Champions League: Jürgen Klopp relishing Barcelona challenge | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.05.2019
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Champions League: Jürgen Klopp relishing Barcelona challenge

The Liverpool coach has never faced Barcelona in a competitive game. The German is well aware of the threat posed by Lionel Messi and co but wants his team to have the courage to play their own football.

Jürgen Klopp has been in seven major finals as a head coach, four with Borussia Dortmund and three with Liverpool - but he's only won one.

It's a statistic frequently cited by the German's critics for whom the 51-year-old is the eternal runner-up, forever second best, never quite on top. A fair appraisal? Not at all.

"If God needs someone to show that you can lose six finals in a row and still try again for a seventh time, then I'm the perfect person," Klopp told DW this week ahead of his Liverpool team's Champions League semifinal first leg against Barcelona.

"They were hardly the best days of my life, but they didn't make me a broken person. It's all about experiences and how we use them and what we make of them."  

And the Stuttgart-born coach has certainly learnt from his experiences, taking Liverpool to a level the club hasn't known since the 1980s. Domestically, Klopp's "Reds" have racked up an astonishing 91 points in 36 Premier League games - and yet still find themselves one point behind Manchester City in their quest for a first English league title since 1990.

Standing between Liverpool and a second consecutive Champions League final appearance are a Barcelona side which have already wrapped up their fourth La Liga title in five years and who made short work of Manchester United in the quarterfinal. For Klopp, it will be yet another new experience.

Champions League Barcelona gegen Manchester United | (Reuters/S. Perez)

Jürgen Klopp is looking forward to facing Lionel Messi & co

"I've watched so many other teams play – and lose – against Barcelona, but I have never faced them in a competitive game myself," he said. "I've always thought it would be interesting to test myself against them."

Interesting is one way of putting it. After overcoming an off-color Bayern Munich in the last 16 and thrashing outsiders Porto in the quarterfinal, Barcelona represent a different challenge altogether. The Catalans haven't lost at the Camp Nou since November and boast world class talent throughout the squad.

German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at the time of writing, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic circulate possession in midfield at dizzying speed, while a front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho need no introduction – particularly since the latter two once graced Anfield themselves. Former Borussia Dortmund flyer Ousmane Dembele is a potent weapon often used from the bench.

"When they have the ball, you must have a high level of patience and not get frustrated. They will pass the ball around for long periods and you just have to accept that," says Klopp. "We need to do our defensive work correctly and have the courage to play our football when we get the chance. But then you will have your moments where you have the ball and then you have to be the biggest threat they can imagine."

Champions League FC Porto - Liverpool (Reuters/Action Images/A. Boyers)

Former Hoffenheim striker "Bobby" Firmino forms part of a devastating Liverpool attack

And Barcelona will be under no illusions as to the threat Liverpool can pose them when they win the ball, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino having each scored four times already in the Champions League this season. Ex-Hoffenheim striker Firmino was a doubt with a minor muscle tear but did train on Tuesday. "We're talking about Bobby, here," said a relaxed Klopp. "He could be fit for Barcelona."

Liverpool's lightning pace on the counter-attack will be key as always as they go in search of a vital away goal, with captain James Milner rightly pointing out that "Barca don't play against teams like us very often."

Indeed, Manchester United's pressing had Barcelona on the back foot in the early stages of their quarterfinal second-leg but, while the Reds of Manchester could only muster one effort on goal, those of Liverpool boast much greater firepower.

"Let's not forget: we're not a dream draw for other teams either," insists Klopp. "I don't think teams get drawn against Liverpool and think: That's a great draw, we can go out and smash them. We are a pretty good football team ourselves."

But if Klopp is to reach a fourth major European final and have a chance of putting that second-best label to bed, Liverpool will need to be more than "pretty good."

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