Jurgen Klopp has no qualms about saluting Pep Guardiola’s ability to create “extraordinary” teams, but the Liverpool boss is convinced he can bridge the class divide when Manchester City visit Anfield for their Champions League showdown.
Having first gone head to head with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, the friendly rivalry between Klopp and Guardiola has its biggest stage yet as Liverpool face City in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday.
Two of Europe’s heavyweight managers, Klopp and Guardiola look destined to compete for the sport’s biggest prizes for years to come.
But there is strong mutual admiration between the bosses, with Klopp unstinting in his praise for Guardiola’s ability to get his players to give life to his purist principles.
“His teams are always excellently positioned. He always has great teams which make excellent decisions,” Klopp told UEFA.com recently.
“At Barcelona, it was Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Lionel Messi and so on. At Bayern Munich, he had fantastic players who made a lot of great decisions. Now, with Gundogan, Silva, Aguero, Sane on the left wing, Sterling on the wing, Gabriel Jesus, they’re extraordinary.
“Positioning is important, but this is not witchcraft, it is not unusual just because the wing-backs come inside. But when the players are in position, they move every millisecond in order to be available, and when they are, that’s when the individual quality of the player becomes important.”
Likewise, Guardiola is an admirer of Klopp’s commitment to an entertaining style of play, the Spaniard last season hailing his counterpart as “the best manager in the world for spectators because creates teams to attack the back four”.
Despite their ability to thrill the neutral, Klopp and Guardiola had vastly different paths to Wednesday’s seismic encounter.
Klopp’s journeyman playing career took in stops at unglamourous outposts including Rot-Weiss Frankfurt and Mainz, while Guardiola played for over a decade in the rarified air of Barcelona, where the local boy made good became a Catalan icon.
It was no different when they took their first steps into management.
Klopp learned his trade in anonymity at Mainz before enjoying a career breakthrough once he moved to Dortmund in 2008.
Taking over at Barcelona in the same year Klopp arrived at Dortmund, the cerebral Guardiola relished the intellectual and philosophical aspects of management.
Yet that renaissance man image hid a fiercely competitive streak that has fuelled all of his best teams.
Although Klopp twice won the Bundesliga title with Dortmund, who also finished as Champions League runners-up in 2013, the 50-year-old has yet to secure the first silverware of his two-and-a-half-year reign at Liverpool
In contrast, Guardiola has amassed 22 trophies with Barcelona, Bayern and City, including two Champions League crowns and six domestic league titles.
The 47-year-old can make it seven league titles if City get the three points they need to be crowned champions by beating Manchester United on Saturday.
First, Guardiola will focus on finding a way to improve his mediocre record against Klopp.
Leaders City are 18 points clear of third-placed Liverpool in the Premier League, but there won’t be any inferiority complex from Klopp when they clash for the third time this season.
Liverpool’s 4-3 win over City in January saw Klopp take his personal tally against Guardiola’s teams to six wins, five defeats and one draw from 12 fixtures.
Klopp has enjoyed more victories over Guardiola than any other manager and he believes he can add to that impressive record because his Liverpool squad is closer in quality to Guardiola’s current crop than at any time in their careers.
“There’s no big difference, actually. It’s just that Pep has always had better teams than me,” Klopp said.
“You can see that now with Manchester City – they have a lot more points (in the Premier League) than we do.
“However, that difference has never been as small as it is now.”