Jurgen Klopp has put on his serious face to ensure Liverpool do not blow their season at the end but insists the pressure has not intensified due to the absence of his long-time No 2 Zeljko Buvac.
Liverpool have lost both of their matches since it was announced that Buvac — who has worked with Klopp for 17 years — would miss the rest of the season for ‘personal reasons’ amid speculation linking him with Arsenal.
Klopp’s side need a point against Brighton at Anfield to guarantee a top-four finish but defeat on Sunday afternoon, and against Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 26, could see the club miss out on playing in Europe’s top competition next season.
Jurgen Klopp has urged Liverpool’s players to hold their nerve and seal fourth place on Sunday
Despite collecting only two points out of the last nine — draws at West Brom and at home against Stoke City, both since relegated — Klopp insists he is not struggling to shoulder more responsibility in Buvac’s absence.
‘No, not a bit,’ said the German. ‘I have a lot of people around me, Peter Krawietz (assistant coach), Andreas Kornmayer’s (fitness and conditioning) team. I’m not alone, no one needs to worry about that.’
Yet, Klopp’s uncharacteristically terse demeanour in the build-up to Brighton’s visit seems to be born out of a fear that Liverpool fans might think the game a mere warm-up for facing Real Madrid in Kiev, when the reality is a shock defeat would open the door for Chelsea, who could claim fourth place by winning at Newcastle.
Klopp’s side can secure the final Champions League place by avoiding defeat against Brighton
‘On Thursday at our LFC awards, a lot of people wished me luck for the 26th, only two or three people said ‘Good luck on Sunday’,’ Klopp noted. ‘But on Sunday, we have to deliver again, all of us. It is not a farewell (for Kiev), it is proper competition against a strong group.
‘The season has been quite a joyride so far but very intense as well. We are still in that. Only two games left, but it feels like we are still in the middle of the season.
‘I have not a lot of skills but I am used to being fully concentrated on the next step because otherwise I learned you fall on your face, and I don’t do that very often.’
Though the details have yet to be finalised, Klopp is planning to take his squad to Spain next week in an attempt to strike a balance between training and relaxation before returning to Merseyside for a further week’s more intense preparation for facing Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
The Liverpool manager will not disregard his side’s final league game of the season
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He added: ‘There will hopefully be moments when the boys can relax, which is what they deserve and need. We will do training but not two or three times a day. It’s time to recharge the batteries.’
At least Klopp has a fortnight to prepare rather than the one week break at Borussia Dortmund before they lost the 2013 final 2-1 against Bayern Munich at Wembley.
For Liverpool to lose their last two matches would seem unjust, given the joy they have provided in the 54 fixtures played so far.
In an incredible season, Klopp has nurtured the Premier League’s leading scorer and Footballer of the Year, Mohamed Salah, and broken the world transfer record for a defender, £75million Virgil van Dijk. Local teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold has risen from anonymity to feature on the main BBC News thanks to Klopp’s guidance.
Manchester City’s record-breaking manager Pep Guardiola is among those prepared to pay tribute to Liverpool as they get ready to represent England in Kiev.
‘Jurgen is an excellent manager, always positive, creating good environments at his clubs,’ he said. ‘I have worked with Ilkay Gundogan and Robert Lewandowski, who were at Dortmund with him. They speak so well about him, as a manager, as a human being.
‘It doesn’t matter what happens, they want to try and attack. The way they attack and defend is a little bit different to us but we both want to try and win the game for ourselves, not wait to see what happens.’
The German urged ‘we have to deliver again’ as he sought to keep his squad focused
Guardiola regards Liverpool as having been one of City’s main challengers this season, even though Klopp’s side will gain fewer points than the last campaign when they finished fourth with 76. Klopp puts it down to their European involvement.
‘We would have more points if we had been knocked out of the Champions League,’ he maintained. ‘We have improved from last season.’
While Salah travelled by private plane to London to collect his prestigious Football Writers’ Association award, goalkeeper Loris Karius was speaking at Liverpool’s club awards and seemed to have taken Klopp’s message not to take Chris Hughton’s Brighton for granted.
Mohamed Salah has his eye on more glory after picking up the Football Writers’ award
‘Of course, everyone is talking about the final but we have to focus on them because we want to make sure we are in the Champions League again next season,’ he said.
‘From Monday, everyone will be thinking about the final every day. I’m very excited about it — it’s what you go into football for.
‘And we feel confident we can win. Real Madrid will be tough opponents because they’re chasing the trophy for the third successive season. But we’ll give it everything we’ve got.’
Karius said the 3-0 victory against City in the quarter-final first leg at Anfield was the moment when Liverpool truly believed they could win a sixth European Cup. It was also the night when Salah probably eclipsed City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne as the stand-out player in England.
‘You could see in pre-season what he was capable of but no one expected him to produce what he’s done,’ said Karius.
One more goal today against Brighton would see Salah become the highest scorer in a 38-game Premier League season, passing Alan Shearer, Ronaldo and Luis Suarez, with whom the Egyptian is level on 31 goals.
The PFA Player of the Year is one goal short of the highest Premier League goal tally