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Saturday 19 October 2019

Get up and running: Klopp wants his team to lay down a marker against City

 

DEMANDING: Jurgen Klopp wants his team to play better football. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
DEMANDING: Jurgen Klopp wants his team to play better football. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

With just one point separating the clubs at the end of last season, you can guess how the back-room analysts at Manchester City and Liverpool spent their summer.

The stats gave the boffins plenty to crunch.

City won two games more than Liverpool, 32 wins as opposed to 30.

Yet Pep Guardiola's squad lost more games than Liverpool - four as opposed to Liverpool's single loss, a 2-1 defeat away to Man City in January.

In every sport, from F1 to boxing to football, it's widely acknowledged that fine margins often define success.

Complexities

Both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are managers who understand the complexities of building and maintaining a winning team.

While City and Liverpool left the chasing pack in their wake last season, Klopp says the new season will be different.

"It became a two-horse race last year," he said on Sunday. "But unfortunately there are too many good clubs in this competition. I think even City see it like this. They are the big favourite, and all the others try to beat them."

Acknowledging Liverpool's league title ambitions, Klopp added, "At least we should give it a try, but we have to play better football. And we will play better football."

With many of their star players absent, Liverpool's pre-season form looked poor.

Mo Salah followed last season with a gruelling Africa Cup of Nations campaign. Photo: REUTERS
Mo Salah followed last season with a gruelling Africa Cup of Nations campaign. Photo: REUTERS

But Klopp insists his team will deliver improved performances in league games. "I'm pretty sure we will play better football," he says. "It's necessary."

Judging the fine margins that make the difference between success and failure at sport's highest peaks is a task for the experts.

Attempting to gauge which of last season's top two are likely to be more finely tuned going into Sunday's Community Shield match, you might think Jurgen Klopp was getting his excuses in early.

"We had pre-season without six players," Klopp points out. "I can't say we've had the best pre-season of our lives."

Shrugging off the pressure of expectations, he adds, "We will try to be as ready as possible. If we win, great. Does it have an influence on the season? I don't think so. If we lose, not great."

Those Liverpool supporters worried that defeat on Sunday would impact negatively on their Premier League campaign, will take heed of Klopp's emphatic declaration, "It's not allowed."

The Liverpool team that lost pre-season friendlies to Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Napoli is not the Liverpool team that was crowned European champions three months ago.

That's the side that will purr into life in the league opener against Norwich on Friday next.

But with the Reds facing a hectic season that will include FIFA Club World Cup matches, there's concern that fatigue could affect the team's attack given that Mo Salah and Sadio Mane followed last season's busy schedule with a gruelling Africa Cup of Nations campaign.

While Klopp has ruled out a "big money signing" before the transfer window shuts, Liverpool are expected to strengthen their squad with one or two surprise additions this week.

Manchester City, who'll be without club stalwart Vincent Company, set a club record when signing Spain international Rodri (23) from Atletico Madrid for €70m.

The defensive midfielder will join recent addition, left-back Angelino, who signed from PSV Eindhoven.

Given that Liverpool and City each have something the other wants, the Premier League title and the Champions League trophy respectively, Sunday's season curtain-raiser is unlikely to be a good-humoured kick-about.

No matter how much they downplay its importance, both managers will strive to gain a useful psychological advantage ahead of the league kick-off.

Both teams will meet again in the league at Anfield on November 9 with the Etihad Stadium tie scheduled for April 4.

Following Liverpool's 3-1 win against Lyon on Wednesday in the last of the club's pre-season friendlies, Klopp acknowledged the psychological importance of the victory.

"Today was very important for the lads," he said. "From a psychological point of view, losing football games you never get used to. So I'm happy we could change that."

A tougher test awaits at Wembley on Sunday.

A test that could offer a glimpse of how the season might turn out.

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