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First v second, Klopp v Mourinho – however Liverpool v Spurs has potential for extra | Barney Ronay

When the highest two meet within the Premier League it’s a reflex motion – muscle reminiscence of Tremendous Sundays gone, Judgment Days previous – to search for the large managerial tussle.

First performs second, champions versus pretenders: cue the haggard break up display, the wild-eyed seers of their quilted coats, nose-to-nose on the touchline, a collision of wills, visions, “philosophies”.

As Tottenham journey to Anfield on Wednesday evening there will likely be an try to re-erect this acquainted equipment round José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp. This can be a assembly not simply of first and second, however of agreeably contrasting kinds: perky versus grouchy, excessive press versus low block, touchline hug versus rabbit punch to the kidneys.

And but by some means Klopp versus Mourinho doesn’t actually work that method. There’s something off right here, a type of anti-chemistry. Dammit, they really appear to love one another.

Most rivalries are overstated, or a product of theatrical conventions. With Klopp and Mourinho there’s a bloom of one thing that just about looks like affection. Solely final month they had been agreeing about participant exhaustion, after we would, frankly, have most popular a livid disagreement.

Klopp referred to as Mourinho a “world‑class supervisor” early within the 12 months. José – sure: that José – described Klopp as “probably the greatest”. Makes an attempt have been made down the years to pretend it, with the odd jab about spending or assets. However there does appear to be an inconvenient diploma {of professional} respect right here.

Fortunately it is a match-up with loads of precise substance past the operetta. In Mourinho’s case the bizarre edge – as a result of there should at all times be a bizarre edge – is with Liverpool FC itself, one other footballing establishment he appears to have set his sights on storming a technique or one other.

First contact got here in March 2004 when Mourinho’s agent approached Liverpool to debate participant gross sales, then made it clear over espresso with Rick Parry that his man, José, can be prepared to return to Anfield as soon as he’d gained the Champions League. The provide was just a little stark given Gérard Houllier was in situ. Liverpool handed.

Klopp and Mourinho embrace after Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Tottenham in January. {Photograph}: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

So Mourinho saved coming again in different guises. The infamous shushing gesture – no person does an inflammatory gesture like José – after Steven Gerrard’s personal purpose within the 2005 League Cup ultimate towards his Chelsea aspect. Epic Champions League encounters. Then in fact there was April 2014, Demba Ba and all that.

It was surprising on the time to see how a lot Mourinho loved destroying Liverpool’s title push at Anfield that season, stalking the touchline at full time, punching his chest, bellowing on the crowd.

Mourinho had been irritated by having to play the sport on Sunday afternoon, three days earlier than a Champions League semi-final towards Atlético Madrid. He was unwell with a virus and needed to self-isolate on the drive to the sport. He turned up unshaven, sallow and offended. Chelsea nonetheless misplaced towards Atlético. But it surely clearly felt like a pre-consolation.

And now we have now this, a go to of the staff Mourinho calls “my Spurs”, to an Anfield disadvantaged of a full home. Though the weirdness of the season does additionally feed into the event.

Wednesday evening marks a 3rd of the best way by way of the Premier League programme, with Tottenham prime and unbeaten because the opening day. They play Liverpool once more in late January. Earlier than then it’s Leicester at dwelling, then Wolves, Fulham, Leeds, Villa, Sheffield United. Factors harvested in that spell, bookended between the champions dwelling and away, will resolve how severe Tottenham’s run actually is.

The draw at Crystal Palace on Sunday was a reminder that it has been skin-of-the-teeth stuff at instances. This can be a staff of positive margins and pared-back strategies. Spurs have scored 9 objectives of their previous seven Premier League video games. 5 of the previous seven have gone to the final minute with the consequence nonetheless on a razor edge.

It’s a stretch to speak about underdogs when you have got a £1bn stadium, the most effective striker within the league and a supervisor with titles in 4 European nations. However this has been Mourinho advert absurdum at instances, a staff apparently satisfied they’re engaged in a sinew‑straining relegation dogfight, and in peril of wanting up on the finish of the season to seek out they’ve simply gained the league.

Is that this sustainable? Mourinho’s final title-winning staff at Chelsea attacked in numbers earlier than Christmas, solely sinking again into Kurt-Zouma-in-midfield mode as soon as the ultimate straight was in sight. It could be a monumental, and certainly unbelievable act of self-flagellation to maintain successful this manner from right here.

This recreation additionally comes at a fine-margins second for Liverpool. There have been passages of that acquainted readability, however that is additionally a squad stretched skinny. 5 youngsters have performed prior to now two weeks. Liverpool have three wins of their previous eight video games, and 23 pictures on course of their previous six. And but there may be additionally a sense they might click on at any second, that actual ignition is simply ready to occur.

The plain tactical match with Mourinho’s Spurs might drive that both method. The sport appears set to happen in a type of scorching zone between midway and the Tottenham penalty space. Klopp likes a excessive, destructive-creative press; Mourinho likes his staff to drop deep and use the area this gives in assault.

The query is to what diploma Klopp will change to stifle this. Roy Hodgson confirmed a technique on the weekend, refusing to let his staff overcommit in assault, and taking part in lengthy passes into the field, letting the low block suffocate itself.

Will Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum “get round” Harry Kane in these deep playmaking areas? Can Spurs actually hope to “take in” this Liverpool staff at Anfield?

First versus second: as ever this looks like a gathering of angles, trajectories, unanswered questions; and much from the final on this absorbingly unsettled season.

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