Even before Tuesday night’s defeat to Napoli, Jurgen Klopp had insisted Liverpool’s Champions League triumph last season doesn’t make them the best team in Europe.
After Barcelona allowed a 3-0 aggregate lead from the first leg slip at Anfield, the Reds went on to secure their sixth European crown, beating surprise finalists Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the final.
Klopp’s side also posted the third-highest points total in Premier League history (97) last term but were ultimately unable to end their long wait for an English league title, which will soon extend to 30 years, with Man City taking the prize.
Five things to know about the passive rivalry between Klopp and Guardiola…
- Liverpool recorded 97 Premier League points last term.
- But City retained their title and picked up 197 points across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.
- Klopp’s side won their sixth Champions League crown, though, beating Spurs in the final.
- But the German still maintains Man City are the “best team in the world”.
- And in December, Guardiola insisted that title, in fact, belonged to Liverpool.
But despite their remarkable exploits in Europe, Klopp still maintains that Pep Guardiola’s men are the best side in world football.
“There are a lot of good teams out there and you have to prove that constantly,” said the German ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League opener, which they went on to lose 2-0 on Tuesday.
“We cannot be the best team in Europe because Manchester City are the best team in the world – that’s the same planet, I heard.
“Last season, we were really good. I’m not too sure we were the best team in Europe, but we were really good in the right moments and that’s why we won the Champions League.”
However, just as Klopp has palmed off the “best in Europe” title, Guardiola did the exact same thing back in December ahead of Man City’s 2-1 win against Liverpool which played a huge role the fate of the Premier League title race.
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“The problem is the other team is fantastic,” Guardiola told BBC Sport at the time.
“[Liverpool are] maybe the best team in Europe or the world right now and in top form.”
It would seem the managers at both of England’s top two clubs right now prefer to carry out their work as underdogs (relatively speaking) with challenges to overcome, deflecting the pressure from their own players and onto the opposition.
It is not exactly the same as Jose Mourinho’s old ‘siege mentality’, a technique employed to sharpen motivation among players by creating both a common enemy (i.e. referees or pundits) as well as a sense of injustice. But this pass-the-bomb approach to the question of who is Europe’s best team seems similar driven by psychological purposes. It is a means of maintaining focus and warding off complacency among the team as much as it is an attempt to control the pressure heaped upon them by the media.
In the wake of Liverpool’s Napoli defeat, Mark Lawrenson highlighted to the BBC that the hype generated by a team’s success is not even necessarily a helpful source of confidence.
“In the seasons I played for Liverpool when we started our defence of the European Cup – 1981-82 and 1984-85 – I was thinking ‘crikey, we are here to be shot at’ not ‘ah, we are the best team in Europe’,” the former Reds defender wrote.
While both Klopp and Guardiola will be targetting greater success this season – a league title for Liverpool and European glory for City – few could argue against their methods, given their clean sweep of trophies during 2018/19.