Premier League: Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho fighting for their philosophies more than for points
Monday's Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United will not be assessed solely in terms of the result; Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho will seek to once again make a case for their respective visions of football
When Liverpool host Manchester United on Monday night, Jurgen Klopp will face an opposition side — and a manager — who do not conform to his philosophy. Over the years, the German has registered his disapproval of the elaborate, passing style that characterises the football of Barcelona and Arsenal. "It is not my sport. I don't like winning with 80 percent (possession). Sorry, that is not enough for me," Klopp had once said of the Catalan giant's approach. For Arsene Wenger's Gunners, he picked a musical analogy: "It's like an orchestra. But it's a silent song."
Of course, there's someone else who also doesn't approve of the silent song: Jose Mourinho. But despite their shared dislike for the football played by Arsenal, Barcelona and others who follow their possession principle, Klopp and Mourinho are not part of a mutual admiration society. Sure, the Liverpool boss defended the Portuguese on Sunday, when asked whether his counterpart is a waning force. But Klopp has enough land to plough when it comes to his views on Mourinho's football.
The Liverpool manager likes to define himself as a man who is swayed by emotion; he does not see himself with the cliched lens of the sentiment-reason binary, but Klopp wants to be remembered as a manager who was not defined just by the results he got; it's the experience of watching his teams play in fans' company that he cherishes more. "Tactical with big heart," is how he once described his football ideal.
That was also how Mourinho used to characterise the way his teams played. Not in those exact terms, but the sentiment was not too different. Then where do these managers part their ways? There has been simmering tension between the two ever since Klopp's Borussia Dortmund upstaged Mourinho's Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League. The German upstart shocked his Portuguese counterpart in the semifinal; a 4-1 rollicking win in the first leg that left Mourinho moaning the naiveté of his players who apparently did not foul Robert Lewandowski enough.
The tension between the two managers became publicly visible last season when struggling Chelsea was overpowered by Klopp's men. Mourinho took a dim view of Klopp's frequent conversations with the fourth official, questioning his touchline conduct. The question, of course, came up ahead of Monday night's match and the Portuguese manager maintained that he was not a fan of Klopp's extravagant reactions on the touchline.
It does feel a bit rich coming from a manager who is remembered for his exuberant celebrations, particularly his run down the sideline when Porto knocked his current employers out in the 2003-04 Champions League. Mourinho is today a more mellowed man, but also someone who is still railing against the establishment. Or so he likes to present himself.
For Monday's match, Mourinho has said that he will stick with the method that has brought him success in the past; recent failures are not enough to shake his faith in his system. "When they have the ball, you have to try to stop them scoring, and the best way to do that is to defend with 11 men. When you have the ball you want to score, you want to be dominant, you want the ball and this is what we are doing. We are playing the way we are playing, and we have to improve in many things. But we have a certain style of play and we are not going to change that."
Mourinho's possession-averse football was a revelation in the noughties, with his use of triangles in a 4-3-3 formation setting him apart. Not only was he successful, but the Portuguese was also the shining beacon of those who sought to counter the dominance of possession-based football. One would think that the likes of Klopp would have been avowed followers of Mourinho.
On the contrary, however, the German manager sped the game up. Vertical ball distribution was a hallmark of the Dortmund side he managed, but it was the pace and high pressing employed by them that separated Klopp from Mourinho. Indeed, in the aftermath of Guardiola's exit from Barcelona, this style has proved to be immensely successful in European football. Managers like Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino have interpreted it in their own manner, while high pressing continues to be a hallmark of any team fielded by Guardiola.
In this seminar of coaching luminaries, Mourinho continues to stand at a distance. As seen this season, especially against sides that pose a huge threat to Liverpool, Klopp has carried his own style forward. Although there are defensive problems that can hold the Reds back, it has been an impressive start to the campaign.
Victories over Arsenal, Leicester City and Chelsea must provide Klopp deep satisfaction; the draw against Tottenham could have brought another three points if not for a momentary lapse of concentration. The pace, the bustle, the never-yielding desire to run and harry opponents has seen Liverpool leave an imprint on the league.
What sort of an impact has Mourinho had? It seems a bit unfair to assess a manager's work seven games into a league campaign but there are long-standing issues at United. Not all of them are of Mourinho's making, as the vestiges of Louis van Gaal's era still linger at Old Trafford. But after the massive spend in the summer, it will not be long before Mourinho will be called upon to demonstrate his method still works.
The decision to drop Wayne Rooney after three straight defeats last month was arguably his first major call, if one were to look beyond the transfer market dealings, for which Mourinho is not entirely responsible.
But Klopp chose to focus on the rich acquisitions earlier this season — particularly the 100 million pounds that United spent on Paul Pogba. Klopp categorically expressed his disbelief when the deal went through. "The day that is football (100 million spent on one player), I'm not in a job anymore, because the game is about playing together."
Football, to an extent, is about spending big bucks on star players. If Klopp is still in a job, it's because his vision is in vogue. It works. There are, however, a few dissenting voices about Mourinho and his method now. Whether it remains relevant, we shall see. But one suspects that Monday's match will not be assessed solely in terms of the result. Klopp and Mourinho will seek to once again make a case for their respective visions of football. Time, they will argue, will not dull the merits of their philosophies.
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