There was a time, when Jurgen Klopp was making his name in Germany, that he feared Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were in danger of turning each Champions League campaign into a procession.
‘I would rather take up tennis,’ is what Klopp said almost a decade ago.
Asked to explain this on Tuesday, the Liverpool manager said simply that Guardiola’s Barca had been so far ahead of everybody else that he could only fantasise about devising a way to beat them.
Jurgen Klopp once feared Barcelona were making the Champions League a procession
‘I would rather take up tennis,’ is what Klopp said of Pep Guardiola’s side almost a decade ago
Well, now Klopp has his chance. On Wednesday night at the Nou Camp, his buccaneering Liverpool side face a Barcelona team recently crowned the champions of Spain for the 26th time.
Lionel Messi is still playing and in support are two former Liverpool players, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, the latter a playmaker Klopp once feared his team would never cope without.
Yet, this is a Barcelona team with an asterisk against them simply because they are not the team of yore. They are not Guardiola’s team. They have limitations, however marginal.
They can be beaten if Liverpool produce performances of which they are capable here and in next week’s second leg at Anfield.
‘I knew that comment would fly around my ear one day,’ Klopp said with a laugh when reminded of the tennis quote.
Barcelona were so far ahead Klopp could only fantasise about devising a way to beat them
Now he has his chance as he takes his buccaneering Liverpool side to the Nou Camp
‘What I wanted to say was that what I most like is when both teams have the same chance. For me, when Pep was here they were so much better than the others, it wasn’t a competition.
‘I like the chance to use tactics to make it an exciting game and to try to make it even. That’s what I still think.
‘We won’t be perfect tomorrow (Wednesday), we will make mistakes. We will suffer, 100 per cent.
‘I know people made out that we became better in the last couple of years and Barcelona are not the same without Xavi or Iniesta.
‘But we have been here for two years, they have been here for 20 years.
‘It will be so difficult, but I couldn’t be more excited to play.’ For Liverpool, it must be something just to be able to control their own destiny again.
In the Premier League, their pursuit of Manchester City must have left them feeling a little how Tiger Woods’s opponents did 15 years ago. However much they improve, there will — for the moment — always be somebody better.
With Manchester City already out of the tournament, Liverpool can at least see an opportunity
The Reds have reason to be optimistic on Wednesday and they, as always, will be ambitious
In Europe, with City gone at the quarter-final stage, Liverpool can at least see opportunity.
Barcelona were too good for Manchester United in the last round but they were not imperious. A better team would have scored against them in both legs.
In 42 games, English teams have won only twice against Barcelona in the Nou Camp.
Liverpool were the victors on both of those occasions — in 1976 and 2007.
So, Liverpool have reason to be optimistic and they, as always, will be ambitious.
‘A draw is not the worst result,’ said Klopp. ‘Not that we will go for it. To win would mean a lot, but it is difficult.
‘So many people came to Barcelona and had an idea on how to play, and in the end they got a proper knock. But we saw the games against Real Sociedad and Levante. They did really well here.’
Both Spanish teams lost those games but only by a single goal. That would be acceptable for Liverpool ahead of a return leg at what one Spanish television reporter suggested would resemble a ‘visit to hell’ for Barcelona on Merseyside.
The subject of stadia and atmosphere was moot here. Klopp had been reported in German newspaper Bild as suggesting that the Nou Camp was ‘just a stadium and not a temple or something’.
Klopp reportedly suggested to German newspaper Bild that the Nou Camp was ‘just a stadium’
German has tried to take some pressure off the shoulders of his Liverpool players this week
Understandably, he was asked about it.
‘I give 500,000 interviews before a game and they put the word out that I have said something bad?’ Klopp shrugged with a hint of exasperation.
‘You try to make a big thing out of it. I am a football fan, what could I say that is bad about this stadium?
‘But it is still a stadium where we want to play football, good football, the best football we can play. And that is allowed. That’s what we will try.
‘Of course we know in this part of the world, it is very emotional. And the better we are, the more emotional it will be. It should be like that.
‘It is home advantage for Barcelona tomorrow (Wednesday), and we have the home advantage next Tuesday. We will see who can use the advantage more.’
Liverpool have the means and the talent to find a way past Barcelona on Wednesday night
Most certainly Klopp was trying to take some pressure off the shoulders of his players but there is no need. Liverpool have the means, the talent, to find a way past Barcelona.
At Anfield, Klopp walks past replicas of the European Cup every day of his life.
‘We don’t need that as extra motivation,’ he said. ‘We are already fighting like crazy. We dream like you supporters dream.
‘You can’t aim to be a legend in the future. You have to do the work. But this is brilliant.
‘The only thing better would be for someone to say we are already champions.’