Saturday brings us one of the more eventful Premier League fixtures of the past ten years, with sub-plots aplenty and a headlining story of the battle between Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp. While one is a newcomer to English football, the other has been there and done it all in England. But surprisingly though, the old warhorse is hanging by a thread in his job while the new guy has a thick blanket of safety around his.
Chelsea Liverpool games are fascinating ones, partly because of the fact they almost always entertain and partly because of Mourinho. The Portuguese enjoys his games against Liverpool in the league; in his ten league games against the Reds, he has won eight and lost only once. But on Saturday he will be up against a man who boasts a positive record over him.
Klopp has faced Mourinho only four times in his managerial career, all four games were in the 2012/13 Champions League campaign. Klopp, as the Borussia Dortmund manager back then, led the Black and Yellows to two wins and a draw in four games, including an incredible 4–1 win in the semi-finals propelled by four goal-hero Robert Lewandowski.
While Klopp is unlikely to field a similar, well-oiled unit like Dortmund on Saturday, he will take confidence from his first win as the Liverpool manager against Bournemouth in the League Cup last night. With no respite from injuries barely a month into his new job, last night’s win remains the only tangible form of solace for Klopp.
While many suggest Klopp’s exploits against Mourinho three seasons ago spelled the end of the Portuguese’s time at Real Madrid, Mourinho, for the manager he is, redeemed himself since and won the domestic double of the league and the League Cup last season. However, this season has been totally unlike Mourinho.
Five losses in the opening ten league games for Chelsea see them languishing near the relegation zone, a plight that has ignited calls to sack Mourinho. Not a pleasant plight to be in, specially when you are up against a manager who is a supposed nemesis. But judging by Mourinho’s track record at Stamford Bridge and his general good run against Liverpool, Klopp’s mini dominance over Mourinho isn’t likely to be a major factor come Saturday. Or is it?
Where Klopp’s Liverpool could have an advantage over Chelsea depends far more on the on-field aspects that have little to do with the Mourinho v Klopp rivalry. Liverpool’s win over Bournemouth saw the Reds in their now-usual terrier-like mode, closing down spaces while circulating the ball quicker. There is a clear lack of end product, but there is plenty room for improvement.
We discussed yesterday about how Klopp’s progressive tactics could inhibit Chelsea’s attacking threat down the left-hand side and trouble a weakened part of the back four induced by the absence of Branislav Ivanovic. While Liverpool now lack the pace and directness of Raheem Sterling down the wings, they have quite an excess of guile.
Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana excel in small spaces, and in 1v1 situations against isolated opponents. That Chelsea will almost certainly play Kurt Zouma at right-back bar some inexplicable Mourinho audacities, Liverpool clearly have an edge should Chelsea not decide to shut up shop from the first minute at home.
The biggest headache for Klopp for the Chelsea game will be the goalscoring department. While Nathaniel Clyne saved Liverpool’s blushes against Bournemouth, the thought of Divock Origi sizing up against John Terry and Gary Cahill makes for a rather one-sided contest. Liverpool’s patterns don’t isolate Origi up front like what Brendan Rodgers used to do with Benteke earlier in the season; there is more balance in attacking phases although the pressing schemes haven’t yet reached the desired levels.
Mourinho v Klopp is an intriguing battle. Their battles in the 2012/13 season put Klopp on the map as one of the elite managers in world football capable of turning the screws on even the best men in the business. Now, with both managers at different clubs with different expectations and a different setting, it remains to be seen how far-reaching will the implications of Saturday’s game be.
Will Mourinho be shown the door has been the most frequently-asked question leading up to the game. Regardless of the cliched form book and all the records and statistics bandied about ahead of a match that fades into insignificance at kick-off, Chelsea vs Liverpool promises to be an engrossing affair, and there is the hope that the Mourinho vs Klopp rivalry in the Premier League will be more than just a one-off.