Jurgen Klopp believes seven months of evolution since his arrival has turned around Liverpool’s season and set them up for a pivotal Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal.
Liverpool have battled inconsistency since Klopp’s appointment as they adjust to his methods, but he reckons they have the quality required to reach the final, despite carrying a 1-0 deficit from the first leg “In October, Liverpool changed their manager. That’s not the sign of a perfect situation,” said the German, who replaced Brendan Rodgers seven months ago.
“Something went wrong before then. After the change we didn’t change everything immediately, we developed.
“We still had problems — injuries. We played sometimes really good, sometimes not that good, but only two really bad games — Watford and Swansea.
“This team has built consistency step by step, this good shape and good moment we should use.
“These players gave me a lot of positive signs about their qualities and quality is always potential plus talent plus attitude. That is really good. If we play our best, we can go to the final.”
Klopp has been boosted by the ahead-of-schedule return of midfielder Emre Can from ankle ligament damage, although captain Jordan Henderson remains out with a knee injury.
Liverpool got to this stage with a remarkable come-from-behind 4-3 win over Klopp’s former employers Borussia Dortmund.
The victory has already gone down in Anfield folklore, given the atmosphere before and during the match, and, with expectations sky-high about a repeat performance, Klopp urged his players to embrace those feelings.
“I have not enough words for this. To be honest, it is one of the things in life you cannot buy. It is most special,” he said of the fans’ support.
“Everyone will be watching on television, listening on radio or following on the internet.
“To know about this is absolutely no pressure; it is only the 11 starters, the boys on the bench plus boys in training plus the staff who will do everything.”
Villarreal’s wild celebrations at their last-minute winner in the first leg left a mark on Klopp, but he insists it does not give him extra incentive.
“They scored a goal in the last minute so if they hadn’t celebrated something would have been really wrong,” he said.
Defender Dejan Lovren has credited manager Klopp with changing the mindset at Liverpool, since replacing Brendan Rodgers in mid-October.
“Jurgen is a big manager,” said the Croatian. “He a positive man and he brings the positive energy to the club.
“Everyone knows that. Like he said in the beginning, [he wants to turn people] from doubters to believers.
“I believe in our team. We have shown so many times this season we can play when we are 1-0 or 2-0 down.
“We need to believe in ourselves and if we do that, we can get to the final.”
Meanwhile, Villarreal manager Marcelino tried to ramp up the pressure on Liverpool by claiming striker Christian Benteke cost as much as the Spanish club’s turnover last season.
“Liverpool have an extraordinary squad of footballers when you consider Benteke cost €50m (he actually cost €40m), which equates to the whole turnover of Villarreal as a club,” he said.
“This is an occasion to be celebrated. In no way whatsoever will we be affected negatively by the atmosphere, if anything we will be affected positively and galvanised by it.
“We will suffer at moments in the game, we will find it tough but we can cause them trouble. The game will be decided by the team who are more assured at key moments in the game.”
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