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Premier League Preview: Stop the Klopp, It's Jurgen Time at Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp is asked whether he can end conflict in the Middle East.
Jurgen Klopp is asked whether he can end conflict in the Middle East.Associated Press
Alex DunnFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2015

The cult of the manager is omnipresent. A ball has not been kicked under Jurgen Klopp’s tenure as Liverpool manager and already talk is of the Liver Bird being lowered.

The Angel of the North sculptor Sir Antony Gormley is busy chiseling glasses and a goofy smile into marble on a deadline. A win at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday lunchtime will see cranes invade the city, as Klopp’s giant head is hoisted on top of the Royal Liver BuildingSaviour of the Scouse is the working title. 

The German's rhetoric since being jettisoned into England has been relatively bashful, by a showman's standards. Delivered with a grin and a dash of mischief, though, his sound bites have been lapped up with the awed reverence of a child sat on Santa's knee in a department store.

If the chance to sit on Klopp's knee was offered, journalists would be queuing outside the press room and snaking around the circumference of Anfield.

Every half-quip is met with a fatuous belly laugh, like when a theatre crowd howls uproariously at a joke in a Shakespeare production just to prove they understand the "funny" bits.

Proclaiming himself as the "Normal One" is a nice line in self-deprecation, but it's not Richard Pryor. When Avram Grant used the very same gag in 2007, Sky Sports was accused of piping in canned laughter. 

That luring him to Merseyside was a significant coup on Liverpool's part is hardly a bone of contention, and neither is the right of the club's supporters to gorge themselves on Klopp's past achievements with ravenous gluttony.

His experiences at Borussia Dortmund have a faint echo of the situation he inherits at Anfield, and only a true curmudgeon would deny it feels as though the planets have somehow aligned with this timely coupling. 

And yet the fawning of the media seems nauseatingly forced at times, achieving little other than fashioning a potential backlash before he's even taken his place in the dugout.

It's as if his genius has already been certified. If you give a standing ovation to an actor simply for taking the stage, anything that follows usually feels like an anti-climax. If Klopp doesn't score four on Saturday, he needn't bother with a bow as the curtain goes down.

It's a writer's job to paint a portrait with words, but with Klopp it's as though colouring books have been doled out already. All that is left to do is fill in the bits between the lines with the broadest of brush strokes. I'd like to fall in love with Klopp at my own pace, thanks very much, if it's all the same to you?

In his first press conference, via the Guardian, Klopp pleaded not to be compared to Jesus. Even for a double Bundesliga winner this seems a fair request.

It was said in good humour, and lines like "I can't walk on water. I dive into it" will always curry favour with a profession often charged with making dull press conferences sound interesting.

Brian Clough, further lionised this week via the rapturously received I Believe in Miracles film, once said: "Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that instead of walking on it, I should have taken more of it with my drinks. They are absolutely right." It's a funny line, but one that makes a serious point. Klopp seems to be doing the same in his opening gambits with the media.

He may play the clown, but he's clearly an intelligent man, and his message is clear: Don't put me on a pedestal and then kick it from under me if things don't go to plan from day one.

Good luck with that, Jurgen.

 

Tottenham v Liverpool, Saturday at 12.45 p.m. BST

On Thursday, in front of the press ahead of the weekend trip to Tottenham, Klopp was again assured but a little more circumspect, especially when on the topic of privacy, per the Guardian:

I am trying to sort out my private situation and find somewhere to live, but the paparazzi seem to know about it before I do.

Yesterday I was at dinner with my two assistants and someone asked for a photo. I had to say no. Every photo ends up on Twitter. It’s strange at the moment because we haven’t even played football yet. Let’s start doing what I’m here for … I don’t read what you write so I am completely free of expectations. But the pressure I place on myself is big enough.

His exasperation at selfie culture, however light, seemed to mirror his debut in front of the British media when he was forced to request a halt to the incessant photo taking so as he could hear the questions. It's as though no one cares what he actually says, just as long as he's here to say it.

Certainly there hasn't been this level of excitement levelled at a manager arriving in England since Jose Mourinho joined Chelsea from Porto in 2004. 

The English obsession with managers is hardly a new phenomenon. From Herbert Chapman to Matt Busby to Bill Shankly, via Don Revie, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, all the way to Mourinho today, the story of English football has always been documented through its managers.

It is the managers who are paraded in front of the media like racehorses before and after each game, while players are ushered on to coaches with the urgency of newly released hostages waiting to be reacquainted with iPads loved ones.

According to the Daily MailKlopp is to rent the luxury apartment vacated by Brendan Rodgers in Liverpool city centre. The preposterousness of why we need or want to know this information is a debate for another column, but if nothing else, it evokes the delicious image of Klopp lounging in a BR-monogrammed Liverpool dressing gown left in the wardrobe by his predecessor. 

At first glance, a trip to White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side that hasn't lost since the opening day at Manchester United is quite a first poser for Klopp. He does, though, inherit an enviable record against Spurs, with Liverpool having won the previous five meetings between the two sides, scoring 18 goals in the process.

It's quite the bitter irony that Klopp's first match is against a side Rodgers' Liverpool teams usually excelled against. Still, according to the Daily Mirror, the Ulsterman could soon be sharing airtime with Richard Keys, so it's not all doom and gloom. Ahem. 

Danny Ings joining Joe Gomez in suffering a serious knee injury that will keep him out of the rest of the season is a significant blow, though, with the industrious forward's infectious work rate embodying Klopp's "gegenpressing" philosophy, as made comprehensible by Jonathan Wilson in his Bleacher Report column.

Ings' willingness to press high up the pitch had been well received by the club's supporters and would almost certainly have won another fan in Klopp. Only Newcastle United (13) currently have more players out injured than Liverpool's eight, according to the Physio Room

Despite the continued absence of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino, and now Ings, taking a job with a team on a six-game unbeaten run gives Klopp a fair platform to build from.

Despite enduring enough struggles already this season to see off Rodgers, it's worth remembering Liverpool are still only six points off the pace.

Our sculptor friend, Mr. Gormley, will be hoping for a draw.

 

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland, Saturday at 3 p.m. BST

It might not be pretty, but ugly beautiful will do for Sunderland.
It might not be pretty, but ugly beautiful will do for Sunderland.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Upon agreeing to manage a club that has gone through six managers in as many years and is without a win all season, Sam Allardyce said he had no choice but to cut short his sojourn in Spain because football was "a drug" and his "addiction," as noted by the Daily Mirror.

Going off performances at the Stadium of Light, most Sunderland fans will have concluded their new manager must have been referring to sleeping tablets. 

It's been an interesting week for Allardyce. Given his predilection to shoot from the lip, one suspects he would in normal circumstances have enjoyed engaging in a tete-a-tete with Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez or going toe-to-toe with "brainwashed" West Ham United supporters, as relayed in his book, Big Sam, My Autobiography, which is being serialised by the Sun (h/t the Guardian).

However, with his bow as Sunderland boss looming large in the shape of a trip to old pal Tony Pulis' West Bromwich Albion, the fallout from his book will have to wait.

Sunderland travel to the Midlands having not won in 11 Premier League matches, and in the knowledge West Brom are unbeaten in 10 of their last 11 games against the Black Cats. 

Allardyce arrives in the north-east like a disciplinarian head teacher charged with saving a failing inner-city school.

He's sounded almost holistic at times when speaking of his need to man-manage Sunderland's beleaguered players, but it's unlikely cuddles will be forthcoming until they've been earned.

There will be nothing pretty about it, but in terms of being the right man for the job, even the most evangelical about how they like their football to be played would struggle to argue it's not a good fit. 

"I’m here to save them," Allardyce said, via the Telegraph. "I’m the troubleshooter. I’ve got to get the club out of trouble and then rebuild it. The only priority I’ve got is to focus on saving it. The job’s not to focus on the academy or what happens in two years’ time. It’s got to be about now."

Allardyce football is a bit like colonic irrigationnot particularly pleasant and you wouldn't want it every week, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the discomfort of the procedure.

He took over Bolton Wanderers in 1999 with the club ninth in the second tier. When he left the Reebok in 2007, they were in fifth place in the Premier League.

He lasted only eight months at Newcastle United, but given he was shown the door with the club in 11th place, it says as much about them as it does him.

Blackburn Rovers, too, may look back and think they were a little hasty in reaching for the revolver when Allardyce had them 13th in the top flight.

Slaven Bilic may seem like an upgrade now, and while there is no love lost between Allardyce and West Ham fans, promotion from the Championship and a 12th-placed Premier League finish is not to be smirked at, either.

Maybe he'd get more credit if he didn't carry more chips on his shoulder than McDonald's chief peeler.

 

Chelsea v Aston Villa, Saturday at 3 p.m. BST

A perfectly timed book tour for an under pressure Jose Mourinho.
A perfectly timed book tour for an under pressure Jose Mourinho.Frank Augstein/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Amid the Klopp-mania, it's almost been forgotten Chelsea have endured their worst start to a season in 37 years and sit just two places shy of the relegation zone having lost half of their eight Premier League matches.

Only Sunderland (18) have conceded more goals than the 17 Chelsea have shipped to date, with James Olley of the London Evening Standard having claimed a "mutiny" is brewing in west London.

John Terry is reportedly refusing to train in anything but full pirate regalia, while such reports would certainly make sense of the fact Branislav Ivanovic has played as if he's been missing a leg since the start of the season. 

After embarking on a remarkable unbroken seven-and-a-half minute rant on the back of a 3-1 home defeat to Southampton prior to the international break, it was thought Mourinho may use the intervening period to indulge in a little down time and try to sate an obese appetite to put his foot in mouth of late.

On the contrary, he made the headlines Thursday evening after proclaiming in Waterstones' Piccadilly bookshop, via Jack de Menezes of the Independent, that his £50,000 Football Association fine for comments made in the aforementioned diatribe was "an absolute disgrace," while implying Arsene Wenger gets off lightly.

In the interests of clarity, Mourinho was in the bookshop to promote his new book and not just shouting at random customers about life's bitter injustices. 

In the summer, Tim Sherwood would almost certainly have expected to be only four points off Chelsea at this stage of the season.

Aston Villa's manager is the type of man who has already bought the whole table another drink before he's even considered whether the glass is half full or half empty, which makes it even sadder now to see him wear the helpless expression of a shepherd without a sheepdog. 

Diego Costa's return for Chelsea, when coupled with the fact Mourinho's side have won six of their last seven matches against Aston Villa (who have lost six of their last seven Premier Leauge games) in all competitions, makes it all the more desperate for Sherwood. 

Anything other than a win for Chelsea could see Roman Abramovich invite his manager for a quick game of Russian roulette, with the twist of having six bullets in the chamber. 

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