Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side are genuine contenders in Europe and admits it may be their best route back into the Champions League.
The Reds are nine points adrift of qualification domestically and, while they are still eight matches away from even reaching the Europa League final, the prospect of using this route to rejoin the continent’s elite is one the German is considering.
“A few teams in the world can think about winning the Europa League and I think we are one of these teams,” he said on his return to his homeland to face Augsburg.
“We don’t have to say ‘We have no chance’ but if you look at the teams in the competition now it is like a little Champions League.
“Sometimes you can look at winning a cup as the shortest way to get somewhere but for sure the Europa League is not the shortest way to get to the Champions League, it is a really hard race.
“The chance to qualify for the Champions League makes it more interesting, ask Sevilla (Europa League winners four times in the last 10 years) who would have qualified many times with this rule.
“We are in the last 32. We can see the line but I cannot say now, ‘This is our only chance of being in the Champions League’. It’s a chance.
“How many points in the league are we away from the Champions League? I think it is nine. So, yeah, at this moment I would say we have a better chance this way at the moment.
“Maybe the top four clubs will have a crisis but we have to solve our own problems.
“We have to be at the highest motivation for the game without thinking about the last moment and knowing the possibility.”
After a hectic period in January, Klopp has the luxury of being able to just focus on the Europa League for the next week as his side are not involved in the FA Cup at the weekend and injury problems are starting to ease.
That increases the likelihood of him naming a strong side to face Augsburg, who are struggling in the Bundesliga.
“We haven’t been able to pick a consistent team so far for different reasons,” Klopp added.
“If you have a pre-season and no injuries then you can play a lot of times with a similar if not the same team - the biggest teams in the world are doing this.
“I don’t want to compare ourselves with Barcelona but three of these players (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar) play all of the time.
“Listen, we played Sunday and we play Thursday, that’s a good gap, enough time to recover no problem. It’s nothing.
“We then play Thursday-Thursday, so no problems again. We then have a big final (Capital One Cup on the Sunday).
“Before a final you don’t have to think about anything because you don’t need to be recovered. You could play the final on Friday!”
Klopp was asked whether his presence on the touchline would provide extra motivation for Augsburg to spoil the return of their fellow countryman.
“If I wasn’t here and Augsburg play against Liverpool it is still the biggest game in their history,” he added.
“I don’t think there is extra motivation because I am there but it is a special situation because it’s Europa League and it’s a small club that can earn a lot of money.”
Augsburg may be struggling towards the bottom of the Bundesliga but they will not be underestimated by the Liverpool manager.
“It is not too easy, Bundesliga clubs are never easy to play and especially a club like Augsburg who are a special story in Germany,” he said.
“One of the most famous German footballers played there — Bernd Schuster — but it took them a long time to come back to the Bundesliga.
“Now they are there with a really good manager, Markus Weinzierl, who is one of the highest-rated managers in Germany at this moment and a lot of clubs are thinking about him.
“Their manager said it would be better for them if Liverpool had another (non-German) manager because they would never have been to Augsburg.
“I know a lot more about Augsburg, I’ve played a lot of times against them and that makes the preparation easier but that is all.
“In the end, they will fight for everything. If it is the biggest game in their history you can imagine how ready they are for this game.
“They have players with big potential and have one of the most physical strikers in Europe — Raul Bobadilla — who you need a navigation system to drive around!
“He is a real worker and difficult to defend (against).”
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