Jürgen Klopp has dismissed Pep Guardiola’s claim that the entire country wants Liverpool to win the title but insisted the Premier League would be boring without a serious rival to Manchester City.
Guardiola claimed “everyone in this country supports Liverpool, the media and everyone” and “people want Liverpool to win more than us” in a bizarre outburst following City’s 5-0 rout of Newcastle on Sunday.
Klopp believes the post-match interview illustrated the tension of the title race on Guardiola more than any statement of fact, and likened it to his criticism of Antonio Conte’s tactics after Tottenham’s 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday.
But the Liverpool manager considers his team worthy of wider support for delivering a genuine title race and ensuring City do not win a fourth league championship in five seasons at a canter.
“Imagine how the situation would be if we were not that close. Then the interviews would be boring,” Klopp said. “You have to make sure there is some excitement and there is an exciting battle for who stays in the league and an exciting battle for who qualifies for the Champions League. But imagine if we were not closer.
“It [Guardiola’s reaction] is completely normal. We all feel the tension, we cannot say we don’t feel it. After the Tottenham game, it is not like I thought: ‘Great’, but before you can deal with your emotions you have already faced 20 cameras. That is what Pep did. I don’t take it as a backhanded compliment. He probably thought he has to make this point. You know much better than I do it is not the case.”
Liverpool can go level on points with City on Tuesday with victory at Aston Villa, albeit having played one game more, but Klopp is adamant Guardiola is mistaken in his view that the country wants the title to return to Anfield.
“I live in Liverpool so, yes, here a lot of people want us to win the league – that’s true,” Klopp said. “But even here it’s probably only 50% because the other people [Evertonians] were involved in another fight, at least until yesterday.
“As managers, and I had this experience recently, we are obviously massively influenced by the game. I said – and would I say it again? No – but I said after the [Tottenham] game: ‘They play like they play and are still only fifth.’ It felt good in that moment but it was wrong. I could not respect Antonio more and what he is doing and how he organises teams.
“I don’t know exactly which situation Pep was in, after getting knocked out of the Champions League that is obviously difficult enough to take, but then of course Liverpool made it to the final and you have these things like: ‘They only played Villarreal, we played Real,’ and then you say what you say. And he is right, on top of it. I was right about Tottenham. He was right we only won the Premier League once. I have no idea if the whole country is supporting us. That is not the feeling I get when we go to other places and play there, it is actually the opposite, but maybe he knows more about that than me.”
Klopp insists Liverpool will not “stop believing” they can win the league until it is mathematically impossible. He also claimed the title challengers should take encouragement from their display against Spurs, despite dropping points for only the third time this year.
“It was not a perfect game but the general approach, the counter press, was completely on a different level,” said the Liverpool manager, who could recall Roberto Firmino from injury at Villa Park. “We win it and we talk about that. ‘Wow, the counter press of Liverpool.’ We don’t win it and we just forget it. I don’t [forget it] because that keeps us going.
“That is how I see it [nothing is broken]. That is how I saw the game. So we keep going. That is the nature of the thing and that is with the quality of the opponent and the goalkeeper and you know we had the situations [to win]. If Virg [Van Dijk] gets the header here [forehead] instead of here [points to the side of his face], it is at least a better chance than hitting the bar.
“We didn’t score from a set piece but we could have because everything was nearly perfect. We have to accept that. Now we have to use the good things, delete the bad things and go from here.”