Crucial Merseyside derby brings unique pressure for Jurgen Klopp ahead of final clash with Everton

A Merseyside derby was Liverpool’s last game before Jurgen Klopp joined. Now he prepares for his last derby. He arrived in England with a sense of what it meant for those who grew up with it but, he reflected, “I would not be honest if I said it was my game of the year”. Some eight-and-a-half years later, as he looks forward to his 19th, “my understanding has developed”.

Improving his players’ grasp of the game involved a delve into Liverpool’s past, via clips of scousers who grew up on either side of the divide. “At the beginning I remember I showed the players videos of Carragher in the derby and Stevie where he got red cards – I love one, and respect the other a lot,” Klopp said; probably not in that order, either. Steven Gerrard was sent off twice against Everton, once for planting his studs into Kevin Campbell’s thigh as a teenager, once for collecting two cautions in the first 18 minutes as captain. There are Evertonians who think the boyhood Blue Jamie Carragher should have seen red as often.

A game nicknamed “the friendly derby” in earlier decades became notable for expulsions in the Premier League. “That’s what the people expect, that if you get a red card against Everton it’s fine. It’s not, it’s absolutely not because we want to win the game, and it’s the only reason why we go there,” Klopp rationalised.

The Liverpool boss knows that his team need to beat Everton to keep their title hopes alive (Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)
The Liverpool boss knows that his team need to beat Everton to keep their title hopes alive (Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)

His football springs from physicality and commitment, but allied with discipline, both tactical and actual. Some of the challenges in the derby took him aback.

“At the beginning there were a few situations where I thought it was over the top,” he said. “Since then it has become a bit settled and I hope it stays like this because it should. At the beginning I thought ‘wow, that’s what they are allowed to do!’ and I didn’t get that. But I had to learn all these things over the years, obviously. Everything that makes it a really special football game with all ups and downs in a game and good and bad and stuff like that, I’m fully in for it. When it goes over the top, I’m absolutely not.”

And if one of the turning points in a reign that is entering its final weeks came at Goodison Park, with the wild challenge from Jordan Pickford that ended Virgil van Dijk’s season in 2020-21 and, perhaps, Liverpool’s defence of the Premier League title, Klopp should depart with more good memories than bad. He has never lost at Goodison Park but the atmosphere makes his life less pleasurable.

“Around the derby is just pressure,” he explained. “The pressure is higher so why should the joy be higher? You win it, great, but why should I miss the pressure around it? This time, when you’re really playing for something, that’s the pressure. But when you are both not in a great moment, it’s the one game you have to win, definitely. That kind of pressure: why would I miss that? It’s not enjoyable.”

Whether or not Klopp misses the Merseyside derby, Everton will not miss him. Their lone victory in 18 attempts came at Anfield in lockdown, to the most decorated manager Everton have ever appointed. “Only Carlo Ancelotti, who everyone knows is a pretty good manager,” Klopp said with deliberate understatement.

The 2020-21 clash saw Jordan Pickford’s rash tackle injure Virgil van Dijk (PA)
The 2020-21 clash saw Jordan Pickford’s rash tackle injure Virgil van Dijk (PA)

If Brendan Rodgers was sacked 90 minutes after a 1-1 draw with Everton, Marco Silva was fired a day after Klopp’s weakened Liverpool won 5-2 at Anfield. Even when Everton thought they had held Liverpool, there have been stings in the tale: Divock Origi’s 96th-minute decider at Anfield in 2018, an embarrassing moment for Pickford, or Sadio Mane’s “late, late, late” winner at Goodison in 2016. On Klopp’s last victory across Stanley Park, a 4-1 thrashing of Rafa Benitez’s side in 2021, the Liverpool supporters taunted their former manager with choruses of “Rafa’s at the wheel”. He wasn’t for much longer.

For now, Jurgen’s still at the wheel, the designated driver with his eyes on the road, forced to concentrate when others want to celebrate. “Everyone else can only watch it and think, ‘oh my God, it looks exciting’,” Klopp said. “But somebody has to make the decisions: somebody has to do this, somebody has to do that. I feel exactly the same as everybody else around these games, but as long as I’m involved, I have to be calm. But if I am just watching it, then I will feel a different kind of emotion, definitely.”

Klopp has only lost one Merseyside derby, when Everton won 2-0 at Anfield under Carlo Ancelotti (Getty)
Klopp has only lost one Merseyside derby, when Everton won 2-0 at Anfield under Carlo Ancelotti (Getty)

A trip across Stanley Park represents the shortest journey on his farewell tour, but Klopp insists he isn’t feeling sentimental. “I had my last European game last week,” he said. “We didn’t go through and you can make a big story of it being my last game, but I just tried to figure out how I felt, and it was nothing. It’s not like I felt I would never have a European game again; if that would be the case, then I wouldn’t stop it. I had more than 1,000 games as a manager, probably more than 100 European games, so what do you want? 300? 500? I don’t know how many you have to have to be happy with what you did. That’s really not my problem. I’ve played for the last time at Old Trafford, the last time against [Manchester] City away, at home as well, I just don’t feel these kind of things. Not yet.”

And if that is a hint that Klopp will return to club football after his sabbatical, there may be a time when he can look at a fixture against Everton as a fan. “I will never be able to watch a Merseyside derby without any kind of [emotion],” he said. “I want Liverpool to win all of them, definitely. That means it’s important. I know so many people where the game means everything to them. I don’t know when I can start enjoying watching football. I might give it a try at the Euros.”

Perhaps then Klopp, a manager who has made so many others enjoy watching football, will experience it himself.