Respect is mutual as Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp meet again
JURGEN Klopp made his thoughts on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United side abundantly clear just seconds after the full time whistle of September’s clash at Anfield.
Barely six minutes after Mo Salah had completed a hat-trick to finally sink the newly-promoted Whites, Liverpool boss Klopp mouthed “wow” to the Sky TV cameras.
United’s Premier League return might have ended with a defeat, but not without an almighty fright for the defending champions whose defence of their title was up and running with a three-point haul, just.
Seven months later, Klopp’s Reds will face Bielsa’s Whites for a second time on Monday night knowing that their Premier League crown has gone.
So too has the chance to win anything else with a Liverpool side already out of the League Cup and FA Cup before exiting the Champions League on Wednesday night after a 3-1 defeat on aggregate to Real Madrid.
There will be no new trophies entering the famous Anfield cabinet for the 2020-21 campaign.
Yet Liverpool are now a team on a new mission looking to seal repeat qualification for the Champions League and the feeling of respect between the Reds and Whites and Bielsa and Klopp is mutual.
Ahead of what will still only be a second ever meeting with Liverpool’s revolutionary German head coach – the man who brought the Anfield side their first league title for 30 years – Bielsa said: “I like to see Liverpool play. They always play in the same manner.
“For me, that’s big praise to give to a team. There’s no player in their team who’s not prepared to receive the ball and manage the ball in whatever part of the pitch they receive it.
“They have a big offensive power. Their full-backs are wingers.
“Their wingers are centre-forwards, throughout moments in the game. Their midfielders on the inside, they attack out wide in the same manner.
“And after there’s three players who provide defensive equilibrium which are the two centre-backs and the defensive midfielder.
“I think they are a team that constantly thinks in producing football. They don’t speculate, attacks always. They spend a lot of time attacking and not so much defending.
“And when they have to defend I think they do it well, putting into consideration the amount of energy they expend attacking. Then like every team, they have ups and downs.”
Given their own recent lofty standards, there have been too many downs and not enough ups for the Reds this term.
Klopp’s side have been hampered by injuries, particularly in defence as Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and in particular star man Virgil van Dijk all remain sidelined, in addition to captain Jordan Henderson.
The Reds are approaching Monday night’s clash at Elland Road sat sixth in the Premier League table and still three points adrift of the final Champions League spot occupied by fourth-placed West Ham.
Liverpool are seven points ahead of the 10th-placed Whites and there was precious little between the two sides in a mouth-watering season opener at Anfield in which Salah’s treble eventually got Klopp’s side off to the perfect start.
Leeds might have began life back in the big time with a defeat, but for Bielsa the display set the tone.
“It was a game of goals, emotional,” said Bielsa.
“It was the first game and despite the defeat, it left some good feelings.
“While that was at the start of the season, but throughout the development of the league it forces you to renovate your effort for every single game.”
More often than not, Leeds have repeated those efforts since, so much so that one more point from United’s last seven games would safeguard United’s Premier League status.
After all, staying up was always the initial aim and always has to be for any newly-promoted side.
Realistically, Leeds are some way better than that.
Realistically, the Whites are also already safe given that second-bottom West Brom are the only team in the drop zone who could overhaul them but are 21 points adrift with only seven games left.
Leeds are looking up, not down, and will now once again test themselves against a team who are ultimately the country’s champions, at least until May.
But Bielsa will also wait until May before fully evaluating Leeds United’s first season back in the big time.
Asked about what potential additions were needed in the summer, Bielsa reasoned: “When a season hasn’t finished, the arguments to establish modifications in a team, we haven’t managed to gather all the arguments in its fullness, in its totality.
“Every game has surprises and it is always best to let the campaign finish to gather all the arguments to make the decisions.”
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Thank you Laura Collins