Liverpool manager knows his side can salvage something this season with defence improving before Champions League tie
Diogo Jota, who scored twice at the weekend against Arsenal, fronts up Liverpool’s last training session before facing Real Madrid. Photograph: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Getty Images
The Guardian- Andy Hunter
Jürgen Klopp was referring to the contrast in temperatures between a chilly Liverpool and a balmy Madrid but his words were equally applicable to his team’s attempt to polish a trying season with more Champions League glory. “We do it the hard way,” the Liverpool manager said on arrival in Spain, where he had no use for the gilet he brought on the flight over. The hard way often suits.
Suddenly, somehow, salvation is within reach for Liverpool but there are no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve, not least with the 13-time champions of Europe standing in their path in the quarter-finals. A team without a win at Anfield in 2021 and seemingly out of the race for Champions League qualification via the domestic route a few weeks ago stands four games from a third final appearance in four seasons.
Determination to deliver in Europe has increased as a result of Premier League troubles, Mohamed Salah told Marca last week. His manager did not go that far, but he is clearly relishing the opportunity that has opened up in the business end of a season that has stretched patience and resources to the limit.
“I’m not so determined to show the world how good we are or whatever. I want to show our fans that we are still fighting,” said Klopp. “That is much more important to me. If people think because we don’t play a good season I am a worse manager then I don’t like that but I don’t care to be honest. We had some problems that you know about, but it’s not about that.
“We want to get whatever is possible out of this season. We’ve said it a lot of times – until a specific moment in a season you create a basis and then there is the finishing part of the season. We are in that. Recently we have created a better basis than we have done this year but we are still in a fight and all of a sudden for the Champions League spots as well.
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“I gave an interview after the Leipzig game to Lothar Matthäus in Germany and I honestly thought it doesn’t look really likely there is any chance for us to qualify for the Champions League through the league, and then all of a sudden we are two points behind. So of course that is possible with the number of games we have even when we have a tough programme.
“Things are really in the flow and we have to keep contact with that. We have to chase the teams ahead of us and we have to chase Real Madrid tomorrow. They are in a very good moment – yes, Ramos is injured and Carvajal is not there – but they are a really good team in a really good moment and very experienced. If somebody knows how to win the Champions League then it is Real Madrid obviously, and we are the opponent. I think we should give it a proper try.”
Klopp claimed revenge will not be on Liverpool’s mind when they confront the Spanish champions for the first time since the 2018 Champions League final but some memories will be useful. How well Liverpool fared in the opening 25 minutes in Ukraine with Mohamed Salah on the pitch, for example. Seven of the Liverpool team that started in Kyiv will be involved tonight – it would have been nine but for injuries to Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk – while nine of Real’s victorious squad could feature.
As the Liverpool manager explained: “With Mo we were good in the game, and after that we were not that good any more and Real started dominating. Actually our team is built for these kind of games. We face a football-playing side which is very helpful for football in general but for our kind of defending as well. That’s why we have a chance. Since then a lot of things happened but we feel good in our situation.”
A marked improvement in defence has helped bolster the positivity. Liverpool have kept a clean sheet in six of eight Champions League matches this season and have not conceded once in four consecutive away wins. Another shut-out at Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano would make it five away games without conceding for the first time since April 1985. The stability provided by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Nat Phillips, Ozan Kabak and Andy Robertson has arrived just in time.
“It is a reason but it is not the only reason,” said Klopp on finally being able to select a settled back line. “It helps massively if you play longer together and work longer together, but as I said after the Arsenal game it was very important that the whole line-up defended with big determination.
“It was everything you need. Closing the right spaces, everyone felt responsible. That makes a difference and tomorrow will be a proper test for that because the opponent asks for defensive organisation. We have to show we are on the right path.”