Premier League - Jurgen Klopp v Thomas Tuchel - A rivalry with an edge as Liverpool host Chelsea
Thursday’s clash between Liverpool and Chelsea could well prove to be pivotal as far as the race for the top four goes. Just a point separates the two rivals with 12 games to go and the top-four battle looks like it will be tighter than ever. Pete Sharland looks at the clash between the two managers as they prepare for their first meeting in England.
Coach of PSG Thomas Tuchel greets coach of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp following the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Liverpool FC at Parc des Princes stadium on November 28, 2018 in Paris, France
Published 02/03/2021 at 16:44 GMT | Updated 04/03/2021 at 12:53 GMT
It would probably be a bit lazy to dismiss the upcoming clash between Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel as master v apprentice.
And probably equally lazy to call it the battle of details v motivation.
Yet there is a reason that the temptation is there. The managerial careers of these two German tacticians have been intrinsically linked for some time. Starting at Mainz, moving to Borussia Dortmund and then (after a detour in Paris for Tuchel) ending up in the Premier League. Tuchel has always bristled at comparisons to Klopp, losing himself in tactics rather than the bonding that Klopp shines in so much.
Auf Jürgen Klopp (li.) folgte bei Borussia Dortmund Thomas Tuchel (re.)
Image credit: Imago
Yet to label either of these managers as one or the other is doing a disservice to their all-round game. Tuchel has strived to improve his man-management skills, particularly after the difficult ending to his time at Dortmund, and you need only to see the outpour after his dismissal by PSG to realise what he meant to the players. There’s a very real argument to be made that he was the PSG manager who brought the best out of Neymar and made the Brazilian superstar the happiest. There are stories about the way he adapted to the different motivational needs of his South American cohorts.
And for his part Klopp has been far greater tactically than most outside of Anfield would want to give him credit for. The way he has revolutionised full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson is remarkable. His use of Roberto Firmino as a false nine was a huge step in getting the best out of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Jordan Henderson has been completely reinvented as a total midfielder. And of course don’t forget when he beat Bayern on their own turf by going long.
You can link the pair intrinsically with the desire to pay a high-intensity game that focuses on the ball, far more so than the aggressive counter-pressing from Klopp’s Dortmund days, but both are chameleons, as so many of the world’s top managers have to be today.
What will be fascinating to see in this clash is just how much each manager goes for it. Klopp, as the home manager and off a couple of revitalising wins, might be the one that goes for it a little bit more. The Reds still have trips to Molineux, the Emirates, Elland Road, Old Trafford and Turf Moor between now and the end of the season. Taking the game to Chelsea, whilst risky, might be just the sort of impetus that his team needs ahead of a critical stretch.
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Of course the risk is that Henderson has been added to the club’s lengthy injury list and while he could have Fabinho back there is no news on goalkeeper Alisson’s return following the tragic death of his father. Chelsea are unbeaten under Tuchel and extremely dangerous on the counter. Does he want to expose his makeshift defence to the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Timo Werner on the break?
Despite a trip to surprise package West Ham, and hosting Arsenal and Leicester City, Chelsea probably have the marginally easier run-in. Although some of that is predicated on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City taking their foot off the gas with the title presumably sewn up when Tuchel and his boys rock up at the Etihad in early May. Based on Sunday’s game against Manchester United it’s likely that Chelsea will come and play deeper in the now customary Tuchel 3-4-3 that can often look like a 5-4-1 in the big games.
However, it is worth stressing that in the 1-0 wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid there was, by and large, only one team that looked like they wanted to win, and that was Chelsea. Of course the caveat here is that in the big games you can’t get more defensive than Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone but it’s not often a manager can get two clean sheet wins in the lairs of those dragons, so credit is due there.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel shake hands before the game
Image credit: Reuters
It’s also worth considering the relationship between the pair. It’s certainly respectful, you only need to look at the way Klopp spoke of Tuchel following his appointment. Yet Tuchel also clearly has a small chip on his shoulder about the constant comparisons.
Take this quote from Mainz technical director Christian Heidel that comes from the new biography on Tuchel from Daniel Meuren and Tobias Schachter.
“I was saying that we, as a club, had to be a bit more engaging with our public,” recalled Heidel.
“Then a phrase slipped out and I said: ‘When Kloppo was here…’ At that, Thomas let rip and shouted at me. What was I thinking? The conversation was over in that moment. And I thought, ‘Oops! I’ve obviously hit on a sore point’. He was really upset. That’s where the rivalry with Klopp stems from.”
This isn’t quite Mourinho v Guardiola but there’s clearly a little bit of an edge that should make things interesting. That this will be the 15th time the pair have met and Tuchel has only won two of those matches also helps.
One of the interesting problems for Tuchel is a similar one that affected his predecessor Frank Lampard, scoring goals. Since his arrival Chelsea have drawn two blanks and only scored two goals three times, each against a team in the bottom six. Chelsea aren’t a notably barren team, they’re the sixth-highest scorers in the league after all, but a lot of money has been invested into the attack with very poor results thus far. Tuchel still hasn’t found the balance he needs and there’s no real signs of that changing against Liverpool.
Ultimately if Chelsea can come in, frustrate Liverpool and escape with a draw that will be classed as a good result. Monday saw the release of the “Big Six” table which ranks the big teams based on their results against each other. If we skip for one second the disrespect shown towards Leicester City, West Ham and Everton it does teach us something. Chelsea’s problem this season has been that they’ve won just one of their seven matches against the rest of the Big Six and drawn three. Conversely Liverpool have won four of their seven. Liverpool are struggling against the rest of the league, Chelsea are largely doing pretty well but are often coming up short in the bigger matches.
That’s not Tuchel’s problem, he’s got four points out of six so far in the bigger games and he just needs to concentrate on getting into the Champions League. If that means sitting tight and not being too cautious, that’s what he will do. He can make Chelsea more expansive when they face a weaker side where there’s a far greater chance to win. The fear of losing big matches plagues the Premier League, and often big games in general, such are the stakes involved. You can understand the logic. Remember that Big Six table? Manchester United are bottom, yet they sit second in the Premier League. A draw on Thursday night allows both teams to go on their merry way without suffering a disaster and they can turn their attentions to the next battle.