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How catching Manchester City will put all of Jurgen Klopp’s persuasive powers to the test

Pep Guardiola saw his side bounce back from their Champions League exit with a 5-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday (Martin Rickett/PA)

Richard Jolly©

After six years, 376 games, a Premier League, a Champions League and ahead of a three-week period that could yet complete a historic quadruple, Jurgen Klopp’s essential message can remain the same. “We have to change from doubters to believers,” he said at his unveiling in 2015. So far, 2022 has brought more reasons to believe than doubt.

And yet the weekend brought a shift in the title race, a draw with Tottenham stripping Liverpool of some of the momentum they accumulated over a run of 13 wins in 14 games, Manchester City’s subsequent 5-0 demolition of Newcastle put them three points ahead of the Merseysiders with three matches to play.

Since January, when Liverpool were 14 points behind City, it had been an inspired pursuit, with Klopp’s side briefly overhauling Pep Guardiola’s when they kicked off at different times. Now the lead had stretched.

Not for the first time, Klopp sought to harness the power of positive thinking as he looked to reframe the picture. Liverpool are closer than they were four months ago. He imagined their deficit had been halved this weekend.

“There are obviously difficult perspectives,” he said. “We drew, they won and the goal difference changes. Or you see it as they were six points behind and they lost and we won and we are absolutely flying. We can decide for ourselves how we see it. There are some facts but we are allowed to ignore them. I try to persuade the boys to see it like me. Let’s just pretend that we won the last game and they lost. It doesn’t make the Aston Villa game any easier but it gives you a nicer perspective.”

It may be a test of even his persuasive powers. Klopp accepted his players were sadder than he was on Saturday night, though he claimed his comment that the mood was like a funeral referred to the press-conference room, not the dressing-room.

Even a great communicator might struggle to convince footballers who remember the disappointment of their draw that it was a win and sway them into thinking that City somehow lost to Newcastle the following day.

Yet that scenario is less significant than a wider sense of optimism, of giving Klopp’s mentality monsters the right attitude. He will seek to make them believe again. “Dressing-rooms in general look after themselves but I don’t want to give it a chance so I will tell them anyway,” Klopp said. “It is not like a milk thing, I tell everybody so they know it, so it is not something for the players’ committee and then say: ‘Get out there and spread the good news.’”

Klopp’s work could be as much psychological as tactical. Speaking 31 hours before kick-off at Villa Park tonight, he said: “Enough time to create a common view.”

So far, Liverpool have thrived on the adrenalin of the chase. It is given added spice by the identity of their latest opponent: perhaps their most iconic captain.

Rewind to a previous title battle with City, back in 2014, and the decisive moment came when Steven Gerrard slipped in the 36th game. Now Liverpool will aim to avoid similar mishaps against Gerrard’s Villa, who are also City’s final-day opponents.

Guardiola claimed that everyone in England is a Liverpool supporter and when he surveys the other Premier League managers, there is little doubt at least one outside Anfield would prefer Klopp to win the league, though Gerrard remained as neutral as possible. “My job is to win games for Aston Villa,” he dead-batted.

This is not exactly a job interview, either. It was easy to imagine that Gerrard was the only Liverpool fan who was left disappointed by Klopp’s contract extension. There will not be a vacancy at Anfield until 2026. The German is all too aware where some see the Englishman’s future, but did his best to remain non-committal.

“My possible successor? Yes, of course it is possible,” he said. “I have no idea. It is not my decision to make; it is about other parties and Stevie as well.”

In any case, the short-term future assumes more importance. “The perfect situation we would be nine points and 20 goals [ahead of City] but that is not how it is,” Klopp reflected.

Instead, as is often the case with his Liverpool, it will go down to the wire. They chased City brilliantly in 2018-’19, securing 97 points only to finish behind a team with 98. His greatest comebacks, the products of bottomless reserves of belief, have come in Europe, from Dortmund to Barcelona, though the biggest transformation of all has been restoring Liverpool to the summit of the game. Now he is looking to take the positives from the draw with Tottenham.

“Use the good things, delete the bad things,” he urged. One draw is not enough to end his title hopes.

“As far as they [City] are not reachable, why should we stop believing?”

Aston Villa v Liverpool, Live, Sky Sports, 8.0

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