From leading Mainz into UEFA Cup via Fair Play League in 2005 to welcoming Napoli to Anfield as Champions League holders, Jurgen Klopp reflects on eve of his 100th European game
- Klopp was unaware of the significance of Napoli’s visit for his personal numbers
- But he smiled warmly when reminded of the first assignment in July 2005
- He led Mainz into UEFA Cup via Fair Play League and played Armenia’s FC Mika
Game No 1 opened Jurgen Klopp’s eyes and mind to the wonderful opportunities, while game 94 enabled him to realise a lifelong dream.
European football has been special for the German during his stellar career and on Wednesday night he hopes to mark another landmark — his 100th fixture in Europe as a manager — with a victory that will release the pressure on Liverpool’s crammed fixture list.
Klopp was unaware of the significance of Napoli’s visit for his personal numbers but he smiled warmly when reminded of the first assignment in July 2005.
Klopp was unaware of the significance of Napoli’s visit for his personal stats before a reminder
Back then, he had led Mainz into the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play League and the reward was a date with FC Mika of Armenia.
There is little he hasn’t experienced in the ensuing 14 years. He has had the despair of losing three finals, two in the Champions League — against Bayern Munich (with Borussia Dortmund) and Real Madrid (with Liverpool) — and another with Liverpool in the Europa League against Sevilla.
Then there is the zenith, beating Tottenham in Madrid in June.
‘Europe changes everything,’ said Klopp. ‘In Armenia, we arrived there and it was really warm — 40 degrees. Then we went to Iceland to play Keflavik. We played in Reykjavik. In the summer, it was minus something because the wind was so strong.
‘So you have these experiences and you learn. I remember my first year with Dortmund and we didn’t qualify for Europe because of the results of the last match day. You want to go there. If you cannot win the league and if you cannot go for trophies, the target has to be Europe and international competition. It’s exciting and I love it.’
Everything has changed for Liverpool under Klopp thanks to Europe. The energy of the runs to finals in Basle, in the Europa League, and Kiev and Madrid in the Champions League has fed into their Premier League form.
They are heading into a demanding period, so there is a chance to play their final Group E fixture in two weeks at Red Bull Salzburg with nothing riding on it.
But Klopp insists the idea of squad rotation has not crossed his mind. His focus is purely on Napoli. The Serie A side are the only team to beat Liverpool this season, and Klopp believes anyone trying to work out permutations for a game on December 10 is setting themselves up for a fall.
Jurgen Klopp at a training session at Melwood in Liverpool ahead of his 100th European game
‘Unfortunately I’m not too good at thinking about games we have next week or in two weeks,’ said Klopp, who reports Mohamed Salah to be in ‘good shape’ after he sat out Saturday’s 2-1 win at Crystal Palace. He expects the Egyptian to figure against Napoli.
‘Team selection is about winning this game, nothing else. That fits with the other target obviously but nothing else. I could rest three or four players against Napoli and still have an outstanding line-up.
‘But what we have to be against Napoli for sure is as tuned in as possible because they have such fixed patterns in their game that you need to have your own patterns as well. They adapt on top of that really well, too. They are such a strong opponent.’
Jordan Henderson lifts the trophy as Liverpool celebrate after winning the Champions League
His respect for Carlo Ancelotti’s side is clear but there was another a smile when Klopp was reminded about the meeting with them 12 months ago, when Salah’s majestic solo goal and a brilliant save from Alisson propelled Liverpool on the path to Madrid.
This latest meeting won’t be anywhere near as fraught as the final night shootout but his desire to win is as big. Klopp wants to bring his hundred up in style and won’t accept any loss of focus.
‘Our home game last year was outstanding,’ he said. ‘The pressure was massive and if Sadio (Mane) scored three or four that night, nobody would have thought it was not possible. We had really big chances for that and played outstandingly but in the end Ali (Alisson) had to save us.
‘Europe has been special for us so far and hopefully it will stay like this for ever.’