You just had to see the way Quique Sanchez Flores, minus any obligatory headphones adorned by so many players, stopped at regular intervals in the corridor en route to the dressing room at Villa Park to discover what a student of the game he is. He knows his history as well as his onions and wanted to fully immerse himself in the club whose stadium he was about to send his team out in.
Sanchez Flores does not need a tour around Anfield to be told just how steeped in tradition today’s opponents are.
“When I was Real Madrid we used to watch this amazing team on the TV in the hotel,” he said. “They had high ball possession and I remember thinking, ‘Wow’ at the level of this team that had Souness and Dalglish. I have a lot of memories of Barnes. What an amazing player.”
It is fanciful to think how Sanchez Flores, a redoubtable right-back capped by Spain, would have coped with the marauding Barnes had they gone head-to-head in their playing days.
“I admire Barnes a lot,” said Watford’s head coach. “If he was 20 years younger I’d love to be training him at Watford.”
It is a surprise when you discover this will be the first time Sanchez Flores and Jurgen Klopp have pitted their wits against each other, given the lofty European status of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Borussia Dortmund. Sanchez Flores will warmly embrace the charismatic German in the technical area before the game but, from then on, he wants it to be all about the players.
“I am completely focused on the players,” he said. “I am not thinking about coaching against Klopp. I am thinking about [Adam] Lallana, about [James] Milner and Emre Can. This is what I need to think about – not the thoughts of Klopp. He is a very positive manager, he is funny, he doesn’t look under pressure, he is positive and he’s educated. He is always thinking about how to score more goals.”
Sanchez Flores has noted how the Reds switch between 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 and he, along with Dean Austin, will pore over the Liverpool team sheet at 12.15pm before giving his last instructions to the players. Victory would move the Hornets to within one point of Manchester United.
“Everything is possible,” he said when asked about the prospect of European football next season. “We have won two consecutive matches three times during the season. Now it is three [consecutive games]. Now we aim to make it four. I love it, it’s a new challenge. We have to be ambitious. We are doing something well but we must keep humble and it is very important to accept we maybe have other challenge.”