Liverpool’s headman Jurgen Klopp expects a ton from the guys this year accord to The Guardians Andy Hunter.
“Liverpool’s manager knows that after a summer of lavish spending the club needs to start winning trophies
You probably won’t like this question,” Jürgen Klopp is forewarned. There is usually no “probably” about it. Usually any question that looks beyond the next game or requires a prediction from the Liverpool manager prompts a disappointed frown and curt reply but this time is different. This time Klopp accepts it must be different. The question, of course, is whether Liverpool have to end this season not only with progress, positivity and memories of some genuinely thrilling performances but with the first silverware of his Anfield reign? “You are right and people will say that,” he admits. “It is the next step.”
There is expectation on Liverpool every summer, as there should be. Questions about that elusive Premier League title are an annual feature of pre-season. This summer they carry greater weight. Having rebuilt expectation over the course of his three seasons as Liverpool manager, and invested over £170m on new talent ahead of the fourth, Klopp cannot and does not shy away from the demand that has intensified on him and his players. There is no frown as Klopp elaborates at length on the aims for a campaign that he is relishing.
“It would be the next step and we need to be ready for that,” he continues. “I cannot give guarantees here but I understand if people think that. I know about the expectations and that is completely normal. First of all we have to play the football that gives us an opportunity to win something. We cannot talk about winning something before we start the season. Football is not like cycling so we have lost a lot of things. The other day I put on a session and had to stop it and start again. I was: ‘Four players, one row, that’s how we defend.’ It’s not that the boys wanted to do it a different way but there’s a big change at this moment – new players coming in from another club, players in after a long time out; you are starting new more or less. When you have the complete team together you can build on the basis a little bit more. I am confident we can build on last season. It’s not that we lost things completely but you have to work on it to get it back. The football the boys played last year was not easy. There was a lot of work invested into playing like that. That’s what we will do again. I am not in doubt about our basis or that we will reach it again. I want to have the best start ever but we all know that something can happen and then everything is questioned in a second. I don’t want to prepare anyone for a bad start because I don’t want to have one but it is possible, I cannot ignore that completely.
“I am in for the start of a third season and in each season there was one period when people questioned me or our progress. In the end it was OK. I am prepared for these moments. I don’t want to have them but I don’t go nuts in these moments. We need to work with the different situations of the players. The new players will make us stronger 100%. How? By starting, coming from the bench, the depth of the squad, whatever. We will see that but it does not happen on the first day.
“This week we play [Manchester] City and United and, if you win, people say: ‘Fantastic!’ and, if you lose, people say: ‘Wow, what did they do in pre-season?’ So it is all about staying calm, looking at the situation, judging it right and then make the step. I am confident and we will be confident but in pre-season you cannot really get the squad you want because they are not together and we will not go with 40 players next year. At some point we need to have the group that we will work with for the next year.”
Optimism would be rife at Anfield even without a successful transfer window that has seen Liverpool strengthen in key areas at considerable expense. The Brazil international Alisson, signed for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £65m, Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri have all been bought for more money than Klopp spent in his seven years at Borussia Dortmund. Liverpool opened their pre-season tour of the United States with a 3-1 defeat by the German’s former club in Charlotte on Sunday, once again fielding a team that will be unrecognisable from the side that starts the Premier League opener against West Ham United, and face City in New Jersey on Wednesday and United in Michigan on Saturday.
Liverpool’s belief is built on more than lavish spending. Last season’s exhilarating run to the Champions League final, Mohamed Salah’s record-breaking debut campaign of 44 goals and a defence bolstered by the £75m signing of Virgil van Dijk, plus the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and blossoming of Andy Robertson, are significant factors.
An unbeaten home league record last season and scoring four or more goals in 14 matches – the most in 121 years – provide more. Now, with midfield options multiplied and the long-running, costly goalkeeping problem acknowledged, expectation carries a demand. Klopp accepts that means silverware, although insists progress is measured in various ways.
“More can be that we have more points or where we would be in the table, I have no clue,” says the Liverpool manager. “More could be that we play more often our best football, though we have no influence on how the other teams play against each other. Other teams, of course, will do transfer business as well. They will not be weaker than last year. City brought in Mahrez. I did not hear that they lost one player so far. So it means the quality of last year plus Mahrez. That’s a nice plan as well. United will go for it too and that’s completely normal. We expect more from ourselves. We will go again for the championship and each kind of cup but that does not mean I can sit here and say we will get it. We have the highest ambitions, 100%.”
Despite ending City’s unbeaten league sequence and swatting them aside 5-1 on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-final the reality, one that cuts into the feelgood factor at Anfield, is that Liverpool finished 25 points behind Pep Guardiola’s champions last season. They also took one point fewer than in 2016-17 as Klopp navigated a route to Kiev while unable to rotate his midfield due to several injuries. Liverpool also finished behind Tottenham Hotspur and United despite losing two games fewer than both. Twelve draws, compared with United’s six and Spurs’ eight, represent an obvious area for improvement.
“It is, of course, consistency,” claims Klopp, when asked how Liverpool take that next step and bridge the gap with City. “It is not just that we have to be more consistent, we have to create circumstances where we can be more consistent. Nobody is consistent with 11 players. What we are working on is the depth of the squad because you need it. The first part of last season when we did the rotation and we were quite active with it, I think we did six or seven changes from one game or the other, we still had quality on the pitch that felt perfect. As long as you could do that it was really good. We need to make sure we can do that much longer over the season and that is only possible if you have the squad.
“I really loved having Curtis Jones, [Rafael] Camacho and Ben Woodburn around at the last part of the season but it wouldn’t have been fair to throw them in and expect them to do something when it is too important.”
City’s flying start to last season put them in effect beyond Liverpool’s reach before Klopp’s team found their rhythm. The Liverpool manager believes the World Cup, and the involvement until the latter stages of several players from his club, City, Spurs and United, could hinder a repeat by any of the title contenders.
“The first games are absolutely important,” he says. “I don’t ask for an easy way. I think City had more players in the semis than we had, Tottenham for sure, so it’s not that we have the biggest problems. But it’s not like the good old times when you had your squad for six weeks in pre-season and spent one week team-building by going to a forest in Sweden with nothing to eat, like I did when I was young. That’s not possible any more.
“We are used to these circumstances. We have West Ham and Crystal Palace to start with and that’s tough enough. I don’t know how many players West Ham had at the World Cup but they are signing player after player and they will be a new team for sure. It’s a tough start, as the Premier League always is, but I am fine with that.”