Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has declared that Chelsea’s new head coach Antonio Conte is like the ‘Pep Guardiola of Turin’, in his pre-match press conference ahead of the two sides meeting on Friday night.
Conte was brought in as Chelsea’s first permanent manager since José Mourinho was sacked last December, with Guus Hiddink having taken over from the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ on an interim basis for the remainder of last season. He guided them to a tenth-place finish in the Premier League but Conte has already helped the Blues return to their winning ways. The West London club have won ten out of a possible twelve points since the start of the new campaign, only dropping two points against Swansea City on Sunday afternoon.
The German, who took over from Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager in the middle of last season, has been impressed with his Italian counterpart’s work since taking charge at Stamford Bridge. The Reds boss, who is known to be animated on the touchline during matches, sees something of himself in the former Juventus manager. He said, “He looks quite emotional, even when they don’t score. Obviously he is involved in the game, but that’s not the most important thing. The very important thing is he is a great manager, something like the ‘Pep Guardiola of Turin’ if you want”.
Liverpool won this fixture 3-1 last season when Mourinho was still in charge. Hiddink led his Chelsea side to a 1-1 draw at Anfield in the reverse fixture but this is the first time that Klopp and Conte are coming up against each other in a competitive match. The Blues did beat the Merseyside club 1-0 in a friendly match in America during both clubs’ pre-season tour, but Klopp believes that they will be a different proposition again in the Premier League.
The German feels that Conte, who was the Italy national manager before taking on the Chelsea job, is already instilling some of the success he enjoyed at Juventus into his new squad. Klopp was quick to point out, however, that it is not the two managers who have to play each other. He said, “He created [Juventus’] special type of play and had a very successful time there and with the national team. It is quite impressive what he has done until now, but I don’t play against Antonio Conte”.
Both Liverpool and Chelsea will be hoping that their lack of European football will give them an advantage over the other teams aiming to finish in the top four, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all getting their Champions League campaigns underway this week and Manchester United having Europa League football to contend with. Conte would much rather that his side had performed well last term and finished in the European places, but Klopp believes that the Blues are now back to their best after a disappointing season last time out.
Speaking to the press ahead of Liverpool’s first Friday night fixture of the campaign he said, “They were champions two years ago and then had a difficult year and they changed their manager. Last season was not a Chelsea season and now they are back on track, so we need to be ready for a real challenge”.
Klopp’s team are coming off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory at home to the defending Premier League champions Leicester City, having already put four past Arsenal at The Emirates on the opening day of the season. Chelsea, meanwhile, have won three of their opening five games in all competitions by a single goal and could only manage a draw against a Swansea City team that had lost their previous two league games.
Diego Costa has been in fine form for the West London club, finding the net against West Ham on the opening day of the season, Watford on the following weekend and twice in the Liberty Stadium on Sunday. He was lucky to stay on the pitch in all three matches but Jürgen Klopp believes that the Brazilian born Spanish international is doing everything right. He said, “He’s world class. If other supporters love you that’s not a good sign. He’s a warrior on the pitch and uses his body. He was nearly unstoppable against Swansea”.
The former Borussia Dortmund manager will welcome Dejan Lovren back into his starting line-up, having had to select Lucas Leiva in the centre-back spot when Lovren suffered a black-eye in training the day before the champions arrived at Anfield. He will still be without Emre Can who is back in training but won’t be fit enough. The German is excited by the idea of his team playing their first Friday Night Football of the season, saying, “Friday night is one of the best moments to play football. Let’s go for it”.