First of all let’s be clear, Rafa is a legend. What he did for Liverpool FC and its fans; the level he took the team to, setting a benchmark for future managers to aspire to. Pound for pound he did an incredible job at the club and seems to be continuing in the same vein at Newcastle. Once again he seems to be operating with one hand tied behind his back.
I don’t think he got anywhere near enough credit for defeating City (their least Premier League defeat), his tactical approach to Pep’s team being absolutely superb (and putting the approach of better teams to City to shame).
So whatever your views on the importance of the Newcastle game, make no mistake that, on paper, it’s going to be a proper challenge. But how does Klopp approach the game? Does he put all his eggs in the Champions League basket or does he take each game at a time and take the League race to the final day?
I wrote here recently that win our remaining games and the league was probably ours. This was before City played Spurs and United. Perhaps the worst outcome of the Champions League semi-final draw was City drawing Spurs, a fellow Premier League rival with strong tactical and physical qualities. By knocking City out (and the effort it took), Spurs were running on empty for the league game.
The rescheduling of the Manchester derby, with United at a low ebb, after their freak start under OGS, only made things easier for City. The Citizens’ win at Burnley was an equally difficult pill to swallow. The pain of a European exit has spurred (pardon the pun) our rivals on to within touching distance of the title.
All the same, given Liverpool’s run they have done everything they could have to win the league. It’s just unfortunate that City have maintained their level of last season with their superior squad depth, unlimited funds and a top end tactical innovator. City’s defensive record has marginally improved on last season, which has maintained their incredible balance between attack and defence.
Hearteningly, the acquisition of Alisson and Van Dijk has bridged the gap significantly. Jurgen’s Reds stand 2 wins away from an incredible 97 points (and all this without the consistent selection of an attacking midfielder). Klopp and Guardiola are cut from the same cloth, men at the cutting edge of their managerial craft. That’s why there’s nothing but respect between the two men; both are also deserving of the highest respect from fans and neutrals alike.
Nevertheless, pound for pound, Klopp deserves the greater credit. With far less resources at his disposal, he’s trusted his players to compete on two fronts. For the biggest trophies, the Premier League and the Champions League.
All in all, it feels a travesty that Liverpool could end the season as runners-up and not champions. We’re a proper team and definitely contenders for a few seasons to come. The club has done itself and the fan-base proud. A 97 point league campaign is massive for the team’s collective muscle memory.
The players will then know that’s the level they need to aspire to and can achieve again. Even if the league feels like it has slipped let’s make City sweat. We’ve got this far. Take it to the last day and let’s not end the season wondering. After all this is the best Liverpool team in the Premier League era. Win or lose the league, nobody can take that away from us.
In short, Newcastle is a must win. Regardless of the Champions League. And football’s a funny game. If it goes to the wire, you just never know what might happen.