Jurgen Klopp raised eyebrows earlier this month after bringing up Manchester United’s penalty record during a post-match interview after Liverpool lost 1-0 to Southampton.
The Reds boss said: “Man Utd had more penalties in two years than me in five-and-a-half years… but no excuses for tonight.”
That wasn’t quite true. Liverpool had actually won 30 penalties under Klopp, compared to Man Utd’s 27 under Solskjaer.
That said, United *have* been awarded penalties more frequently than Liverpool since Solskjaer became the Red Devils’ manager – initially on a caretaker basis – in December 2018.
But why did Klopp feel the need to mention United? Is he feeling the pressure from the current Premier League leaders?
One man who believes that might be the case is referee Mark Clattenburg.
Writing in The Daily Mail, Clattenburg says Klopp “sounds like a hypocrite” with his suggestion that United’s players look to win penalties.
The English match official pointed to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as two members of the Liverpool squad who do exactly the same.
“So there were a couple of things to take from Klopp’s comments after that game,” Clattenburg wrote. “First, he sounds like a hypocrite if he is suggesting United’s players are looking to win penalties. The likes of Mo Salah and Mane are just as capable of employing similar tactics.
“He is clearly getting edgy, though, because not since Fergie have we seen such a blatant attempt to influence a referee ahead of a big game. Klopp wasn’t doing this last season when Liverpool were winning every week.
“He does not like losing, he never has. He gets prickly. But he is wrong to suggest there is an aura around United that sees them given favourable decisions. There used to be when Fergie was there, but that has eased massively since he left.”
Clattenburg believes Klopp was deliberately attempting to get inside referee Paul Tierney’s head with his comments ahead of Sunday’s huge Premier League fixture at Anfield.
“Jurgen Klopp must be getting worried, because his comments last week about Manchester United and penalties were straight out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s playbook,” he added.
“It was mind games — an attempt to influence referee Paul Tierney and get inside his head before a huge match between Liverpool and United this Sunday.
“Klopp was correct when he said United have won more penalties in two years than Liverpool have in his five and a half at Anfield. He was smart, because his comments could not get him into trouble with the authorities.
“But let’s be clear: there is no conspiracy on the part of referees and officials. Was Klopp insinuating there is? Or was he suggesting United have players who are encouraged to dive?
“If his intention was the former, then I’ve got no time for that. It simply is not true.
“But if he was highlighting the ease with which some United players go down in the penalty area then, yes, I believe he was making a valid point. Even if it does ignore similar suspicions about some of his stars.”
It will be fascinating to see how the match unfolds, especially if Tierney ends up awarding either side a penalty.