Jurgen Klopp insists he could not hold Pep Guardiola in higher esteem despite the Manchester City manager’s recent comments about Liverpool “diving”.
Mane scored a late winner for Liverpool in Saturday’s 2-1 Premier League win at Aston Villa but was earlier shown a yellow card for simulation, having previously been criticised after winning a contentious late spot-kick against Leicester City.
Guardiola seemed to take a swipe at the Senegal forward by telling BBC Sport “sometimes he is diving”, prompting Klopp to defend his player and hit back at City by accusing them of the “tactical fouls” the Catalan has often insisted he does not encourage.
The issue has dominated much of the build-up to Sunday’s huge showdown between the top two at Anfield, but Klopp has sought to move on by underlining his respect for his opposite number, after Guardiola backtracked by saying he did not mean to accuse Mane of cheating.
“I am in the same situation as him: we constantly get asked questions and sometimes we say at that second what is in our minds without thinking about anything else,” Klopp told Sky Sports.
“He explained it well, he said when he speaks to his kids it’s like this, was it a penalty or not – that’s a discussion they had at home.
“I am completely fine with that. I couldn’t have more respect for Pep Guardiola, I’ve known him for so long. It’s still a big thing to be his contender. To me, he’s the best manager in the world and we have the chance to win against his team, which is very difficult but it’s possible. We’ve had a few good results against them so from my side there is nothing but respect.”
35 – Sadio Mane scored the 35th 90th-minute winning goal by Liverpool in the Premier League, 10 more than any other side in the competition’s history; five of those have come since the start of last season, more than any other team. Clutch. pic.twitter.com/xQ9C5H6izh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 2, 2019
Klopp also admitted he would prefer to take back his comment on tactical fouls, saying: “I then said what I said but come on, I can’t let it go completely without a comment! But I am really not interested. I think there’s enough to write about, it’s not necessary that we make it bigger.
“If I could do it again, I wouldn’t say it [the line about the tactical fouls] because it’s just not necessary. I know from the other side as well, there is a lot of respect there. Everything else will be decided on the pitch.”
Liverpool, whose last Premier League defeat was away to City in January, are six points clear of the champions at the top of the table heading into the encounter on Merseyside.
Klopp certainly plans to go for the win rather than focus on avoiding defeat, but he does not think the match will prove decisive in the title race.
“We know about the situation last year and we only lost one game, against City, and that was decisive at the end, and that’s how people maybe see it, but you have to play all the games. If we win against City and don’t win another game after that, there’s no use,” said the Reds manager.
“There is so much still to come. November, December and January are coming.
“Maybe other people [who] are smarter than me can see it like this. For me it’s a 100 per cent win game. This must-win thing I’ve never understood.
“For us to prepare for a game like this, you have to do the right things again and again.
“I can imagine people are saying we must not lose and they must win. I don’t really care – we want to win. And then we will see what the situation is. It’s a big one, we know that. The whole world will be watching and I’m looking forward to it.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve gained a lot of respect for each other, not that I didn’t have respect for City and Pep Guardiola teams already. City’s performance at Anfield last year was the biggest show of respect I ever got because they played differently to what they usually do.
“I like to think about what we can do. We play at home but the game there we lost by 11 millimetres because the ball was not in. Without that it would be another draw and it would be deserved. I expect a tight game.”
City goalkeeper Ederson is a doubt after going off at half-time of the 1-1 Champions League draw at Atalanta on Wednesday, but Klopp expects the Brazil international to play.
“If he couldn’t play it would change [things] because he’s an important part of their game,” he said. “[Claudio] Bravo can do certain things he can do but I expect him to play 100 per cent. Last night was precautionary.”