Just about the only thing missing in Jurgen Klopp‘s managerial career is a victory at Old Trafford.
Even without points at stake, it’s most important he breaks that duck with Liverpool‘s season unravelling amidst big injuries and four league games without a goal.
Having sent out the kids to play in the FA Cup last season, Klopp will turn to star man Mo Salah to start against the old enemy. The Egyptian, whose contract has entered the last 18 months, has a particular point to prove in a stadium where he’s never scored.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has never won a match at Old Trafford in managerial career
The Reds head to face bitter rivals Manchester United in FA Cup fourth round at Old Trafford
Klopp’s reaction to the shocking home defeat against Burnley on Thursday has been to deflect attention from his players and place the responsibility on himself.
The German is an unusually driven individual, even for a high-profile manager, and has a special intense bond with the places he works. At 53, he has managed only three teams in 20 years; Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool.
Contrast that to Jose Mourinho, who began his managerial career only 12 months earlier and is on his ninth club.
‘I don’t feel pressure from outside. I’ve dealt with the pressure I put on myself my entire life. I am used to that and know myself well enough,’ says a reflective Klopp on coping with a rare slump.
‘Short term, I am quite easy to excite but it is difficult to make me really happy in the long term with something. It is not easy.
Klopp deflected attention from players and placed responsibility on himself after Burnley loss
‘When you’ve had our success, there are two directions afterwards. You keep going on exactly the same level which is difficult with the challenges around. Or it gets a little bit less. At the moment it feels like it’s a lot less and that is what we have to change of course.’
Liverpool are of course entitled to a blip given last season’s Premier League title and two consecutive Champions League finals.
They’ve had to deal this term with both first-choice central defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez suffering long-term injuries and are still nonetheless the Premier League’s top scorers, just six points off the top and unbeaten at home for nearly for four years before last week’s upset.
But Klopp is too much of a perfectionist and cares too deeply to deal in excuses.
Behind the scenes, he may be a hard taskmaster but in front of the crowd, he is sensitive towards his players. He’ll know Trent Alexander-Arnold is having the first dip of his career while Roberto Firmino’s tally of five goals in 27 appearances is not good enough for a Liverpool striker regardless of other attributes.
Liverpool are experiencing a blip after winning Premier League title and Champions League
This is a time for Klopp to circle the wagons and in that respect Old Trafford is the perfect venue to start.
‘The tests we face are constantly in public and on the television,’ he added as he defended his players. ‘That means everybody watches each little step in whichever direction. Obviously that is very nice when you have a good run. When it is not a good run, there is not the same enjoyment.
‘Sometimes you need a really low point to change things properly and that’s for sure what we will try, what we will go for now.’
It was significant his two most experienced players, skipper Jordan Henderson and James Milner, weren’t on the pitch against Burnley. Henderson was injured while Milner was held back for this United clash, that in turn enabling others a break before Thursday’s equally big game at Spurs.
Klopp can rely without asking on his battle-hardened pair to settle any worries in the dressing room.
The German decided to hold back battle-hardened James Milner against Burnley for Sunday
‘I can imagine what a lot of people think about us at the moment but the players don’t change overnight,’ said Klopp.
‘They are still brilliant people and brilliant characters, all of them. They have made what has happened over the past few years and they don’t change their personality overnight. This is a challenge we didn’t want to have.
‘Was it absolutely impossible it could happen? No, especially in the situation we are in. They are still a really good group, led by some [Henderson and Milner] who are always strong. But I don’t have to ‘use’ them because they work without remote control. They have always been incredibly important.’
The FA Cup hasn’t been at the top of Klopp’s priorities since he came to England in 2015. Liverpool have only gone beyond the fourth round once in that time — last year when under-23s boss Neil Critchley took charge of the replay against Shrewsbury while Klopp and his first-team players were on a mid-term sabbatical.
On this occasion Klopp will be in full command, putting more pressure on himself than any fan, pundit or keyboard warrior could manage. It’s well documented that his tenure at Dortmund lasted seven years and this is his sixth at Anfield. Yet there isn’t even the tiniest sign of him being demob happy.
‘We are not thinking that just because we try we should get everything,’ he says. ‘At the moment we haven’t used the right tools and that is what we absolutely have to improve. We are really ready for the fight, 100 per cent.’