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Carabao Cup final: Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino come full circle in managerial battle

Watch Chelsea vs Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday from 2pm; kick-off 3pm, live on Sky Sports

Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will contest the Carabao Cup final on Sunday; two managers cut from the same cloth that were on the same curve until five years ago.

​​​​​​It is poetic that Jurgen Klopp's introductory crack at silverware in his final season at Liverpool comes against the manager he faced at the start of this era; the man who provided the initial barometer on how he wanted his team to play - and the one at whose expense he enjoyed the first crowning moment of his tenure.

Mauricio Pochettino is also a football person Klopp - to pinch his own words - "could not have more respect for".

Klopp explained: "He was actually my first managerial opponent in the Premier League and of course, we met in the Champions League final in 2019 and he has always done a brilliant job. He is also a great guy left and right of the games that we play against one another."

Relationships in football management can often be faux, forced, or frayed but Klopp and the Argentine have a genuine appreciation for each other.

For the majority of their tenures in the dugout, there has been a symmetry. Advocates of high-octane, progressive football even though their application of it differs, Klopp and Pochettino have also been project managers.

The former's impact at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund still envelopes those clubs. Pochettino's work at Espanyol, Southampton, and Tottenham offered a framework that each continues to reference.

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They are also united by the 'a person first, player second' approach. Take for example, the summer of 2017 when a member of Liverpool's staff had spent an age rattling off new signing Andy Robertson's professional data to Klopp.

He got to the end of his list of important points, before the manager responded: "How can you not know that he is going to become a father for the first time? That's the biggest thing in his life now. Come on!"


At Southampton, Pochettino noticed there was emotional turbulence blocking Adam Lallana's performances. He held the midfielder back after one training session and found out that the club's chairman at the time, Nicola Cortese, had been the culprit.

"I remember, Adam was under unbelievable pressure," Pochettino explained. "It was because the chairman kept calling him before and after games complaining about the result or the performance.

"I called the chairman and said, 'please, stop calling Adam. When you have problems, call me instead. He is the captain, you cannot put the pressure of the entire club on his shoulders, come on!' It stopped and bam! - Adam was our best player that season."

Both managers believe you cannot guide or maximise the talents of anyone if you cannot understand them. A footballer's attributes in and out of possession is easy to gauge, but more significant is what drives and underpins them as a human: their support structure, beliefs, habits and real lives.

Klopp's unlocking of Roberto Firmino and Pochettino's transformation of Harry Kane speaks to the above.

Aside from greatly enhancing the playing identity and ambitions of clubs as well as improving those they've trained, Klopp and Pochettino allowed Liverpool and Tottenham to develop world-class infrastructure without performance upheaval.

For so long, their journeys felt aligned. While that has not changed in terms of who they are, how they perceive football, and their coaching fundamentals, there has been a departure over the past five years.

While Klopp crafted Liverpool into a powerhouse before conquering with them, Pochettino was denied tools at Tottenham, and then plumped for jobs in Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea with resources but distress.

To understand the divergence, we have to revisit the start.

In the beginning...

In October 2015, while priming for his opening game in charge of Liverpool, Klopp was struck by the crystalline identity of Pochettino's Tottenham and how committed they were in "giving everything on the pitch to their style."

The distances Spurs were covering, combined with the intensity of their play and intelligence of their press, was the level the German wanted to reach at Anfield. He knew cohesion, automations and structure would require time, but he demanded a similar effort from the off.

Having overseen just four training sessions with an injury-hit squad, Klopp's directive to Liverpool was to "open our chests, run and fight."

The tireless goalless draw that followed at White Hart Lane, framed by the enduring image of Adam Lallana collapsing into his new manager's arms from exertion, was the first time Spurs had been outrun that season. No team had engaged in more sprints against them than Liverpool, nor caused them as many problems with pressing triggers.

It was the perfect base for Klopp to build off while playing catch-up.

The 2019 tipping point: The future catches up with Spurs as Klopp's Liverpool become champions of Europe...

By the time the pair duelled at the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid, the pendulum had seismically swung. Liverpool were transformed by game-changing signings - chiefly Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.

Only four of the matchday 18 from Klopp's first battle with Pochettino remained on the club's books at that showpiece. By contrast, 11 were still at Tottenham.

That night - Liverpool adding a sixth European Cup and lifting their first trophy under Klopp at the fourth time of trying - is often seen as the springboard of one era and the full stop to Pochettino's at Tottenham.

Spurs had been sleepwalking into that eventuality for years, and it was a reliance on good coaching and repeatedly defying logic that saw them get that far.

They had a net spend of just £29m since Pochettino's appointment in 2014 through to the start of the 2019 January transfer window. For perspective, the comparison for the same period was Manchester City £518m, Manchester United £466m, Arsenal £225m, Chelsea £200m and Liverpool £183m.

Tottenham had the lowest wage bill of the "big six" clubs and became the first Premier League team to not make a signing for an entire season in 2019-20.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp claims he has plenty of experience in dealing with disappointment after losing finals and suggests that in any other sport finishing with a silver medal is celebrated

It was impossible to still compete under those parameters. Ahead of that Champions League final, Pochettino issued a warning: "In the five years we have achieved a lot of things, and it was an amazing period. But now it's what's next.

"I think of course we are all excited now and it's difficult to see the future, but the future arrives quick. If you are not focused and if you don't start to work and if you do not make a plan, if you don't anticipate the things, when you crash, you crash.

"If we believe that if we operate in the same way that we have operated in the last five years we are going to be every season in the final of the Champions League, and we are going to be every season in the top four and competing against projects like Liverpool or Manchester City, I think we are very naive.

"If you put the same expectation on Tottenham, and the people expect the same, of course, give me different tools to work with."

While Klopp was empowered to reshape Liverpool, Pochettino was worn out by a war with stasis. That struggle ended in November 2019, when Spurs sacked him and his jobs since have been less pauper, but more money… more problems.

Pochettino's two years at Paris Saint-Germain brought the first pieces of silverware of his managerial career, but in a chaotic environment. The transfer policy was haphazard and contributed to endless problems.

PSG would "stack" players that were not needed; a prime example was recruiting Gianluigi Donnarumma when Keylor Navas was already a respected, established number one which created animosity.

The power from above given to Neymar, Leo Messi and Kylian Mbappe meant those three were tasked with deciding who would take a penalty or a free-kick rather than the manager - and they continuously clashed about it. This was amid a backdrop of politics and conflict throughout the operating structure.

It is actually remarkable - and has been privately noted by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi - that there were no major public fall-outs during Pochettino's spell in the French capital, unlike the spats that dominated the periods before and after.

Now, ever or never...

Last April, when the itch of being out of management was severe, Chelsea came knocking.

The worry was always whether the scattered, astronomically expensive and risky policy of co-controlling owners Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly would provide the right platform to properly mould a new project over time.

The turnover in the squad was a recipe for instability. Pochettino summed this up recently when asked about his record in comparison to Graham Potter, who was axed at Stamford Bridge. "Last season I wasn't here," he said. "It's 15 or 16 players that are different from last season, so how can you compare?

"You have plenty of [different players] starting with the two 'keepers that won the Champions League. Kepa [Arrizabalaga] and [Edouard] Mendy were here last season and now we have two 'keepers that are young and came from different clubs, one who didn't play at Brighton and another is from MLS.

"When you build a team with 16 or 17 new players, you need to look at all the circumstances from the beginning because it is easy to say 'oh we spent money' or 'we have amazing names'."

Chelsea have the youngest squad in the league lacking in natural leaders, which is fine if the aim is long-term development and success, but it isn't.

Their signings have committed the club to an estimated £1.9bn of future spending, and there are major historical FFP concerns to navigate.

That is while wondering how to offset losses without many valuable academy products or fully amortised players left to sell for large profit.

As Klopp put it, "the fact Mauricio has reached a final in his first season in charge speaks volumes" given he has "what is effectively a new team."

The pair's paths will be briefly aligned again at Wembley on Sunday.

This time, it is building up to the end of the Klopp era, while wondering if we will ever get the opportunity to witness another Pochettino one.

Watch Chelsea vs Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday from 2pm; kick-off 3pm

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