Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have headstart but visiting Manchester United have momentum
Jose Mourinho's men will be underdogs against Premier League leaders at Anfield on Sunday, but they have gone three games undefeated
Who would win a race over 50 metres between Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp?
Not much in it, you would expect. Klopp’s relative youth - he is 51, Mourinho 55 - perhaps offset by the slightly leaner Mourinho frame.
A form guide? Limited, although we do have a pair of very publicised, televised sprints to study.
The first is the run that introduced Mourinho to the wider world when he was a dynamic, mould-breaking young manager at Porto, on the way to unlikely triumph in the Uefa Champions League. They scored a late goal at Old Trafford to knock out Manchester United in the last-16, at which point Mourinho zoomed down the touchline to celebrate with his players.
An eye-catching moment, for TV and for the watching home fans, who thought the act transgressive and provocative.
A couple of weeks ago, Klopp offended some peoples' idea of sporting nobility with a similar, spontaneous run, although it was less of a sprint than a hop-skip-and-gallop on to the field of play at Anfield to celebrate a last-minute win over Everton.
That run was definitely transgressive - Klopp should not have been on the pitch - but different in style from Mourinho’s 2004 touchline dash, which was all studied intensity, launched, wild-eyed, from the red-brick dugout at Old Trafford, and all the more theatrical because he was wearing a long black coat, with a vent at the back, so it flapped out like wings.
Mourinho, arms raised symmetrically, looked like Batman.
Klopp at Anfield was more chaotic, one fist punched up haphazardly, bounding to the centre-circle. The German was fined £8,000 (nearly Dh37,000) for the eruption, the pitch invasion and solemnly promised he would never do the same thing again as Liverpool manager.
We can take him at his word, while pausing to wonder if there are any circumstances under which Mourinho might again be seen, coat flaps flying, arms aloft, feverishly dashing in front of towering Old Trafford grandstand to ecstatically commune with a set of players utterly at one with their manager.
For most of the current season, the gloating Mourinho of a decade-and-half ago has been very hard to glimpse. He has been largely grumpy, his most vivid leap from his seat the one he launched to try and grapple with a Chelsea coach whose touchline theatrics he disapproved of when a late goal was scored against his United at Stamford Bridge.
So it is that, on Sunday afternoon, two managers who once seemed to have so much in common appear as polar opposites, one sulky, the other smiling, as they take charge of English football’s most inflammable top-flight rivalry.
Their common points?
Alisson's big save
Many, including the instinct for scene-stealing that drives a manager to dash into centre-stage in a moment of dramatic triumph. Neither Klopp nor Mourinho is without personal vanity. Neither has ever been slavishly obedient to the game's prevailing fashions.
Mourinho and Klopp have built successful teams who do not prize possession of the ball above all else, have been ready to work on counter-attack as a core tactic. Neither has glorious playing careers to boast of - though Klopp’s was far more successful, as a Bundesliga striker-turned defender - and so they both needed charisma to move through the initial hoops of management.
They have shared some seismic duels, notably when Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund turfed Mourinho’s Real Madrid out of a Champions League semi-final with a blitzed 4-1 first-leg victory.
Or when Klopp, newly arrived at Liverpool, won his first away game, 3-1 at a Chelsea whom Mourinho had led to the 2015 Premier League but who had fallen so rapidly that he was gone a month after the Klopp coup.
Premier League predictions: Salah and Liverpool to pile more misery on Mourinho
Defeat at Anfield on Sunday would certainly increase chatter about how far - or if - Mourinho’s Manchester United episode extends into 2019.
Far from motivating dashing touchline sprints, the story of their season so far is of no accelerated momentum at all, of stop-start form, all to a soundtrack of dressing-room disputes and veiled Mourinho complaints about the club’s recruitment strategy.
Klopp lauds his expensively acquired defensive unit - Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk are 2018 signings, at a combined €140 million (Dh581.4m) - while Mourinho bemoans a lack of the right investment in centre-halves.
Liverpool are the Premier League’s only undefeated side. United would establish their season's best momentum if they avoid losing at Anfield: they are on a limp four games - three drawn - since their last league defeat. And 16 points separate Mourinho from Klopp in the table.
It would take a very feverish sprint to catch that up.
Updated: December 16, 2018 08:13 AM