In an uplifting tribute to Ian St John, the latest legend Liverpool have lost, Jürgen Klopp spoke of the almost child-like sense of awe he feels when meeting the old greats who shaped Anfield’s history. “To understand the club you have to meet as many as possible,” he said. “It is one thing what people inside or outside the club tell you, but you get completely different information from the players of the past. They know how it feels when you go out on the pitch and tell you these wonderful old stories. That is the petrol of dreams.”
Klopp and his players have fuelled and fulfilled many of their own at Liverpool, although they know now is not a time to dwell on their achievements. Whether there are more to come in next season’s Champions League depends on the extent of the recovery Liverpool produce this term. Qualification via the domestic route was a forlorn hope until a favourable set of results over the weekend, claimed Klopp. That sounded an exaggeration. Less so his admission that the Premier League champions are in a precarious fight with Chelsea and others to finish in the top four.
The win at Sheffield United on Sunday ended a sequence of four successive league defeats for Liverpool. But they must halt an identical run on home soil, Liverpool’s worst in 98 years, and inflict the first defeat of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea reign on Thursday to restore belief in a fifth consecutive top-four finish. Klopp insists Liverpool’s summer transfer budget is not entirely dependent on qualification for the Champions League, but its financial rewards are arguably more significant than usual given the pandemic’s impact on the football industry.
“The main reason for qualifying for the Champions League is financial and it is a great competition to play in but, for the club, you want to excite some players to join,” the manager said. “In the beginning [of his reign] it was like this. You were sitting there with players who had offers from Champions League clubs and it was like: ‘Sorry, we can offer only nothing or the Europa League.’ But apart from that it is always about finances. This year there is no difference, I would say.
“Yes, it would be very important to qualify but its importance doesn’t change a thing. I would hope people still see that we do our absolute best and try absolutely everything to make it happen but we will see how that will end up. It’s not that the owners called me and said: ‘If you don’t qualify for the Champions League then this or that will happen.’ We are all in this situation together and we all understand the situation. They know that we try absolutely everything to qualify for the Champions League again, that’s clear.”
After a damaging spell that has forced Liverpool to lower their domestic sights, Klopp’s team can return to the top four with victory against Chelsea. Everton and West Ham would have games in hand to catch up, although few of those competing for a Champions League place have Liverpool’s experience.
“I think a week ago we were out, now we are around again, so for us the challenge and the job is clear,” Klopp said. “We have to win games, as many as possible, to make it in the top four. We know the quality of Chelsea and they have the same targets. Since I was in England, two years we had a fight with Chelsea to get to the Champions League. But there are other teams: our neighbours [Everton], Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester and maybe [Manchester] United not involved again [if they stay securely in the top places]. For neutrals it is exciting. For Liverpool fans it is exciting maybe not as we want but we will give it a proper try.”
The return of Fabinho and Diogo Jota from injury gives Klopp opportunity to make the changes in personnel and tactics that Liverpool have craved in recent home games. Even without the influential duo, and with Jordan Henderson now sidelined for weeks, there were signs at Bramall Lane of the Liverpool manager tweaking his customary 4-3-3 approach to a 4-2-3-1 with Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcântara sitting as the midfield pair.
Klopp said: “It was about bringing enough players in the creating situation and the finishing situation. That was it. Keep the width, have enough players in between and always be well protected. We had to be dominant in the game, we had to be very flexible. With the back five Sheffield played, all the predictable stuff they defend really well but if you make it unpredictable it is more difficult.
“That is why I liked the first half because the chances we had were exceptional. The chance Bobby [Firmino] had when he was around Sadio [Mané]; for the goals we had enough players in the box. Very often in these kinds of games it ends up you are dominant possession‑wise and a lot of players are involved in creating and not enough in finishing. That is what we tried to change.”