Charming Klopp v Childish LVG: Who will triumph?
Van Gaal losing PR battle with Klopp and can't afford to lose the football war, too
LIVERPOOL v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 10.05pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Louis van Gaal walked out of the press conference and then returned to point a finger at a British journalist.
"You too, fat man," he hissed.
The Dutchman stopped to glare at the shocked reporters in the room and, in that moment, Manchester United knew they had the wrong manager.
Not that any of the sharp suits in the boardroom will say as much of course, not until the end of the season at least.
But, if Liverpool triumph at Anfield tonight, the uncomfortable reality will be inescapable.
United are not only lumbered with the wrong man. The right man probably sits in the opposite dugout.
Juergen Klopp already looks like an ideal English Premier League manager, often trying to "out-British" the British with his frenzied, counter-pressing approach, but he might have been ready-made for Manchester.
The meeting of Lancashire's traditional rivals could be billed as a battle between the charming and the childish in the dugout.
Van Gaal's boorish behaviour in midweek only underlined his unsuitability for the job.
Jose Mourinho was famously denied the Old Trafford gig on the grounds that he was too unpalatable for such a global brand, a volcanic presence that might leave United's foundations shaky.
But even Mourinho never called a journalist a "fat man" before.
He was hardly a saint, and Sir Alex Ferguson was not exactly courteous to the press, but both managers at least had a safety net. They won stuff.
Van Gaal, on the other hand, is low on silverware, but high on spite.
His latest outburst gives the impression of a vindictive man storing more personal grudges than football wins.
It's hardly the Manchester United way and it's certainly not Klopp's way.
The German's ongoing effort to win hearts and minds is not an act, but a sincere admiration for a British philosophy that he has long admired and advocated.
Both United and Liverpool drew their matches 3-3 in midweek - albeit against very different opponents - and van Gaal took the opportunity to blame his players and single out those who had criticised Wayne Rooney.
His bitterness prevailed.
But Klopp, breathless from the fist-pumping, neck-craning and headless chicken routines along the touchline, expressed his disappointment at not beating Arsenal, but there was still a rueful shrug and a smile.
That's English football. That's why he's here. He swopped the rollercoaster at Borussia Dortmund for another at Liverpool. He didn't bring the chess set.
Indeed, the demeanour of the two men conveys their respective attitudes.
In the dugout, van Gaal is a waxwork figure with a clipboard, assuming that a ranting manager betrays a lack of discipline. If he doesn't exude self-control, how can he expect his confused chess pawns to do the same?
Van Gaal was born in the country of Total Football, but long ago dismissed such a reckless notion in favour of total control.
Despite the mutinous atmosphere among disillusioned United supporters, sitting through the most turgid football in 40 years, he won't back down.
The manager who championed possession at Barcelona, one of tiki-taka's original preachers, still believes he can overcome the scruffy antics of those counter-pressers with a little law and order.
Rather than adapt to his environment, van Gaal assumes he can bend the environment to his will. But Klopp doesn't need to adapt. His old philosophy and new environment overlap.
The German revels in the anarchy of the Premier League and it's messy, untamed, unpredictability.
He sees not a chessboard, but a battleground. He advocates fighting football. Attack first. Attack fast. Press the advantage.
Of course, his gegenpressing remains a work-in-progress. Unlike van Gaal's United, Liverpool's mess is not of their manager's making. He needs time to see his plans come to fruition, but history is with him.
The managers have met four times before in the Bundesliga, with van Gaal's Bayern Munich and Klopp's Dortmund sharing two victories apiece. But the last meeting proved the most telling.
In February 2011, Dortmund won 3-1. Their speedy pressing overwhelmed Bayern's possession-obsessed pedestrians. Van Gaal complained later that his side dominated, creating numerous chances only to come away with nothing. Sounds familiar?
If he was a manager increasingly out of touch in the Bundesliga, he has never been in sync with the EPL, still trying to impose a philosophy that does not work and supporters do not want.
And whenever he's challenged, he resorts to childish name-calling.
The timing was terrible. After losing the PR battle, he cannot afford to lose at Anfield.
While Klopp continues his charm offensive to win over English football, van Gaal just sounds offensive.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
"I know that it is an important match for the fans. I have seen the reaction when we beat them so I know that. Mike the chef has said it to me also, with his way of saying it. I think everybody is ready to play this game. We need to be aggressive but also under control and that is always difficult because the passion to play in these kinds of games is very high."
- Man United manager Louis van Gaal
"We (with Ferguson) spoke. We spoke not a lot but, for me, it was a lot. It was a big honour, the whole talk, to be honest. But I could not leave Dortmund. You are in April and you are in the middle of the planning for next season. You have this player and this player who are coming but then you are not there anymore? That doesn't work. Not in my life."
- Juergen Klopp on turning down Sir Alex Ferguson to be his successor
WHAT THE PUNDITS SAY
"Juergen Klopp's new to the job, but Louis van Gaal is 18 months in and has spent a lot of money so I think there will be more eyes on Man United and Louis van Gaal and what that result will mean for him, whether he gets the victory or the defeat."
-Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher
"There is no way Liverpool's injury-hit defence will be able to keep a clean sheet against Manchester United. Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho are not the ideal partnership at centre back and United will expect to get opportunities."
- Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp
5 talking points
1 Great rivalry
There has not been a goalless draw for over 10 years and the intensity means there have been 16 red cards during the Premier League era. The rivalry between the two most decorated clubs occasionally lacks in quality but usually makes it up in entertainment.
2 Expect goals
Liverpool are struggling for goals and United have a tight defence. But, after their 3-3 draws this week, the hope is both teams may have found some freedom. Considering the intensity of the game mistakes are more likely than not so expect goals.
3 Cautious United
Sixth-placed United have scored 27 goals in 21 league matches, which is only the ninth best in the top-flight. United have been criticised for their safety-first policy and preferring to pass sideways rather than forwards.
4 Rooney watch
Can this encounter spark Wayne Rooney into life? United's captain has 11 goals this season, with four of those from the last three matches. His record against Liverpool is poor with just five in 22 appearances for both Everton and United.
5 Inconsistent Liverpool
The players are still adjusting to Juergen Klopp's tactics and style. A long injury list added to the problem of consistency. But their biggest problems are their lack of penetration up front and a vulnerability at the back.
- PA Sport.
KLOPP v VAN GAAL
2 Wins 2
7 Goals 9
- Dortmund 1 Bayern 5 (Sept 12, 2009)
- Bayern 3 Dortmund 1 (Feb 13, 2010)
- Dortmund 2 Bayern 0 (Oct 3, 2010)
- Bayern 1 Dortmund 3 (Feb 26, 2011)