“Of course we have a certain history…but we don’t know each other as well as everybody thinks.”
So said Thomas Tuchel during a glowing assessment of his German compatriot Jurgen Klopp, not long after replacing club legend Frank Lampard in the Chelsea dugout in January.
You could be forgiven, though, for thinking there is a much stronger bond between two men from the same country, whose paths from young heavy-metal upstarts to coaching heavyweights have taken eerily similar paths.
There are striking facets in each man’s style of play too. The high intensity pressing, the devastating speed of the counter-attack, the fluidity of the forwards.
Now, whether you are a believer in fate or coincidence, the two are set to battle in the Premier League for the first time on Thursday when Chelsea – unbeaten so far under Tuchel – visit Anfield to take on Klopp’s Liverpool.
With that in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
BECOMING THE MAINZ MAN
“I had fourth-division feet and a first-division head”.
Even as a player, Klopp always believed his talents were better suited to the touchline than inside the white lines and it was at second-tier Mainz – where he made over 300 league appearances as a player – where he would get the chance to cut his coaching teeth.
Appointed in February 2001, Klopp helped stave off the threat of relegation and then led the team to consecutive fourth-place finishes, narrowly missing out on promotion.
But the old adage proved true, as the third time proved a charm for Klopp as Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history.
Klopp had the smallest budget and the smallest stadium in the top flight, but in his first two campaigns among the elite, employing his now famed Gegenpress, he led Mainz to back-to-back 11th-place finishes and a first foray into European football – qualifying for the UEFA Cup thanks to the Fair Play draw.
Relegation followed in the next campaign, and in total Klopp enjoyed 29 wins from 102 Bundesliga games as Mainz boss, a win percentage of 28.43 in Germany’s top flight – his side scoring 130 goals and conceding 159.
He had a points-per-game average of 1.13 with Mainz in the Bundesliga but, after failing to secure a return to the top tier the following campaign, Klopp departed for pastures new. More on that later.
Jürgen Klopp going wild after a last-minute goal?
— Mainz 05 English (@Mainz05en) December 3, 2018
So, what next for Mainz? Well, the original route was the appointment of Jorn Andersen, who successfully achieved promotion but was sacked before the 2009-10 top-flight campaign even started, with Mainz stating the aims of the club and the coach were no longer the same.
A knee injury curtailed Tuchel’s playing career at the age of 25 and he worked in the youth team at Stuttgart before overseeing the second team at Augsburg – a club he previously played for.
It was here where Tuchel impressed Bundesliga teams, coaching a side including Julian Nagelsmann, and Mainz came calling after dismissing Andersen.
Despite limited funds and a supposedly inferior playing squad, a team including Andre Schurrle and Adam Szalai helped Mainz to a ninth-placed finish.
Better things were to come the following season. The likes of Lewis Holtby and future Premier League winner Christian Fuchs arrived and Tuchel led Mainz to their highest ever finish of fifth.
The difficulties of mixing domestic and European football were a struggle and the next two campaigns saw Mainz finish 13th before coming an impressive seventh in 2013-14, Tuchel’s last season in charge.
By the end of his tenure, Tuchel had a win percentage of 38.24 in the Bundesliga – significantly higher than Klopp’s and the best of any Mainz coach.
Under Tuchel, Mainz won 65 Bundesliga games, scored 229 goals, conceded 230 and finished with a points-per-game ratio of 1.41. After a year out of the game, another opportunity was to arise…
years ago today, our A-Juniors became National Champions!
— Mainz 05 English (@Mainz05en) June 28, 2018
DELIGHTING IN DORTMUND
When Klopp arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, both parties could hardly have dreamed they would be a better match.
Earlier in the decade, Dortmund were a club on the brink of financial ruin after years of heavy spending.
It meant Klopp’s remit was to work within a limited budget and develop youth talent. And boy did he succeed in his task – putting together a team that would mix it with the best of European football.
The early signs were promising as Dortmund finished sixth and fifth in Klopp’s first two campaigns, an improvement on 13th in the season prior to him taking over.
But it was 2010-11 when things really clicked. A star-studded cast led by Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Shinji Kagawa pressed, hassled and swashbuckled their way to Bundesliga glory.
Dortmund would repeat the trick a year later with their 81 points at the time a Bundesliga record, while they made it a domestic double in the process by adding the DFB-Pokal.
Bayern Munich regained top spot in the Bundesliga in the following season (and have not looked back since) but Klopp’s reputation continued to grow as Dortmund reached the Champions League final – only to be denied as Arjen Robben’s 89th-minute winner earned Bayern a famous treble.
Dortmund were runners-up in the league and cup in 2013-14, and a disappointing start to the next term that saw Dortmund initially in relegation trouble would mark the beginning of the end of a glorious chapter.
Still, a recovery to seventh in the table and a run to the Pokal final meant Klopp left with his head held high. In total, Dortmund won 133 of their 238 Bundesliga matches under Klopp – ending with a win percentage of 55.88 and an average of 1.91 points per game, with 469 goals scored and 248 conceded.
Jürgen Klopp looks back on his time in Dortmund and reflects on the emotions of the 2010/11 season pic.twitter.com/v613gGmPQc
— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) April 30, 2020
But life at Signal Iduna Park had to go on and, you guessed it… enter Tuchel.
It was a natural fit in many ways, with Dortmund keen to find someone who would fit a similar mould to Klopp when he first joined. Young, vibrant, a desire to press and attack at pace.
There was much to admire in Tuchel’s first campaign, but Bayern’s winning machine continued as they finished 10 points clear of their rivals.
Dortmund spent big to replenish a squad depleted by the departures of Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan ahead of the 2016-17 season, but they accumulated 14 fewer points to finish third in the league – a triumph in the Pokal proving Tuchel’s only trophy at the club.
While there was plenty to admire on the pitch, off it Tuchel’s reign was mired by disagreements with Dortmund’s hierarchy – most notably CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.
Tuchel left with a win percentage in the Bundesliga of 61.76 (beaten only by Lucien Favre’s 63.29 among Dortmund coaches with at least 10 games in charge), accruing an impressive 2.09 points per game.
HEAD-TO-HEAD AND ‘THAT’ GAME AT ANFIELD
Similar paths, similarities in styles, contrasting fortunes then.
But Thursday’s clash at Anfield is by no means the first time these two have gone head to head.
Indeed, there were 10 occasions when the two were in opposition dugouts in the Bundesliga – with Klopp winning seven of those and Tuchel only one.
When extending that to all competitions, Klopp has triumphed nine times from 14 games, while Tuchel bumps up only slightly to two victories.
Their most famous showdown, of course, came in the 2015-16 Europa League quarter-finals, where Klopp was handed a romantic return to the club he once considered his home.
A 1-1 draw in Dortmund preceded one of the greatest second-leg contests in the competition’s history.
Goals from Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had Dortmund 2-0 up inside 10 minutes to stun Anfield and, although Divock Origi’s goal just after the break reduced the arrears, Marco Reus’ effort before the hour had seemingly sewn things up.
Cue pandemonium. Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho were on target to level things on the night and Dejan Lovren’s injury-time header completed the most memorable and emotional of comebacks, Liverpool celebrating a 4-3 victory.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 14, 2018
Since that night, Klopp has become a Premier League and Champions League winner with the Reds, while Tuchel’s arrival at Stamford Bridge was preceded by a couple of Ligue 1 title triumphs with Paris Saint-Germain and a 1-0 loss to Bayern in last season’s showpiece game in Europe’s premier competition.
Klopp and Tuchel also had a win apiece when Liverpool and PSG met in the 2018-19 Champions League group stages.
Now their familiar paths have led to the Premier League for the latest showdown between two of the greatest coaching minds in football.