It wasn’t really obvious what made Jürgen Klopp appreciate the unsightly 0-0 draw between his Liverpool FC and Chelsea in the Premier League with the beaming face so typical of him after victories. Perhaps Klopp was enjoying his side’s first clean sheet in the league in three months, or perhaps he was pleased that, after the final whistle, he bumped into former player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the pitch, whom he had once brought to Borussia Dortmund and worked with successfully there .
Or, and that would probably be the most plausible reason: Jürgen Klopp simply didn’t want to spoil his mood on Saturday. After all, the German celebrated a very special anniversary at Anfield – the 1000th competitive game of his coaching career, almost 22 years after his debut for Mainz 05 (1-0 against Duisburg). Of these, he played 270 games with Mainz, 319 matches with Dortmund and now, after the draw against Chelsea, 411 games with Liverpool. As one of the well-wishers, legendary coach Alex Ferguson (2155 games) conveyed his appreciation before kick-off. Ferguson praised his colleague’s commitment as “inspiring” and welcomed Klopp “very pleased” as a new member of the League Managers Association’s 1000 club – the Hall of Fame that only coaches are inducted who can show a four-digit number of professional games.
In view of the 1000 games he feels “really blessed”, said Jürgen Klopp, the brand is a “huge thing” and a “crazy number”. His beard is now grey, he quipped, which would not have been the case when he began his tenure at Liverpool in October 2015. Therefore, this must either be due to “age” or to his “LFC job” – which can be understood at the moment.
After a tour de force last season, which saw Klopp complete his trophy case in England by winning the League Cup and FA Cup with Liverpool, his injury-plagued side have faltered this season. As a result of the defeat in the previous week (0:3 in Brighton), the dip in performance had even dented so much that Klopp afterwards concluded that he had to “start from the beginning” again. Or better: From behind, because Liverpool had conceded 13 goals in six competitive games after the World Cup break.
His team has to take “small steps”, says Klopp
And the new focus on the defensive is already reflected in the first results. After advancing in the midweek FA Cup (1-0 in Wolverhampton), the Reds managed their second game without conceding a goal. A record Liverpool have only matched once this season: in October, when both Manchester City and West Ham were defeated back-to-back 1-0.
Die Zeitung Guardian judged that the 1000th Klopp game would therefore “not be remembered well”, if at all. But Klopp was able to state for himself that his team was once again ready to defend their own goal with heart and soul. The defense around the missing stabilizer Virgil van Dijk benefited from the conservative style of play. Unlike usual, Liverpool retreated further and no longer attacked from the front. His team must be ready “for small steps”, Klopp explained his measures after the game, and this was a “small step”.
The league suspension will benefit Chelsea in particular
The game, which was characterized by many shortcomings, lived less from the individual class of the players than from the nervousness of the teams. They could not afford another defeat because of the already considerable gap to the Champions League positions (currently nine points). And so Klopp pointed out with subtle irony that before the game “everyone” had accused him of ninth place (Liverpool) playing against tenth place (Chelsea). This was also “the truth” – and both clubs will have to come to terms with this table region before the upcoming two-week league break.
The league break mainly benefits Chelsea, who have already been eliminated in the national cup competitions. For the first time since taking office in September, coach Graham Potter has the opportunity to train extensively with his entire squad. For him, the main thing is to integrate the six new players who were acquired this winter for around 175 million euros. None of them are older than 23 years. This gives Chelsea a promising perspective – if the professionals brought in and Potter succeeds in developing a coherent team from them. So far it has been difficult for him to find a well-rehearsed starting eleven. He should be measured by that in the coming weeks, especially with the associated performance against Dortmund in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Liverpool is also speculating on the premier class as an alternative for a championship round that is not necessarily successful. Despite his long coaching career, motivation is “not a problem” for him, said Jürgen Klopp. He has “enough energy” for another ten years. And despite all the difficulties, he still can’t stop laughing