Jurgen Klopp knows his Liverpool team will have to battle hard to keep their Premier League ambitions alive against Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle today. Photo: Getty
There has been plenty of talk about how sentiment could play a role in the climax of the Premier League title race given the role of two ex-Liverpool managers.
Do not expect any.
Whatever the emotional attachments of Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers to their former club, it will have no impact on their approach to fixtures which will have a huge influence on the title's destiny.
Rodgers will want to beat Manchester City as he continues to rebuild Leicester City, relishing the chance to show his players they can play progressive, attacking football against the best side in the country. It has been an excellent start for Brendan on his return to the Premier League and a positive performance and result on Monday would bode well for Leicester's hopes of pushing on next year.
Benitez will be keen for another major scalp at St James' Park, having already beaten Manchester City this season. There will be no favours offered, nor any expected. Liverpool have had to earn every point this season and it will be no different tonight.
I am sure Benitez and Rodgers still have strong feelings for Liverpool but they will be secondary to their own objectives. You do not become Liverpool manager without that competitive streak. There will be no compromises.
Benitez and Rodgers are vastly different characters with contrasting views on management and how the game should be played, but one thing unites them - their determination to get results. That should give Liverpool hope when watching Leicester City take on City on Monday night, but make them wary when facing Newcastle.
I played six years under Rafa at Anfield and know how ambitious he is. It is difficult to believe he is still at Newcastle after being an established Champions League manager for so long. It is unnatural for someone with his record of success to be at a club where staying up is the primary ambition.
He has not given up on returning to the highest level. In a season in which Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have been lauded, Benitez will be frustrated he has not had the same resources to challenge on a level playing field. I am not sure Rafa will particularly want Klopp to win the title. Not because of any bitterness, but because deep down he will harbour ambitions of going back to Anfield one day and becoming the manager to end the Premier League drought.
Games such as this offer an opportunity to show how - when it comes to tactics - he remains one of the best. He will be working overtime to organise his team to make life as difficult as possible for Liverpool.
That is how Rafa approaches every game. For him, it is all about the result, no matter how you get it. He would study every facet of the opponent's game, understand their weakness and demand his players impose his game-plan which he was prepared to change from one week to the next, depending on the opposition.
"If you can't win the game, make sure you do not lose it," he would tell us.
It is well documented how much Benitez asks of his players - how he favours those who understand the game tactically more than free spirits. He builds his teams to stop conceding goals.
Rodgers is more of an idealist, seeing himself as a coach who could educate the players to impose themselves on a game in the manner we see from Pep Guardiola's City side. He is more communicative. It is not solely about winning for Brendan, but the style in which you do it. He is prepared to take risks, encouraging players to play more courageous football in the knowledge that while his teams will score more, they are also more likely to concede.
If Leicester are level with City in the closing stages on Monday night, Rodgers is more likely to go for the win. Rafa would take the draw against Liverpool.
There is a misconception that Rodgers is less interested in the opposition. That is not true, or fair. His pre-match preparations were always detailed, but he is the first to admit he is chiefly motivated by the style of his own team. There was a time in his Liverpool career when he felt he no longer had the players needed to suit his vision, so he took a more pragmatic approach, played more defensive and stopped enjoying what he was seeing.
Principles If there is one lesson he learned from his Liverpool experience it is to stick by your principles. The differences between the two managers will be evident in both games. Benitez will sit deep, challenge Liverpool to get beyond his back five and seek to play on the counter-attack. After a tough experience in Barcelona, it is a harder assignment for Klopp's side than Guardiola's.
Rodgers will try to achieve what few teams manage - dominate possession against Manchester City. The Premier League form guide has Leicester third over the last six games, so his players are responding to him. They are playing with confidence and have the pace to hurt any defence - Jamie Vardy could still win the golden boot. Equally, playing an expansive game at the Etihad can end in tears.
Whatever the outcomes over the next three days, Benitez and Rodgers have already secured their places in Liverpool's history of Premier League heartbreak.
It is ironic the fixture calendar has put them in a position where they might be welcoming Klopp into their runners-up club. (© Daily Telegraph, London)