Heart Of Football

Midday or the wee hours, it's an honour to watch Reds v Devils

Jurgen Klopp isn't getting much wrong as he looks forward to his first Liverpool versus Manchester United clash at Anfield on Monday night.

"The whole world will be watching," he says. "And we have the honour to be a part of it."

The whole world, Jurgen? Do you know what hour the kick-off time means to Singaporeans? It's 8pm in Liverpool, so that's 3am on Tuesday morning.

Only the fanatics will stay up and pay up to catch the atmosphere coming across 10,982 km from Anfield. But, yes, I do know of some football insomniacs who will think it worthwhile to watch live rather than a recorded re-run.

And, yes, there is something very special when Liverpool's stadium (now enlarged to 54,074 capacity) is under the floodlights. It was always that way on European nights, and the 122-year enmity between the Reds and the Red Devils needs no artificial stimulus.

If there is a reason why this particular season puts the fixture at such an unfriendly hour in the East, it's probably down to the fact that NBC television has just kicked into a billion-dollar contract to broadcast the English Premier League in the United States.

We can count on as many as seven different nationalities in each line up. We can share, even at such distance, the crowd willing these foreigners to care more than they could have known they might about one of the oldest, most intense rivalries in English sport. Rob Hughes

Middle of the night to you is closer to midday across American time zones, though as it's a Monday it just might be domestic television (Sky) calling this particular tune.

Times have changed, and we have to get used to it.

Whenever and wherever we watch it from, this should be quite a game after what many regard as the tedium of the latest two-week international break for World Cup qualification matches. Much, much more of that to come given the way that Fifa's new hierarchy is peddling expansion, expansion, expansion for its tournaments.

There are big players fighting jet lag to perform at Anfield.

It starts with the men Klopp calls Roberto and Phil. His two Brazilians, the monstrously energetic Roberto Firmino and the deft, elegant, dangerous Philippe Coutinho are just back from two games, two wins, for the marvellously revived Brazil, in South America.

If those two are running at full speed, if Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana are up to their tricks and in Mane's case his whirlwind speed, then any amount of Mourinho caution is going to be fully tested under the lights.

There again, Klopp says he respects Jose Mourinho. And he fears some of what United have got.

"I manage Liverpool FC," Klopp said at his pre-match media conference. "So I know it's not allowed to like United players."

He said it with a mischievous grin. "You ask me if I expect Wayne Rooney to play. I can say that Rooney is a goal-scorer and a threat. From my side, he's a world-class player."

Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are others the Liverpool manager regards as world class. "With them in the team, United are not worse than last year, for sure," Klopp said. "That doesn't mean they will win, it just means they have a chance."

Klopp (and for that matter Mourinho) are buzzing like newbies.

I'm English. I've had the pleasure to know Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley personally. Shanks was the master of rhetoric, a man who in a few words could raise the players to give more energy than they knew was inside them.

Paisley was quiet, but he was there in the Boot Room under Shankly, he succeeded him as manager. And Bob's quiet words, his nous for the game, pushed Liverpool even further than the fervour of Shankly.

It was Shankly who created the atmosphere we will see reignited at Anfield (a place he referred to as the worst toilet in Liverpool when he arrived).

It was Paisley who guided the Reds to win the European Cup, now the Champions League trophy, for the first time.

And it was Liverpool's success that goaded Alex Ferguson to breath such fire into United that, eventually, overtook Liverpool as the most successful team in English league history.

Liverpool's 18th and last league title was in 1990, before some of Klopp's players were born. United pushed that record to 20 titles, but Mourinho is now the third manager trying to succeed there in the wake of Ferguson's retirement.

That said, it still rankles with Liverpool that United have won on three of the past four visits to Anfield. And United are the overall leaders between the two, winning 67 to Liverpool's 55 games, with the other 44 drawn.

All that is before Klopp, and before this season, which his team have started with such a high-energy attacking game that one wonders if there is enough pace in the United team to withstand them.

We can forget, for a moment, the hundreds of millions spent since Mourinho took over this summer, let alone the billions these two giants of north-west England generate.

We can count on as many as seven different nationalities in each line-up. We can share, even at such distance, the crowd willing these foreigners to care more than they could have known they might about one of the oldest, most intense rivalries in English sport.

And, no doubt, the TV cameras will be focused on every emotion that Messrs Klopp and Mourinho (a German and a Portuguese) pour forth on the touchline.

You won't stay up to watch? Understood. But Klopp is correct when he observes that the whole world might want to watch.

He, incidentally, received the September Premier League manager of the month award on Friday. "I didn't know about this," he said, "Are you journalists involved?

"No? Then no thanks to you!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'Midday or the wee hours, it's an honour to watch Reds v Devils'. Print Edition | Subscribe