Liverpool: Stop patronising Jurgen Klopp…
In the wake of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City, many of the media responses have overlooked the German’s part in the process.
‘Liverpool Exploits a Rare Tactical Error by Soccer’s Mad Genius,’ roars the headline in The Wall Street Journal. Their close rivals at The New York Times went with ‘In Blur of Smoke, Jeers and Then Goals, Liverpool Humbles Manchester City at Anfield’.
Across the pond, the Independent ran a sub-title on Jonathan Liew’s piece: ‘Liverpool believed unflinchingly, unquestionably and with the zeal of the self-appointed chosen. In the end, this was all that mattered.’
At the Guardian, a couple of pieces came out: ‘Pep Guardiola’s tactical gamble with Raheem Sterling goes belly-up’, a tactical exposé from Jonathan Wilson; Andy Hunter’s match report went with ‘Rampaging Liverpool answer Klopp’s call for bravery to eviscerate City’.
Underlying all of these headlines, there is an ever-present binary: Pep Guardiola is a ‘Mad Genius’ whose tactical gambles go ‘belly-up’; Jurgen Klopp, when he is mentioned at all, calls for ‘bravery’, his team thrive on ‘Smoke’ and ‘Jeers’, ‘belief’, ‘zeal’.
Of course, we in the media who live by the narrative, die by the narrative and, when it comes to Klopp vs Guardiola, the narrative writes itself. Jurgen Klopp is avuncular, a man of faith, a manager who has turned Liverpool from a team of misfits into a team of misfits who can upset the status quo. Pep Guardiola is a serious man: logical, rational, considered.
But has this narrative run its course? When Jurgen Klopp boasts a win ratio over 50% against his Catalan counterpart (7 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses) – the majority of which came in the Bundesliga at a period where Bayern Munich were in the ascendancy – it seems misguided to posit Guardiola as the tactical virtuoso and Klopp as the buffoonish bumpkin who impels his team to victory through a combination of ‘pashun’ and personality.
Why, then, might this narrative have become so pervasive within the British media?
Rock, paper, scissors…
There is a meme doing the rounds on Twitter from the inestimable Tiago Estêvão. ‘Look, it’s Football in 2018’ runs the header. Below it there is a stock image of three people playing ‘Rock, paper, scissors’ but, superimposed onto them, are three football managers.
The logic is simple. Jurgen Klopp and his gegenpressing are the rock: they beat Pep Guardiola’s scissors of Juego de Posicion (Positional Play) but they lose to Sean Dyche’s paper – ‘Defending deep, countering with long balls’. On the other hand, though, Pep Guardiola’s tactics beat Sean Dyche’s.