There was a glint in Jurgen Klopp’s eye, the kind you would expect a batsman to have when he spies a short ball that needs dispatching through the covers.
He had spotted the question early – ‘would you ever have regrets about not managing Real Madrid in his career?’ – and was ready to have some fun. In recent months, such an inquiry would have received brusque short-shrift but, this time, Klopp was ready to engage.
‘When I came out of the plane, I regret already that I don’t live here!’ said Klopp, after he had finished laughing. ‘The weather is so much better here… you cannot imagine! I have a gilet with me and all these kind of things! You are blessed living here. We go the hard way.’
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was in a very jokey mood in his pre-match press conference
Liverpool appear to have turned a corner following a dominant weekend win against Arsenal
Then came another opportunity for some fun. Again, Klopp’s face lit up as he was asked which of Spain’s three superpowers – Real, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – would best fit his character. Again, it was swatted away with a dollop of humour.
‘I’d fit to all of them,’ he said. ‘The only problem my Spanish is really bad. You wouldn’t enjoy having me in Spain and I speak this broken Spanish. We joke about (me) ordering a beer.
‘You can’t work with that for a long time! Who is manager of Real Mallorca? That would be nice, to live at least!’
This was the kind of press conference you saw from Klopp pre-pandemic, when he was engaging, witty and good value; they always happened in Europe and the relaxed way he went about the theatre reflected his belief in his progressive team.
It seemed significant, then, that Klopp’s state of mind here was so relaxed. Though it would be folly to read too much into Saturday’s 3-0 skewering of a dreadful Arsenal team, it is impossible to shake the feeling that Liverpool have turned a corner and their manager knows it.
Real, away, is a completely different challenge to the ones Liverpool have faced of late but Klopp only tends to behave this way when he can see momentum building and there are many reasons he is relishing the chance to tackle the club who believe the European Cup is their private property.
Klopp faces Real Madrid in the quarter-final, in a replay of the 2018 Champions League final
First, of course, this is an opportunity to settle a score from three years ago.
Klopp says revenge for the 3-1 defeat Liverpool suffered at Real’s hands in the 2018 final is not in his thoughts but he would not be human if those memories didn’t suddenly come flooding back.
Many of the squad who played in Kiev still feel hollow about having to watch Madrid lift the trophy, as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Equally, they have never forgotten the way Sergio Ramos – absent against them for this match – bounced Mohamed Salah out of the contest like a wrestler.
‘When we got the draw, of course I remembered the game,’ Klopp reflected.
‘I said after the game that if someone asked me in a press conference a week or a month later if I would invite Sergio Ramos to my 60th birthday I would have said no. Meanwhile, I would think about it again.
‘It is not because he is a great footballer, but it was because I didn’t like what happened that night. It was a strange night. But it is long ago.
‘I cannot get that feeling back, that anger or whatever, so I don’t even try.
‘What I try is to prepare my team to show how good we are as a football team.
‘In a strange and difficult season for us, we want to show how good we are and if we are better than Real Madrid or score more goals then we go to the next round and if not then it is Real Madrid. It is pretty easy, really.
‘We had good games before the international break. We came out with a really good game after the international break and now we hope to keep that momentum.
‘That would be really helpful as we should play better. We should play a really good game otherwise we don’t have a chance.’
He is right about that. This might be a Madrid team without Cristiano Ronaldo or a peak Gareth Bale but it would be risible to suggest they do not have a punch.
Karim Benzema, for instance, is a glorious footballer and he will test Liverpool’s defenders Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips like never before.
It is also only three games and 30 days since Liverpool lost 1-0 at home to Fulham, so it would be wrong to get carried away about their prospects.
Then, however, you saw Klopp engage in that way of his and you sensed that maybe, just maybe, this is the right game at the right time for Liverpool.
Klopp may play Mo Salah (left), Diogo Jota (centre) and Sadio Mane (right) and Roberto Firmino
‘Things are really in the flow and we have to keep contact with that,’ said Klopp, who could unleash his former frontline attackers – Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota – from the start.
‘We have to chase the teams ahead of us and we have to chase Real Madrid.
‘They are in a very good moment. They are a really good team and very experienced. If somebody knows how to win the Champions League then it is Real Madrid. But we are the opponent. I think we should give it a proper try.’