Jurgen Klopp will miss Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday after returning a suspected positive Covid-19 test, meaning his “fantastic” No.2, Pepijn Lijnders, will be in charge
As well as battling with 19 other teams in the Premier League, Liverpool are currently doing their best to stop Covid-19 from derailing their season.
Having already seen a host of players including star defender Virgil van Dijk miss multiple matches over the festive period due to positive tests, manager Jurgen Klopp has become the latest in the Reds camp to be forced into isolation.
That means the German will not be in the dugout when Liverpool face title rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday for what already feels like a six-pointer.
In his absence, No.2 Pepijn Lijnders will be in charge, as the 18-time English champions venture to the capital with the aim of getting back to winning ways.
But who is Lijnders and what can the Anfield faithful expect from the standby Reds boss dubbed a “fantastic person and fantastic coach” by Klopp?
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Born in Broekhuizen, the Netherlands, the 38-year-old is in his second spell at Liverpool after beginning life as a coach with PSV Eindhoven at youth level.
Having been assistant to Vitor Baia and Andre Villas-Boas in eight years at Porto, Ljinders joined Brendan Rodgers ‘ staff in 2014.
Soon enough, Rodgers was sacked and Klopp inherited the Dutchman.
Midway through the 2017-18 season, however, he accepted the job as NEC Nijmegen manager with the aim of taking the club up to the Eredivisie.
After failing to do so, Lijnders was given his marching orders and returned to Merseyside within a month following the sudden departure of Klopp’s former No.2, Zeljko Buvac, helping the Reds win the Champions League in his first term back at Anfield.
“We sent him away for half a year to get very important experience and to have him back now feels just fantastic,” Klopp revealed after Lijnders made his return.
“When he came in the building, everybody was really delighted about that and was really happy about it.
“He’s a fantastic person and a fantastic coach, so it’s really important that we have him back and I’m really looking forward to working together with him.”
In a 2019 interview with the Guardian, fans were given an insight into Ljinders’ role at the club from the horse’s mouth.
“Jurgen is the leader and face of the team, the one who defines the character and who stimulates everyone,” he began, lifting the lid on how the magic is spread around on the training pitch.
“Pete [Peter Krawietz] is responsible for the analysis and prepares everything in regards to videos which are shown to the players. I’m responsible for the training process.”
Lijnders added: “We as staff always try to find ways so the players can be more spontaneous and more creative.”
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One of the coach’s core principles from a footballing standpoint is counterpressing, an approach favoured by the likes of Klopp, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel and Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
But Lijnders, a guru when it comes to the tactics which have made Liverpool so exciting to watch in recent years, also knows the importance of off-the-pitch factors which contribute to success.
“Counterpressing is only possible when you are together at all times,” he affirmed.
“People say Liverpool are good at this or at that but I always say the main thing we are good at is that we are always together.”
Given that Lijnders was around before Klopp’s arrival, supporters may be interested to know what he makes of the main man and why his impact mirrors a managerial icon.
“He gave Liverpool an identity again,” Lijnders told the club’s website to celebration Klopp’s sixth anniversary in October.
“For me, Jürgen is like what Johan [Cruyff] was for Barcelona, he is creating something that goes beyond years.
“Long may it continue. But years in football isn’t important for us coaches and players; it’s about the next game, the next session, the next final.
“It’s about today. This is a hungry LFC team, confident and knows what it wants. Jürgen leads and corrects.
“It’s a beautiful time to be a Liverpool supporter. Cherish it. Make it loud.”
Those same fans are open to the idea of Lijnders succeeding Klopp at the helm when the times comes, although the Dutch coach poured cold water on speculation in December 2021.
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Having confirmed he would still like to be a manager in the future, Ljinders noted: “This is not the time to speak about these things, because I have a contract to 2024, and we are in the middle of this project this beautiful project.
“When the time comes I will sit down with my management and I will see the options I have, and after that we will decide. So. Definitely, that’s the plan.”
He would certainly have Klopp’s blessing, with the ex- Borussia Dortmund manager stating in 2017 : “Pep has become unbelievably important in a short time because he writes everything down.
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“He is also part of ‘the brain’ because he is our mind to remember the things what we did in previous sessions.
“He brings us the next coaching generation. We are not old but we are already that long in the business, so it’s normal that you have routines, you use them and they are good.
“We try to stay open all the time, but with Pep he is our connecting point to the present and the future, so that’s really, really important.”
If Lijnders is anywhere close to as good as the Premier League’s other Pep, the Reds have a gem on their hands.
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