were in Kiev, Basel or wherever in the last couple of years, but we have had a few difficult moments and tried to overcome them. That’s all you can do really.
“If we hadn’t had any problems this season we might have had a couple more points, but it is very hard to go through a season without major problems. City came close last season but that was exceptional. No one likes dropping points but you have to learn from it and go again. That’s what we try to do.”
Liverpool v Tottenham,
Sky Sports, 4.30
Sunday Indo Sport