Klopp: “I only watched the Paris final again this weekend; it was torture”
Jürgen Klopp admitted that Tuesday’s Champions League duel against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid represents, “The ultimate test in Europe”.
Jürgen Klopp confessed that watching the 2022 Champions League final back for the first time was a painful experience but an assignment he felt he had to do to find out where his team went wrong and pick up clues that maybe had been overlooked. Liverpool had nine shots on target in Paris but lost the game and the cup to Real Madrid, who had just one. Now the two clubs, who have a combined 20 European crowns between them, meet again at the Last 16 stage of this year’s competition - a clash which Klopp qualified as, “One of the biggest games in the world, one we all dream about”.
The Reds manager says that, just like last time, he and his team have done their homework on the rivals but against world class sides like Real Madrid, sometimes even that isn’t enough - that shouldn’t be an excuse for not trying.
In this competition, Liverpool and Real Madrid have met in the final three times - two of those during the past five years. But considering both clubs’ pedigree, they have rarely crossed paths in the competition since Liverpool first entered the old European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1964. This is Madrid’s 42nd appearance in the tournament and Liverpool’s 24th - in the 470 matches they have played in UEFA’s top club competition, Madrid have only faced Liverpool nine times. They have met once during the group stage (2014/15), once in the quarter finals (2020/21) and this will be only their second in the first knockout round (the other being in 2008/9).
Revisiting the 2022 final
Klopp said that while the two giants have ‘their own particular history’ in European football, fortunately there are no feuds, no bad blood between the clubs - quite the opposite. He explained why that, despite losing two finals to Madrid, this tie is not about revenge for Liverpool. “Different things happened to us with Real Madrid. As for me, I have my own story with them when I was at Dortmund,” Klopp told told reporters in today’s press briefing. “They are one of the biggest clubs in the world - the most successful club for sure. They have won this competition... I don’t know how often. And super-experienced. Our own story, just recently if you want - we played the final in Paris but I haven’t watched it back since then - not until this weekend. The thing I realised immediately, now I know why I didn’t watch it back... But I had to. It was torture. Because we played a good game, and we could have won the game but we didn’t - they scored a decisive goal and we didn’t.
“From watching it back, you could see how experienced Madrid is, how little they are fussed by the fact that when the other team has chances, they don’t lose confidence for one second. They know that their chances will come. They are ready for that, they defend with legs - deep defending all together, so, this is this team and that’s the competition and that’s what you can learn from them. But that’s seven or eight months ago. Before that, the last time when they knocked us out, we played there on the training ground and here in an empty stadium. Here, the game was really good, a really good 0-0 where we let them run, we let them work hard and that was good. But this is now two different teams, same clubs but different teams, different times. So, there’s a history over the past few years - one of us was always in the final, at least that’s how it feels, and usually, if you want to go to the final, you have to kick us out or them. This time we are playing each other, so let’s see who can go through”.
European nights at Anfield
Juande Ramos’ Madrid might not have known what hit them when they stepped out into a rowdy, cacophonous Anfield in March 2009 - bizarrely, Real Madrid’s first ever visit to Liverpool’s stadium, but Ancelotti’s team will know exactly what to expect on Tuesday night when Klopp will be calling on the crowd, the twelfth man, to get behind his team.
“If there would be a game over one leg, just at home against Real Madrid... but I have played in a full Bernabéu as well and that’s a pretty impressive audience as well,” Klopp explained. “So that will help, hopefully, tomorrow night - I know our people will give absolutely everything. I can’t wait to play the game really. But then we have to go to the Bernabéu and that’s a tough place as well - they’ve turned around a lot of ties there. We don’t even have a lead yet! So that will be the hardest part. But who cares!? This is the Champions League and this is one of the biggest games in the world - one of the the biggest games I have ever heard about. It will be a top football game and I am really happy that we can play now - four weeks ago, it would have been different but life’s all about timing and maybe we can get back on our feet just at the right moment. We need to play a super game - two super games to be honest to get through but I have no problem with that because if you don’t play your best, you don’t have a chance. Real Madrid doesn’t have to play their best, and they will still have a chance! That’s the difference. That’s what makes them special”.
Recent results against Everton and Newcastle, together with a number of players returning from injury, will be a major boost for Liverpool - not that Klopp feels his players will need any extra incentive against the defending European and world champions: “Whatever we did at the weekend, I would expect us to fight with all we have because... you always work so hard to qualify for the Champions League, and I really think you have to cherish these moments. It’s Liverpool versus Real Madrid... we all dreamt about games like that. We all did. That will never change, it will always be a special game”.
Van Dijk, Firmino and Diogo Jota are all available again while Thiago, Luis Díaz and Konaté are ruled out. Darwin Núñez makes the list but is recovering from a shoulder injury which he picked up in the weekend win at Newcastle. “There’s a chance. From all the possible scenarios, from being absolutely zero chance - that’s not the case. We have to see how he can deal with the pain. When we know that, we can make a decision,” was all Klopp would say when asked about the Uruguayan’s chances of being declared fit to play.
‘The ultimate test in Europe’
As for Tuesday’s opponents and their coach coach Carlo Ancelotti, the Liverpool manager acknowledged their virtues and agreed that games like this, against Madrid and Ancelotti, represent ‘The ultimate test in Europe’. “They are, they are,” he said. “Somebody told me that Carlo said before the Paris final that ‘Liverpool will know exactly what they will face’. But I have watched that game again now, and even knowing exactly what we wanted to do, we had to win the game - we didn’t, we still lost, for the one reason that we couldn’t score, but apart from that, we should have won that game. Carlo is the most relaxed manager I have ever met in my life, he is one of the best people you can possibly meet - a fantastic person, a humble person, super smart and nice. And obviously his man management is at a completely different level to all of us. I respect him a lot, I admire him a lot. Madrid were a world class team last year and they have brought in super exciting young players. I don’t know whether you could say that they are struggling a bit in the league, Barcelona are just a few points ahead. But apart from that, they are always super, super competitive and super difficult to beat. It’s going to be difficult, that’s true. but it makes sense to try anyway”.
Among the many qualities Madrid possess, Klopp concluded, is that they never buckle, never let their heads go down, regardless of the pressure they are under. Ancelotti’s side are just too experienced, too self-confident to let self-doubt get in the way. “I don’t think you can make this Madrid side panic. The chances we had the saves Courtois had to make, somebody might think, ‘Oh my God...’ What held us back a little was the fact that it was a final. We didn’t take enough risks in little moments, we weren’t adventurous enough, we were super protective because of the possible threat of being hit on the counter-attack. Rightly so, as we saw with the goal. It’s very easy to analyse the game a year later and say why didn’t we play this ball or that ball... We are talking about Real Madrid, we cannot play against a team like that without respect - just thinking they are any old team in white shirts, so who cares... Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Benzema, Vinicius... all of them are absolutely world class, and they are a really well set-up team and that’s why it’s so difficult to beat them, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Some of their players have won this competition five times... they probably think they own the competition and they’d be right. We still want to give it a try,” Klopp ended.