Jurgen Klopp is a great manager. Indisputably one of the best in the world. Throughout his managerial career, he has consistently done more with less. Has Pep Guardiola ever won promotion with a 2. Bundesliga side? He never.
Regardless, if there is one area that Kloppo can be criticized, it’s in his relatively small collection of winner’s medals. While some of his rightfully heralded peers are adding to their trophy haul year-in and year-out, Klopp has far more near misses than jubilant triumphs. This is not to say his medal case is completely barren: he has won two Bundesliga titles, two DFL Supercups (hey, if City are going to count the Community Shield, he sure as hell can count the German equivalent), and a DFL Pokal.
And then there are the near misses. He was Bundesliga runner up twice with Dortmund, and of course runner up again in the Premier League this year. He’s lost two Champions League finals, one a piece with Dortmund and Liverpool, respectively. He’s lost a DFL Pokal final with Dortmund, as well as League Cup and Europa League finals with Liverpool.
His record in finals is less than stellar, with his one non-Supercup final win doing little to offset his last five consecutive stumbles at the final hurdle.
Of course, anything can happen in a one-off match. Whereas luck tends to more or less even out over the course of a season (or even over two legs), one bad call, injury, or unlucky bounce can be the difference in a final. And looking back at those finals, it’s hard to find much fault with the way the boss went about business.
Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich
Going back to the 2012/13 Champions League final, Kloppo and Dortmund found themselves in essentially the same position as Tottenham—taking on a domestic rival in Bayern Munich who finished 25 points ahead of them in the league. It was a tight match, and the game was in the balance until the 89th minute, when Arjen Robben slotted the winner and secured a 2-1 win for Bayern. If Liverpool beat Tottenham by a similar margin, most observers would say “it’s one of those, the more talented team prevailed.” I think it’s fair to say the same about this final.
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (1-3 pens)
Skipping over the 2-0 defeat to Bayern (after extra time) in the 2014 Pokal, we come to Klopp’s first final at Liverpool: the 2016 League Cup. Liverpool faced off against a Manchester City team in a down year. Despite finishing just 6 points better than Liverpool (and 4 places higher), that City squad were the clear favorites, and with a clearly more talented squad. This was still Brendan Rodgers’ squad, and Klopp was doing well to advance in the cup competitions. Philippe Coutinho scored an 83rd minute equalizer, to take the affair to extra time, and eventually penalties. Emre Can slotted the first penalty, and then Lucas, Coutinho, and Adam Lallana all missed. Liverpool didn’t even get to the 5th penalty taker.
Liverpool 1-3 Sevilla
Moving to the Europa League final—again, an impressive accomplishment for this squad—Liverpool faced off against Sevilla, who were appearing in their third consecutive Europa League final, having won the previous two. While the bookies made Liverpool the favorites, Sevilla’s experience put them in good stead. Liverpool came out of the gates hot, and absolutely battered Sevilla in the first half. However, after several big misses and some baffling uncalled penalties by the ref, Liverpool entered the break leading just 1-0, thanks to one of the best finishes you’ll ever see, courtesy of the outside of Daniel Sturridge’s boot. An Alberto Moreno disasterclass was waiting for us immediately thereafter. Liverpool conceded 3 times in the second half, as Sevilla retained the Europa League title for a third year on the bounce.
Liverpool 1-3 Real Madrid
That brings us to last year’s final—also a 3-1 defeat to a Spanish team seeking to retain the trophy for the third year on the bounce. Once again, Liverpool were not favorites to Real Madrid. Once again, Liverpool were controlling the affair during the opening stages. Once again, there were questionable refereeing decisions (this time over red card challenges, not handballs in the box). And once again, the breaks did not go Liverpool’s way. Of course, we all know what happened after the two key injuries to Mohamed Salah and Loris Karius.
So. Three finals where Klopp’s sides were clear underdogs, and another where it was marginal. In all of the above examples, Klopp’s sides performed well through large stretches of the match, and if for better luck (or less bad luck), the match could have gone differently. The problem with being an underdog is that you absolutely cannot win against better, more experienced teams, and bad luck.
But Liverpool do not enter this final as underdogs. We finished 26 points ahead of Tottenham in the league. We have a more talented, deeper, and more experienced squad than Tottenham’s. Even with another key injury, or horrible refereeing (please no, to both), there will be nowhere to hide for Klopp and his charges a week from tomorrow.
Eventually, the best managers have to win things. And we know Kloppo has, even while overcoming substantial odds.
Maybe it’s worth remembering Klopp’s last cup final win, his 2012 Pokal triumph which secured the double for Dortmund. Despite goals from Bayern stars Robben and Ribery, Dortmund absolutely battered Die Roten, trotting out 5-2 winners on the day. When things go well for Klopp teams, they tend to go very well indeed. That Dortmund side was Klopp’s previously best side.
With a victory next week, this side would be able to make strong claims that they are now the German manager’s best ever. Let’s just all cross our fingers, avoid black cats, throw salt over our shoulders, and hope the best team—Liverpool—prevails.