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Liverpool’s Humbling of United Highlights Underrated Klopp Skill

Klopp has turned a team of underdogs into a ruthless side comfortable playing as favorites.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on October 24, 2021 in Manchester, England.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on October 24, 2021 in Manchester, England.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Liverpool are better than Manchester United.

We knew this before the match kicked off on Sunday, and we certainly know this today. For once, football was as simple as that — which is rarer than we might realize.

On The Athletic’s “Totally Football Show,The Anfield Wrap’s Neil Atkinson made this point astutely, suggesting that while the result at Old Trafford was definitely a wild one, it was simultaneously quite logical:

Liverpool are 5-0 better than Manchester United — it’s just that this doesn’t always translate to the scoreline.

As fans, we knew this already, even if we don’t always dwell on it. Perhaps we should, as it speaks to an underrated skill Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side looks to have developed, and stands in contrast to recent history.

During Manchester United’s pomp, it was never certain that they would beat Liverpool, even if the Red Devils were by far the better side on paper. Similarly, before the win in an empty stadium last May, Liverpool had gone eight without winning at Old Trafford, despite being clearly the better side through most of this period.

Liverpool have been demonstrably better than Everton for most of my lifetime, yet wins at Goodison Park have been relatively rare — since the narrow 0-1 win in 2016, Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have managed five straight draws away across Stanley Park.

The occasion, usually, matters. Simply being better than your largest rivals is never going to guarantee you three points in the bite of a derby, with the fans in full voice — even when playing at home.

What Jürgen Klopp has managed to do in recent times is to get his players to play the opponent in front of them rather than finding themselves carried away by the occasion.

While Manchester United got the first chance on Sunday (which Bruno Fernandes delightfully put in the stands), Liverpool played with a sense of calm — despite squad rotation — that made it clear they were unmoved by the fans and unbothered by the opposition.

Liverpool played like a team who knew they would beat Manchester United, enjoying the Red Devils’ needle instead of allowing it to get into their heads. This was not always the way, and it’s becoming a pattern.

Fred attempts and fails to get under the Liverpool side’s skin, and instead simply provides a bit of humor — and height contrast.
Fred attempts and fails to get under the Liverpool side’s skin, and instead simply provides a bit of humor — and height contrast.
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Though this skill isn’t always on show — after injuring Virgil Van Dijk, Everton managed to get into Liverpool’s heads a bit least season, certainly — it is a skill we’ve seen more and more of over recent seasons.

Some of this comes down to (or is illustrated by) the manager’s confidence in team selection: a rotated side that panicked some supporters saw Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri work together flawlessly to put five past Everton; a slightly rotated side, including the massive call of a second start for Ibrahima Konaté, coolly put five past Manchester United — while laughing at the likes of Fred, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Bruno Fernandes as they attempted to bring the level of the match down into a brawl.

With his team selections, Klopp emphasizes what his players seemingly already know: you’re better than these, don’t let them convince you that the occasion is anything other than one of the three best teams in the country playing against a side who are simply not very good.

Should Liverpool continue harnessing this level-headedness, the likes of Everton and Manchester United should be quite afraid to face Klopp’s well-oiled machine — well, more than they already are.