THE first time that I encountered Jurgen Klopp, he actually gave our Watford team an extra psychological edge.
The German with the Colgate smile had only been at Liverpool for two months when he turned up at Vicarage Road in December 2015.
So we weren’t aware of his habit of standing on the halfway line and staring out the opposition team during the pre-match warm-up.
I remember a couple of team-mates saying, ‘What the f*** is he doing, staring at us?’
We thought he was trying to wind us up, it seemed to give us a bit of extra motivation and we ended up winning 3-0.
Now I realise Klopp is not trying to psyche out the opposition when he watches the warm-up. He is studying what patterns of play and tactics they might be working on, looking for that extra one per cent.
That’s because Klopp is an obsessive, as all the very best managers are.
They are fixated on those one per cents.
I recently read a comment from the legendary former Barcelona midfielder Xavi, saying that it literally physically hurt him when he gave the ball away.
That’s what I mean by obsession. That’s what Xavi’s old Barca manager Pep Guardiola is like and it’s the same with Klopp.
Klopp, who heads to Manchester United tomorrow, is an extraordinary presence on the touchline.
When you are playing against his teams, you cannot help but notice him.
He is kicking every ball. He is probably the most demanding manager I’ve come across. Sometimes the idea of a manager showing ‘touchline passion’ can be overrated.
You don’t have to be as manic as Klopp to be successful.
If a manager is naturally more quiet and methodical, and he starts ranting and raving, players can see through it and they will not respond.
With Klopp, though, that passion and intensity is authentic.
His team are a reflection of their manager’s character. Playing against Liverpool is exhausting.
They are incredibly fit and their levels of football IQ are through the roof.
I remember listening to his post-match interview at the Vic when we’d beaten them in 2015 and, while he gave us a lot of credit, I was impressed by how he spoke of laying foundations.
Getting the Liverpool that he inherited playing the high-energy football he demands and then also recruiting better players to improve them. It took time but Klopp raised Liverpool to new heights — as champions of England, Europe and the world.
And this is a manager who improves players individually and collectively.
Mo Salah is having a goal of the month competition all to himself, scoring absolute worldies against Manchester City and Watford.
Klopp has improved him so much, likewise Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
It wasn’t that usual for any team’s wide players to be their main goal threat — but that is what has happened with Salah and Mane.
They are inside forwards, rather than out-and-out wingers, cutting in on their favoured foot.
And Klopp’s intensity clearly isn’t fading. He was going at it hammer and tongs with his old foe Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid in midweek.
I think tomorrow’s match at Old Trafford should be a classic.
I know we have seen United v Liverpool ‘Super Sundays’ being over-hyped and ending up 0-0 — but I can’t see this one panning out that way.
It feels more like a 3-2 because both sides have forward players in seriously good form, while United are not keeping clean sheets and Virgil van Dijk is not yet back at his very best after cruciate knee ligament surgery.
But if I had to put my house on it, I’d go for Liverpool.
One player who really stands out for me is Trent Alexander-Arnold. I was watching him against Watford last weekend and said to my missus that if our little boy wants to become a footballer, then I would love him to model himself on Trent.
He is 6ft, quick, agile, with incredible lungs and his ball control is just frightening. He makes it look so easy that it’s like playing Fifa on the computer.
You never know which United are going to turn up at the moment, while Liverpool have a supreme level of consistency.
But you cannot discount a team including Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford — who has scored two in two since returning from injury and is looking really sharp.
If United are to win, though, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to start with Paul Pogba.
Against Liverpool, you need a player who can thread a killer pass like Pogba can.
The Frenchman was dropped for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Atalanta — although United were 2-1 down when he came off the bench and won 3-2. I know Pogba is a Marmite player but he has seven assists in the Prem this season.
If Kevin De Bruyne, or any other player, had been top assist-maker in the league, you cannot ever imagine him being dropped for a big match like this.
So there is always a feeling with Pogba that something may be going on behind the scenes, maybe with his contract situation.
But for me, Pogba is a big-game player — and Solskjaer must challenge him to take this one by the scruff of the neck and hurt Liverpool’s midfield.
You need your best players at the top of their game against a Klopp team.
And you can bet those United players know that Klopp will be watching them like a hawk before kick-off.
You can feel his stare burning into you — hoping to spot that one per cent which might make all the difference.
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