Is Jürgen Klopp pioneering psychological warfare?

It has been a while since the Premier League played mind games, but Jürgen Klopp’s reaction to Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Manchester United on Sunday foreshadowed a new era of psychological warfare.

This was far from Alex Ferguson’s suggestion that Leeds United might go easy against Newcastle to stop Manchester United from winning the league, and José Mourinho’s even more lurid suggestions.

Alex Ferguson

Klopp’s comments stood observers because Premier League managers now strictly avoid criticizing other teams.

“Arsenal are a good football team,” Klopp remarked of the league leaders’ visit to Old Trafford. If United perform like today, Arsenal will win, no doubt. I regret that.” Liverpool had the first 17 shots, so they should have won.

José Mourinho

But that’s the beauty of mind games: they make commonplace statements into devils to haunt one side and motivate the other. Klopp’s apparent statement put pressure on Arsenal and hopefully provided United a boost.

Klopp seems phlegmatic despite losing league leadership. “I’m not over the moon about it,” he said. Not the best result I’ve seen, but fine. It won’t be enough to do what we do today constantly. Definitely not. But we know. Everyone in Liverpool, keep calm.”

He must be that way. Seven games remain. In the final month and a half of the season, the manager who stays calm and positive will likely win. In 1995-96, Kevin Keegan’s “I would love it” rant in response to Ferguson and his tumble over Anfield’s advertising hoarding following a 4-3 loss remain warnings.

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Klopp must also know Liverpool wasted two points at Old Trafford. On Sunday, Liverpool thrashed United. There were 28 shots to 11. They won 3.6–0.7 xG. Before Bruno Fernandes’ 45-yard shot with United’s opening shot, they should have been gone. Worse, this is a pattern.

Kevin Keegan

Liverpool had the highest xG in the Premier League but three less goals than Arsenal. The xG predicted a home win over Manchester City, but they drew. Instead of beating United at home by more than a goal, they drew.

They were wasteful in the home game against Arsenal, though not as much. Liverpool will, understandably, blame the VAR blunder that cost them a goal at Tottenham if they fail to win the league this season, but they must also take responsibility for their failure to take chances in critical games.

Diogo Jota missed Sunday's Old Trafford game

That Diogo Jota missed Sunday’s Old Trafford game and those three crucial home games may be critical.

Following his Africa Cup of Nations injury, Mohamed Salah is yet to recapture his form. Jota’s clinical presence is missing without his best. An important factor in Liverpool’s dominance is the vitality of Darwin Núñez and Luis Díaz.

Africa Cup of Nations injury, Mohamed Salah

Liverpool play gleefully chaotically, unlike Arsenal and City. It’s exciting to see and overwhelms teams, like it did against Brighton and Sheffield United last week after they scored at Anfield.

However, chaos may also lack ruthlessness. Liverpool have taken 27 points from losing positions this season, which is a plus for their character but raises the question of why they fall down so often.

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How has a club that has only lost twice this season fallen behind 15 times? Maybe no team can match Liverpool’s intensity, but early in the second half on Sunday, it dropped.

That may be why Klopp started a fresh front. On the pitch, it’s impossible tight at the top of the table, but Mikel Arteta hasn’t had a title run-in like this, and Klopp and Guardiola have always been too respectful for media insults. A bout of psychological warfare enhances an intriguing race.

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