Someone always pulls out the short straw in the Champions League group stage. In a lopsided draw Liverpool and Tottenham were a little unfortunate to get one each, writes
When the draw was made, Tottenham looked to have the tougher task, given that PSV Eindhoven are supposedly the minnows of their group, and PSV have a great European pedigree. Losing to Liverpool at home was also not the best preparation for a visit to San Siro.
But on Saturday, Inter lost at home to Parma, which is the Italian equivalent of being mugged by Lazarus, so Spurs have some hope for tonight, despite the absence of Hugo Lloris in goal.
Liverpool’s meeting with PSG is definitely the match of the week, with interesting clashes all over the pitch and the chance to compare Mohammed Salah with Kylian Mbappe, plus the rematch of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.
Germany’s reputation for tactical excellence and attacking flair took a knock in the World Cup, but no one can question Tuchel or Klopp as far as team-building is concerned. The two men have also followed much the same path to the top of their profession.
Klopp first made his mark in the Bundesliga in charge of Cinderella club Mainz. Tuchel then took over at Mainz a year after Klopp left for Borussia Dortmund — and achieved even better results than his predecessor. With impeccable logic, Dortmund then appointed Tuchel after Klopp resigned.
The two men also did their coaching diplomas together, at Cologne, back in 2006, and remain friends, if not particularly close ones. Veteran manager Erich Rutemoller was in charge of Cologne’s academy at the time and remembers that “they both appreciated each other a lot” though temperamentally they were opposites.
Jurgen was fairly open whereas Tuchel was rather introverted.
That contrast has persisted. Klopp’s warmth and readiness to engage with people made him the most popular man in German football, even when he became a pundit. Harald Strutz, Mainz club president, still speaks of the way his sense of humour “infected the whole club. On a human level, it’s hard to find someone better.”
When it comes to Tuchel, however, Strutz is dismissive, even though he respects his coaching record: “The manner in which he left the club was completely disrespectful”. Tuchel similarly fell out with the Dortmund hierarchy. “Kloppo” remains a hero for the Dortmund fans, as well as at Mainz. Tuchel would not be welcomed back at either club.
You might expect that the temperamental differences between the two men would be reflected in their teams, and they are — but only up to a point. Klopp’s blitzkrieg attacking style has won a lot of admirers, but Tuchel is also committed to attacking football.
No one goes to a game to watch a boring 1-0,” he has said. “People pay to see goals, chances, dribbling, and a spectacle.
His nearest equivalent in English football is possibly Pep Guardiola, although Tuchel’s readiness to take risks reminds some people of Argentina’s Marcelo Bielsa. His Dortmund formation mutated from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 and then to a 3-1-2-4, which Tuchel modestly described as “the future of football”.
Not surprisingly they did not keep many clean sheets: Dortmund’s 8-4 Champions League win against Legia Warsaw two seasons ago is an extreme example, but in the league, they conceded 28 goals in their 17 away games.
The most telling criticism of Tuchel at Dortmund was that his style demanded a level of perfection from individual players that was hard to attain, and even harder to sustain. Similar criticisms have been levelled at Guardiola — and especially at Bielsa, who has a tendency to fall out spectacularly with those who don’t meet his standards.
But Tuchel may be more conservative at Anfield. Against Saint-Etienne he started with both Lassana Diarra and Marco Veratti. The 19-year-old Moussa Diaby came on for Diarra at half-time.
Adrien Rabiot was the third man in a fairly orthodox 4-3-3 and he has the creative ability to supply the spark to make PSG fly — but his future is also up in the air.
Having refused to be a reserve for France in the World Cup, he has also refused to sign a new contract with his club. That sort of bloody-mindedness might well appeal to his manager, and Rabiot has a lot to prove, as he will be available for free at the end of the season.
Tuchel has better defenders and stoppers at his disposal than at Dortmund, and so far PSG’s new coach has enjoyed a perfect start.
They strolled to a 4-0 win against their main rivals Monaco in the season’s curtain-raiser, played in China. On Friday they repeated that scoreline against Saint-Etienne at the Parc des Princes, with Neymar and Mbappe rested, and Edinson Cavani scoring one and making another.
They have scored 17 times in their opening five league games.
But in their last away game, at Nimes, PSG blew a 2-0 lead before scoring twice in the final 15 minutes.
With attacking options of Neymar, Cavani, and Mbappe, plus Angel Di Maria off the bench or in midfield, PSG will score goals against anyone.
But this is their first match of any consequence this season and in their previous incarnation, with Unai Emery in charge, they had a tendency to crack under pressure.
Liverpool are equipped to win tonight.
The return may be another matter.