Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he hopes there are plenty more titanic clashes to come in his career at the club as his team gear up for their historic UEFA Europa League tie with bitter enemies Manchester United.
The Reds will host their rivals at Anfield in the first-ever meeting between the two north-west juggernauts in European football on Thursday. And speaking to the assembled media on Wednesday alongside midfielder Adam Lallana, Klopp revealed he believes this is just the start for this team, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo:
Klopp: "It's big. It's the only thing that counts in this moment. I hope it's not the biggest in my Liverpool career."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
As this post from Pearce illustrated, interest is extremely high in this meeting between two of English football’s most illustrious clubs:
The Liverpool manager did concede that he’d rather this tie was being played in the UEFA Champions League instead of the Europa League:
Klopp: "I know Liverpool FC and Man United want to be part of the CL always. But this is an exciting tournament. We can see the line."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
But Klopp also revealed he has been a little underwhelmed by some of the matches in Europe’s top competition, hailing the unpredictability of the continent's second-tier tournament and the manner in which it can potentially prepare players for the step up, per Carl Markham of the Press Association:
JK "What is CL level? I've seen a lot of rubbish games in the CL. Both clubs want to be part of CL but EL is v exciting tournament— Carl Markham (@carlmarkham) March 9, 2016
JK "From now on it is something like a little CL - it is always like this when you reach last 16, last 8— Carl Markham (@carlmarkham) March 9, 2016
Liverpool head into this tie having suffered a lot at the hands of their longstanding rivals lately, with Louis van Gaal enjoying success in this fixture.
Klopp hailed the man who'll be in the opposite dugout on Thursday but said he was hopeful the Dutchman will be unhappy come full-time:
Klopp: "I don't believe in enemies in football. I have absolutely no problem with Van Gaal but last thing I want is for him to win this."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
Klopp: "Van Gaal is one of the most successful managers in the world. I am pleased for him that he could change the situation a little bit."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
Indeed, the meticulous and measured style of play the Dutchman seeks to implement clearly has its benefits in a fixture renowned for being feisty, with the Red Devils winning all four Premier League encounters under his tutelage; a Wayne Rooney goal saw United win 1-0 at Anfield in their last meeting.
Klopp has only been involved in one of these games so far, though, and he reminded the press that the squad is in much better shape now than when the two sides went head-to-head previously:
Klopp: "I was only part of 1 of these 4 defeats (to Utd). We lost. Maybe we didn't play absolute best but we played well enough to win."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
Klopp: "This is a completely different situation (to January). We have more players available. This is the best moment we've had here."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
The German also opened up on the role the Liverpool crowd can play in this one to help the team take a lead to Old Trafford for the second leg:
Klopp: "The crowd will be involved. We do it for them. We enjoy that relationship. The fans can be very decisive."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
There is definitely an excitement on Merseyside with this tie looming, and it was evident Klopp himself is also keen for kick-off.
“We all love football, in each and every region of the world you have games like this,” he said, per Hamish Mackay of the Daily Mirror. “Maybe not with as big names. Liverpool vs. United one of best I can imagine. For me to be a part of it I still can’t get enough. It’s the best thing imaginable.”
There has been a lot of discussion as to whether the forward, who also won the spot kick, was fouled or dived in the build-up. But for the German, there seemed to be little doubt that his player was impeded:
Klopp: "It was a penalty. Contact in the box is a penalty. For both sides, not just for Liverpool."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) March 9, 2016
What will be the result on Thursday?
The clash with United will be a memorable one for the club, and while there have been some brilliant moments for Klopp to enjoy at Anfield, this night will be the most raucous he’s seen at the famous stadium.
The Reds are synonymous with European nights, after all; throw United into the mix and this one should be something special.
It’s vital Liverpool’s undesirable record against the Red Devils is put to an end, too. Klopp will know just how important it is to these supporters to get one over on their rivals, and while this clash may only be in European football’s second-tier competition, that’ll quickly become unimportant when the action gets underway on Thursday evening.