Jurgen Klopp has declared that Liverpool are back among Europe’s elite because of the “big-balls football” played in their exceptional run to the Champions League final.
The comment was a true Klopp-ism. On the eve of facing Real Madrid here, the Liverpool manager was at his inspirational, charismatic best. He hailed the “outstanding power” that came from the bond between his team and the fans and spoke passionately about how Liverpool were “different” from other clubs – which is why he made the “100 per cent” emotional response to join them in October 2015.
Winning a sixth European Cup – and denying Real a 13th, and a third in a row – was, however, not required to bring Liverpool back to being a superpower again. “I don’t think we need that moment to restore it,” Klopp argued. “I think it is obvious we are back. That is absolutely [obvious].
“To qualify for a final, it shows that you are back. To win it? You need a little bit of luck and stuff like that is involved. But we are back. First and foremost. Even if you win, you cannot stop. If you lose, you cannot stop. I really like the way we are as a club, as a team.”
This season’s feats, therefore, are the start of something now that Liverpool have momentum. “Yes, 100 per cent,” Klopp said. “We feel in a good place. Not in a place to rest or whatever. No. Not at all. This is really a good place to use.”
Champions League final 2018 | Real Madrid vs Liverpool
That place brings expectancy of doing well next season and history shows that reaching Champions League finals is often followed by more appearances. Of the previous 10 finals, four clubs have been involved three times each, and three have been there twice.
“What I said to the boys before the semi-final was that I don’t think we are the last time here,” Klopp said. “I don’t think that. I didn’t want to take the pressure off them or whatever, I only think we are a club and a team next year that could be here again, far in the competition. That’s what I said.”
Not that Klopp, attempting to win a European final at his third attempt, is unaware of the importance of seizing this incredible opportunity. “We are Liverpool. And that is what we will really live in that moment,” he said.
“We are Liverpool. We are different. We have been different the whole campaign and we want to be different again in that final. We have a chance. That is all.”
That sense of being different was expanded upon. “I don’t know exactly why I think it constantly but we are Liverpool. It is like it is,” Klopp said. “That’s why we are in the final, not because we are the best team in the competition and everybody thought before the season, ‘Yeah, Liverpool and we will see’. It was exactly the other way around. The boys played this kind of football that was different.”
He then clicked his fingers three times to emphasise that Liverpool had done it “again and again” during their exhilarating campaign. “We had so many game-changing moments. Unbelievable. We showed them [to the players] from time to time after the game because nobody really thinks about them,” Klopp added, before detailing three moments: against Porto, Sevilla and, even, against Maribor in the group stages when the ball was won back through endeavour and belief.
“These moments, and we had them 500 times, and we need them again,” he said. “You need these game-changing moments. Not waiting for something, not hoping for something, no, change the game in the moments you can change it.”
It was illuminating that all three examples described by Klopp involved Mohamed Salah; and not one involved him actually scoring a goal. Having defeated Porto, Manchester City and Roma in the knockout stages, and being the competition’s highest scorers with a record 46 goals, Liverpool undoubtedly deserve to be here.
“The home games were like, ‘Wow, what’s that?’” Klopp said. “It was kind of a new level in the Champions League in these games. It was not that we are so much better, but it was so different, so brave, it was big-balls football. I really loved it. The power we had against City, for example, was like, ‘What’s that?’ They were better in all the other parts of the game, they played until they were in our six-yard box but, when we were in possession, it was massive.”
And now Liverpool have to “do it all over again” against the holders, with all their experience, know-how and big names. “We have to defend with all we have,” Klopp said. “Let them do a cross and you need the fire workers [fighters] in the box. Avoid all crosses, avoid all shots, avoid all passes … I know the pressure will come, but in this moment I only feel the opportunity.”
So, Liverpool must take that opportunity. The crowd, even in a neutral venue, with tickets criminally limited and logistics cruelly tough, will play their part, especially those in Liverpool red.
“Outstanding power, that creates an outstanding power,” Klopp enthused. “It’s difficult to describe but fantastic to be involved in. That’s really big. Atmosphere in a club like Liverpool makes a difference. This club is used to it, the crowd is used to having influence, they want it. When I came in, it was a little more that they had influence but they didn’t want to use it, it was now ‘you start to deliver before we start to perform’.
“That was a little bit the situation. Now it is like both batteries are recharged, both can perform and that makes it really special. It’s big.”
Unsurprisingly, the emotional pull for Klopp was significant. “I don’t know why I was so attracted, but when I got the call, I knew my break would be finished,” he said of taking the Liverpool job three years ago, five months after leaving Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s not that I have read books about different clubs so I can give an explanation and say ‘that is the club that attracted me most’ or ‘they are in the most difficult situation, maybe I can help them the most’. It wasn’t this. It was only a feeling. And that feeling, obviously, was right. This club gives you the power, the players, the teams that you can win big things from time to time.”
It does not come any bigger than this. That time is now.