Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not about to change his team’s trademark style against Champions League quarter-final opponents Manchester City and believes he can make things “unpleasant” for Pep Guardiola’s side.
City’s dominance in the Premier League has led many teams to try different methods to limit the effectiveness of Pep Guardiola’s tactics and the skill of his players.
Liverpool, though, are the only team to have beaten City in the league this season, with a thrilling 4-3 victory at Anfield in January, and Klopp suggests he will play in a similar style in the first leg on Wednesday.
“The way we attack the opponent, the way we defend high is unpleasant (for our opponents). If we do that well they will have some difficulty coping with it,” Klopp said.
“It will be very exciting. There’s no guarantee this will work. In the end it’s the lads on the pitch who will decide the game,” he added.
Key to Liverpool’s approach is the attacking trio of in-form Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who all scored in the January victory over City but who are also central to the pressing of Guardiola’s defence.
One approach Klopp won’t be taking is simply trying to shut up shop.
“It’ll be about doing more things right than the opponents, because you can’t simply defend against City and hope that they won’t score on the day,” the German said. Klopp’s gegenpressing style, honed at Borussia Dortmund, involves a rapid swarming of opponents’ territory when they lose the ball, and a high defence to limit space and make good use of high-energy attacking full backs.
Guardiola’s teams, including his former clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich, enjoy playing out from the back, working the ball swiftly through midfield and using space expertly. The pressing from Liverpool’s forwards and midfielders tests the ability but Klopp says the two methods are more similar than many think.
“There’s no big difference, actually. It’s just that Pep has always had better teams than me. You can see that now with Manchester City – they have a lot more points than we do. However, that difference has never been as small as it is now. When we coached at Bayern and Dortmund respectively, that difference was really big,” he said.
While much of the credit for City’s success has been given to their manager, Klopp believes City, who are 16 points clear in the Premier League and can clinch the title with a win over Manchester United on Saturday, also owe much of their success to the quality of their players.
“Positioning is important but this is not witchcraft. When the players are in position they move every millisecond in order to be available. And when they are, that’s when the individual quality of the player becomes important,” he said.
“So they’re already well-positioned on the pitch, they are very well orientated and they can pass the ball into the next area. That’s what makes them extraordinary,” Klopp added.
Meanwhile Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk believes an in-form Mohamed Salah is capable of doing damage even to a dominant City and could still beat Blues midfielder Kevin de Bruyne to the player of the year award.
In Salah Liverpool have the top-flight’s leading scorer, with 29 of his 37 goals in a remarkable debut season with the Reds coming in the league and at such a consistent rate he has equalled the record of Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo of finding the net in 21 different matches – with six games still remaining.
Asked whether the Egypt international could do serious damage to City, having already scored against them in their only Premier League defeat so far at Anfield in January, Van Dijk said: “That’s what everyone knows. That’s how we feel as well.
“He’s that kind of player that you just need to be on your best. When he is 100% and in the zone then he can beat anyone.
“There are ways to stop him but I’m not going to tell you because I don’t want our opponents to think about it!”
De Bruyne’s form in the first half of the season appeared to make him a shoo-in for the Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ Player of the Year award, but Salah’s goalscoring exploits are likely to have made it a much closer race.
Van Dijk would not disclose whether the Liverpool players would be voting tactically and not supporting De Bruyne to help their team-mate’s chances of winning.
“That’s obviously not my decision. We need to look at ourselves,” he added.
“He’s having an amazing season but he needs to keep going, the season is still going.”
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