Pretty much from day one, Jürgen Klopp has seemed a perfect fit for Liverpool football club. From the passion to the politics, it’s hard to think of another manager in the modern game who would match up so well with the club, its fans, and their obsessions.
Or, perhaps more rightly, it’s hard to think of more than one other. And that manager will bring Newcastle to Anfield on Boxing Day looking to spoil Liverpool’s unbeaten league season. Whatever happens, he’ll get a fully deserved—and very warm—welcome.
“I have known him for a long time,” Klopp said of former Liverpool and current Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez ahead of Wednesday’s meeting between the two sides. “I knew him before I came to Liverpool and he always did a brilliant job.
“The supporters of this club are famous for not forgetting people who did an outstanding job here. It’s not only Rafa but it’s Rafa especially because he is still in the Premier League and from time to time around—still living in the area, became a proper Scouser.
“I like him. He is a fantastic manager and also a really good person, so I’m happy for him that he always gets this kind of reception, it’s nice. It shows that obviously Liverpudlians, they don’t forget that easily. It’s good for him, very good.”
As for Rafa, as much as he may appreciate the high regard he’s still held in by Liverpool fans, he’s got his own concerns, with Newcastle struggling and desperately in need of three points on Wednesday as they hang just above the relegation zone.
One imagines he, more than any other current manager, would enjoy Liverpool winning the league come May. He’ll be hoping they can do that, though, with one blemish in the loss column—which would stand a miracle Newcastle just might need to survive.
“If we can be better than three teams, it will be another miracle,” Benitez said this week of his side’s chances of surviving in England’s top flight. “It was a miracle last year. If we do the same this year with teams spending even more, it will be a miracle.”
Newcastle managed to finish tenth last season with what was essentially a Championship-calibre side, one that Mike Ashley hasn’t given Benitez the funds to improve on this season as the unpopular owner waits on a sale that may never come.
Now, depending on how the Boxing Day results go, they could end the first half of the season just two points clear of the bottom three. For Newcastle and Rafa, there can be no thoughts of warm welcomes on Wednesday—only of winning.
The same goes for Liverpool and for Klopp. The reception the former manager will get at Anfield might be a nice thing to touch on, for a moment, pre- and post-match, but the only thing that will really matter when the game kicks off is the three points.
“Nobody was really happy with the amount of money they had to sign players,” Klopp noted of Wednesday’s opponents. “But Rafa is too experienced to carry that through a full season. Now they are settled and are in a good moment after a difficult start.
“It was always difficult to play against them, at Newcastle and here at home as well. We know it will be a tough job. We need to stay angry, stay greedy, stay really in the job. That’s what we have to do against Newcastle.”