Saturday, December 2

Jürgen Klopp: ‘Wham, two finals – it’s the most exciting time of my career’ | Liverpool

IIt is little surprise that Jürgen Klopp is enjoying the time of his life as he prepares to lead Liverpool into a season-defining week. The German has the exciting possibility of lifting the Premier League and Champions League in the space of six days. Real Madrid are the opposition in Paris next Saturday but Manchester City stand in the way of Klopp and Liverpool first, and the challenge is an exciting one for a man who has already won one Premier League and two Bundesliga titles. The weekly battle to match Pep Guardiola’s side is keeping Klopp invigorated, knowing he and his team have been consistently at their best.

Klopp knows the pain of 2018-19 when City pipped Liverpool to top spot. Once again it goes down to the final day of the season, with Liverpool realistically needing to beat Wolves and for City to drop points against Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. “I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few exciting times,” Klopp said. “If you ask my missus she asks why [does it] always go down to the last match. It happens incredibly often.

“It’s the most exciting because seeing how good the boys are and seeing the steps that we’ve made and just two games to go. It’s unbelievable. It feels like five minutes ago it was seven games. Now, wham, here we go to two endings. We’ve played endings since ages, but now it’s really two endings. It’s absolutely massive. It’s the most exciting time of my career.”

A 12-point gap has been cut to one to set up a tantalizing final day. There is the prospect of losing the league on goal difference or by a single point, which would only highlight how good Manchester City have been to beat Liverpool to the title. There will be no shame for Klopp if he does not collect his second Premier League title with the Liverpool machine he has created, only pride in what his squad has achieved over a lengthy season.

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Klopp and Liverpool have fulfilled the role of being the hunter, ready to capitalize on any City slip-up to keep the pressure on them. Trying to catch a team that have secured 455 points in the past five seasons is a glorious challenge, one Klopp is entrenched in.

When Klopp felt Liverpool needed a catalyst in January he did not hesitate to sign Luis Díaz for £37m. He saw the squad required something different, especially with the absence at the Africa Cup of Nations of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, and carefully selected the Colombia winger, who has integrated seamlessly into a tight-knit group. If Liverpool do end up with the Premier League trophy on Sunday, the decision to acquire Díaz could be the one that made the difference in the pursuit of City, especially when Guardiola stuck with what he had.

Luis Diaz has excelled since signing in January. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Success is often summarized by honors lists and how many trophies a person has won. For Klopp, he can see the bigger picture of achievement in sport. This Liverpool side are everything he wants them to be in terms of style and personnel. They take on his instruction from him and each player performs his role from him in the manner the manager demands. The team spirit is an important part of everything Liverpool do.

Klopp is effusive about the qualities the departing Divock Origi has brought down the years. He knows these characters, who lack the capability to start every week, are imperative within a successful club that want to challenge for four trophies a season.

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Final-day disappointment is not new to Klopp. At Mainz in 2002 and 2003 he fell short of promotion to the Bundesliga by the finest of margins, although he learned an important lesson that failures can lead to great successes. “Out of 365 days, 364 days at Mainz were better than ever before in our lives as footballers. And the last one was particularly bad. It’s up to us to judge what we make of that. And I always made of that: ‘OK, let’s give it a try and make 365 of it [next time].’ And that’s how it is. But for that you need the other 364 as well. And that’s what we always did.

“At Mainz life gave me another knock because we didn’t get promoted by a point and then by a goal, so it was a real test. And then we got promoted. So things work out if you stay on track. If you stay in the right mood. And that’s what we will be. So, I learned it early. That’s the only way I can do it, actually. I enjoy the journey a lot and everyone who wants to do that as well is invited. And if not then I cannot change that.”

Three years ago Liverpool were also hosting Wolves on the final day of the season, sitting a point behind City, with a Champions League final to come. Guardiola’s side held their nerve to defeat Brighton, making Liverpool’s 2-0 win meaningless in a season when they achieved 97 points. “Being second in the Premier League isn’t what we wanted tonight but we’ll take it,” Klopp said in 2019.

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He is not a man who begrudges the best their titles. Unquestionably, he wants to be the best, but when a genius comes up against a worthy rival, they sometimes have to accept defeat by the finest margins.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Klopp will embrace, alongside his players, the lap of honor knowing what they have achieved. But there is no doubt the smile will be a little bit bigger if Liverpool get their way.

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