If anyone, at this late, nerve-shredding stage of the Premier League title race, had the ability to somehow summon actor Sean Connery into proceedings, then Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp was your man yesterday.
The articulate and entertaining German sends his record-breaking Liverpool team out against relegated Huddersfield tonight still very much the underdog in the titanic struggle with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Statistically, the two combatants are on course to boast the second and third highest points tally in the history of the Premier League, behind only Guardiola’s centurions of 12 months ago.
However, Klopp was still relaxed enough to summon up a relatively obscure 1980s movie reference: Highlander, a film that features Connery and centres around a battle to the death between immortal warriors.
“It’s like Highlander, only one of us will be there at the end!” he joked.
“But we don’t only play to be champions. Yes it’s a main target, and this team is pretty close in the moment. We still have a chance, and we will see what happens but this will be the first time, not the last time.
Just because the club is waiting a long time, but that doesn’t make it any more likely. That we are close is already rather surprising, because last year, we were 25 points behind. That’s really good.
“We have to carry on, and we will carry on, but only one team can be champion. I knew that before we started. We want to play the best football we can play every single day. That’s all we are interested in.”
In a season that has already seen the top position change hands 28 times, the smart money is on that figure reaching 30 before the weekend is out.
Liverpool are, surely, guaranteed a victory against a Huddersfield side that has won just three games all season — a result that would return them to the top of the pile with a two-point edge — and, while City face a tougher challenge in visiting Burnley on Sunday, a run of 25 wins from their last 27 games suggests they will also be prohibitive favourites.
Indeed, that is the frustrating situation now facing Klopp, who saw City finally use up their game in hand in Wednesday’s impressive derby win at United.
That now means that should the teams “hold serve” and win out their remaining games — something, the form books suggests, is odds-on — then City will become the first team in a decade to retain the title.
“I was not surprised by the result,” said Klopp. “You assess the situation and I was completely calm about it.
“It feels like months that we were one game ahead and they had one game in hand. We are one point behind City, but we knew for a long time if we win our next two games, then the decision will be made in the last game and that is pretty special, but for that, we have to win the next two games, which is difficult enough, starting with Huddersfield and that is what we are concentrating on. We still have three games to play, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Wolverhampton, they proved again that it will be a tough game.
We don’t have to reset the situation, or summarise the season. If we do it, we will do it. If we don’t do it, there are no regrets as long as we give it our best, and I saw that all season from the boys. Whatever we end up, it is only the first step. We are not finished. We started this year with this team and we will carry on.
If Klopp sounds like a man already positioning himself to rationalise his team’s failure to win the title, there may be an element of understandable truth to that theory.
After all, the Liverpool manager surely has a point when he cites the great progress made by his team over the past 12 months. Last weekend’s victory at relegated Cardiff, took Liverpool onto 88 points, the most they have ever recorded in the Premier League era, and has them on course to finish with an astonishing 97.
Even Liverpool’s current tally of 88 points would have been enough to have finished first in 14 of the 26 seasons the Premier League has been in existence, adding to the growing feeling of frustration — and, even, dread — among Liverpool fans.
“We made our own experiences in the last three-and-a-half years,” said the manager. “We had a lot of difficult
“We learned a lot of things, we trained a lot together. The boys are at a brilliant age in the mid-20s, the best age for football players. It’s cool.
“They have a lot of space for improvement but they are already at a really high level. You know what you do and you are not surprised anymore. We are not frustrated when we are not that good.
“If you win the league, it’s only the first step. If you don’t win the league, it’s still only the first step, as we started this year.”