The dust has barely settled on another Premier League campaign, but already there is speculation about who if, anyone will challenge Pep Guardiola’s centurions next season. A lot of pundits are pointing at Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool as the likely title contenders for 2018-19. As they continue to strengthen, there is a feeling that the German’s building work is near completion.
This would not be the first time Guardiola has come across Klopp in a title run in. The two drew lines in the sand as they battled for the Bundesliga as managers of Bayern and Dortmund. Despite a lack of apparent hostilities between the two, they are clearly huge rivals for honours with differing and conflicting styles.
Their personalities couldn’t be more different either and it would be fascinating to see how their relationship is affected if the two become drawn in to a full on Premier League title race. Although they are cut from the same football cloth, the two men have forged unique and polarising styles.
Roots into management
Both men followed their natural instincts at the end of their playing careers and went straight into club management. Here is one of the few facets of their careers which could be described as fairly typical. Typical yes, but not similar, in fact their starting posts couldn’t have been more different.
Klopp chose the hot seat at FSV Mainz 05. The former centre-half led his club to its first ever season in the German top flight as well as UEFA Cup qualification in 2005. Thus began his career as the perennial underdog. It is perhaps this lingering instinct from his playing days in the German lower leagues which has inspired him to take on projects at his chosen clubs rather than a side with the usual hallmarks of success.
This is polarized by Guardiola’s first steps as a manager. In his trademark unflinching attitude towards a monumental challenge Pep leapt from Barca B, to the Barcelona first team after just one season of coaching.
The rookie won an unprecedented treble of league, Copa and Champions League honours in the heady days of 08/09. His style of play, famously likened to a “carousel” by Sir Alex Ferguson, was a modern rebranding of Total Football, which left most sides bemused and exhausted as they chased the stealthy shadows of Xavi and Iniesta.
Influences and style
It is impossible to talk about Guardiola without mentioning the late great Johan Cruyff. The Dutch legend and Barcelona player and manager rebuilt the Catalan giants in his own image, using the football education he was blessed with.
“I would not be here without Johan Cruyff. He was unique.”
– Guardiola quipped in 2016.
via The Daily Mail
It is easy to see why he has this view. The Dutchman was always there in Pep’s career and he would have regular dialogue with his mentor in his early days as a manager. Pep clearly brought into his former manager’s intense desire to learn and grow a side into something more than the sum of its components.
As a young player Pep would be harangued by Cruyff in training for using his right foot too much and being slower than the Dutchman’s granny. In time though, Guardiola came to see that he was not only being pushed to improve as a player, but made to understand the game a lot more.
We have all seen the beautiful possession based football played by Guardiola’s sides over the past decade. Whether at Barcelona, Bayern Munich or presently at Manchester City, his sides have been uncompromising in their approach to football at its purest. Each player, including the ‘keeper, must be a ball player. They must contribute to the flow of the attack as his sides become a single, almost a living entity on the pitch, wanting to pass you into bewilderment and defeat.
His approach has been found to wilt under a more physical challenge as seen in the 2010 Champions League defeat to Inter Milan. Furthermore, like many other foreign managers before him, he too seemed a little dazed and confused by mayhem of the Premier League, as his football ballet was initially swatted away by grittier outfits in the English top flight.
Where Pep causes death by a thousand passes, Klopp’s teams are a little less subtle. The German has built a brand of football which has destruction at its core. His teams want to fly at you like a cascade and cause shock and awe on the pitch which often leaves teams disrupted scattered and disorganised.
Wolfgang Frank and Jurgen Klopp. Image via The Telegraph
At Mainz he learned from the club’s visionary manager, Wolfgang Frank. He was a scholar of the game himself a disciple of the legendary Arrigo Sacchi. Frank brought the concept of a flat back four to Mainz which focused on zones of play and0 marking the space around them. On that bedrock, the team was expected to press and work, becoming capable of delivering beyond their collective means. This is a similar narrative to Pep’s vision, but Klopp took it up a notch as he mastered the Bundesliga and obliterated Real Madrid in the 2013 Champions League Semi-Final with his high press or Gegenpress.
His teams are exhausting to watch as they relentlessly hunt players down. This runs of the risk of his players running out of a gas, which has happened throughout his career. When they are fully fuelled though, the effects are devastating with the football bordering on the ridiculous.
Klopp thrives on creating a sense of occasion, his teams, often the underdogs, are fed on his ideals that they can be greater than the sum of their parts. Guardiola’s sides are often supremely confident in their abilities, but Klopp has made a career in hurting sides better than his in one off games or knock out competitions. His two Champions League Final appearances are even more impressive when you consider he made it there with the second best team in Germany and on0ly the third or fourth best side in England.
Guardiola vs Klopp Head to head and Honours won
Klopp has beaten Guardiola more times than any other coach, winning eight times in his fourteen matches against the Catalan. Interestingly though, Pep has beaten Klopp in two finals, demonstrating his clinical will to win.
Guardiola v the best in the business: Source: Transfermarkt.com
In terms of trophies won, the swing goes back over to Guardiola, with the former Barcelona man winning 20 major honours to Klopp’s three.
|Jurgen Klopp||Where||Pep Guardiola|
|League Titles||2||Germany 2||7||Spain 3
|Champions League||0||–||2||Spain 2|
|World Club Cup||0||–||3||Spain 2
|UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup||0||–||0||–|
|UEFA Super Cup||0||–||3||Spain 2
|Domestic Cups||1||Germany 3||5||Spain 2
Data Tabulated July 18, 2018
Pep is known to be a very intense and a slightly intimidating figure. His aura is not exactly the warmest and he has been accused of being overly callous. Some his former players such as Mario Gozte have even accused Guardiola of lacking in empathy. He is a demanding, yet rewarding coach, with very high standards. Consequently, some big stars have not blossomed in his regimes, such as Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they have found Pep too authoritarian and arid.
Klopp on the other hand wears his emotions on his sleeve. His wild celebrations, disregard for shaving and boyish good humour have won over the hearts and minds of the press as well as countless players. His style is physically and mentally demanding, but no doubt players hugely benefit from his methods. It is difficult to find a player with a bad word to say about him. Ilkay Gundogan spoke about how open Klopp was with him, when he brought the midfielder to Dortmund and promised him he would learn a lot:
“I remember that clearly. That was the first time in football that somebody didn’t promise me the stars, but was open and honest with me.”
Klopp’s warmth and honest demeanour hides a seriously driven and focused coach. His loyalty to his players can be costly though as Alberto Moreno and Loris Karius have both cost him dearly in two of his three finals as Liverpool manager. Perhaps he could learn from Pep’s colder, more ruthless stance.
Who do the common players of Klopp and Guardiola prefer
Naturally there is a lot of overlap between the two managers in terms of the players they have managed. Bayern Munich cottoned on to the wealth of talent at Klopp’s Dortmund and proceeded to target some of their best players. As above, one of the men to work with both managers, Mario Gotze, clearly favoured the German:
“Pep Guardiola lacks empathy, Jurgen Klopp taught me everything.”
However, in a revealing 2016 interview with the Daily Mail Robert Lewandowski was complimentary of both, but claimed his career clearly benefited more from Guardiola’s influence:
“I can say I’m a better player [since working with him] and you can learn something new in every training session and that’s what I imagined when I moved from Borussia Dortmund. I knew I could become a better player here at Bayern.”
Ilkay Gundogan was also full of praise for both the managers but revealed that he picked Guardiola over Klopp and chose Man City over Liverpool in 2016
“I spoke with Jurgen about different things. He always liked me as a player and I would be a liar if I said he didn’t try. But when I had the opportunity to join City and work with Pep, it was quite clear that I wanted to come here.
“When I was a little bit down because of my injury, he was quite sure he was still going to try to buy me. That showed me it could never be the wrong decision to join this club. They are both great managers, great characters and very ambitious. I’ve been lucky.”
In the 14 games in which the Catalan has encountered the man from Stuttgart, an incredible 42 goals have flown in. For the Premier League to boast such goliaths of modern football management is a true blessing. Both are loosely cut from the same cloth and have a commitment to attacking football, with neither possessing the inclination to play for a draw.
If the predictions are correct and Klopp does become Guardiola’s major title rival next season then it will be fascinating to see how their relationship and rivalry evolves. The enmity isn’t there between the two men at the moment and this has lead to a further blessing of the focus being on football whenever Liverpool and City meet. It would a shame to see this dynamic disappear and the two scholars of game, descend into bitter sound bites and mind games.