Austrian champions arrive in dazzling scoring form but German is confident a ‘European reunion’ will buoy his Liverpool side
Anfield hosts its 100th game at the elite level of European competition on Wednesday and Jürgen Klopp envisages a wild one. He also expects RB Salzburg to discover why, as Barcelona and many others can testify, Liverpool represent “the most uncomfortable opponent you can face”.
Klopp mentioned Barcelona without prompting as he savoured the prospect of Liverpool’s first home game in the Champions League since that unforgettable semi-final second leg on 7 May. The soon-to-be European champions turned Anfield wild that night by making the seemingly impossible possible. Salzburg’s visit may be tame in comparison but the arrival of the free-scoring Austrian champions promises to create another frenzied occasion.
Jesse Marsch’s team have averaged over 4.5 goals per game this season – a remarkable 55 in 12 games – and possess one of the most promising young strikers in Europe in Erling Braut Haaland, who has missed their last two matches through illness. But they have not faced a rearguard containing the best defender in the world, as Klopp described Virgil van Dijk on Tuesday, nor an opponent with the intensity of Liverpool at Anfield. “With our home ground,” the Liverpool manager said, “we can do a few things that not everyone else on the planet can do.”
Of Salzburg, who opened their Champions League campaign with a 6-2 defeat of Genk, Klopp said: “They remind me of what I did years ago at Mainz, a clear 4-4-2 and you make life pretty uncomfortable for each opponent. If any team thought: ‘It’s [only] Mainz,’ we were there. But we don’t think that. Not at all. We are not like this.
“With the system they play it is possible to cause each team in the world problems. They played in pre-season against Madrid and lost but I am sure Madrid were surprised. They played Chelsea and Chelsea won but it was like: ‘Wow.’ They are really intense, it will be intense, and it will be wild in moments. I could talk for two hours on what they do well but what is really important is that they never played us. For me that is the most important message, and what they hopefully think about as well when they go to bed tonight is that it is Anfield and it is us.
“We respect each opponent. That is in our DNA. When you come here we respect you and we show that with our attitude and the effort we put in the game. We are the most uncomfortable opponent you can face if we are spot on. We don’t want to play against their 4-4-2 with this pressing idea and thinking we can outplay them with a pass here and a pass there. It is about physicality as well. It is about the right level of aggressiveness. There will be challenges and we need to be there. We will defend them with all that we have. We want to win this football game.”
Defeat in Naples, on the night Haaland was scoring his fourth hat-trick of the season against Genk, has left Liverpool with the familiar pressure of having to maximise home advantage in the Champions League. Klopp, who is without Joël Matip after the defender suffered a slight knee injury at Sheffield United on Saturday, added: “When you saw the group, before you started thinking about what Salzburg is exactly, you would have thought: ‘Good group – Napoli, Liverpool … and the other two.’ But you go into detail about an opponent and you realise it is impressive what they do.
“But the 6-2 against Genk was not a 6-2. Four counterattacking goals, Genk not that bad for the first half an hour. Just like our 2-0 defeat against Napoli was not a 2-0. The group started two weeks ago and now there is the next game for all of us. Let’s make it as positive as we can because it is the first game since Barcelona that we play at Anfield. It is like a reunion with the European crowd. Okay, we have played Premier League games but these European nights are based on the performances of all of us. I really hope we can create that atmosphere again and see what it is good for.”
Liverpool have two former Salzburg players in Sadio Mané and the fit-again Naby Keïta. Mané admits the reunion will be “a special game for me” but sentiment only runs so far. “I love the city, I still love the club and I will be really happy to meet my ex-teammates,” the Liverpool forward said. “At the same time, I would love to win against them.”