Klopp ad­mits Liver­pool on brink of a mile­stone

Knock­out stage awaits for first time since 2009 Man­ager wants An­field at its ‘best’ for de­ci­sive tie

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Football - Chris Bas­combe Liver­pool v Spar­tak Moscow

Jur­gen Klopp has called on Liver­pool to reach an­other sig­nif­i­cant check­point in the club’s re-emer­gence by reach­ing the knock­out stage of the Cham­pi­ons League.

Not since 2009 have the Merseysiders par­tic­i­pated in the elite com­pe­ti­tion be­yond Christ­mas, a sober­ing re­cent record for a club that es­tab­lished its name with Euro­pean Cup suc­cess.

They must avoid de­feat by Spar­tak Moscow at An­field tonight to es­cape their group. Klopp says that is the least Liver­pool ex­pect when they are in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I am not sure ex­actly when last Liver­pool reached the knock­out. Eight years? A long time,” said Klopp. “You only play the group stage as Liver­pool to come through to the last 16. We all know if we do [that] then we have a chance to reach the next round so first we have to make it. It is a tight group. We had some in­flu­ence on that. We played good games and had good re­sults but not enough points to go through al­ready and now we have to fin­ish the job.

“This is the game. We are only part of the Cham­pi­ons League be­cause we want to go to the next round. It is all or noth­ing. A proper fi­nal. We know about the sit­u­a­tion. They know about the sit­u­a­tion. It is Cham­pi­ons League.

“It is al­ways im­por­tant but the last game of the group stage is most im­por­tant if you have to play for some­thing, which we ob­vi­ously have. It is ex­cit­ing.”

Liver­pool’s progress un­der Klopp – while not swift enough for some harsher crit­ics – is in line with rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions when he took charge just over two years ago.

This is only the third time the club have played in the Cham­pi­ons League since 2009. In 2010, un­der Rafa Ben­itez, and in 2014 un­der Bren­dan Rodgers, they found them­selves dumped into the Europa League.

That is a fate Klopp is des­per­ate to avoid. He com­pared the meet­ing with the Rus­sian side to high pres­sure fix­tures against Mid­dles­brough in the fi­nal game of last sea­son – Liver­pool had to win to fin­ish fourth – and then the qual­i­fy­ing-round vic­tory over Hof­fen­heim in Au­gust.

“We have to show up again,” he said. “There is pres­sure. We can­not ig­nore it. We are go­ing for some­thing big. We had it against Mid­dles­brough and Hof­fen­heim and we did it quite well so far and have to do it again. But Spar­tak is a good side. I can­not ig­nore that.

“They rested three or four play­ers in the last game and still won. You can see. They have one more game and then three months’ break. They have their tar­gets and we have ours. They are bring­ing back three im­por­tant play­ers: Quincy Promes, Ze Luis and De­nis Glushakov. That is a fan­tas­tic side in a good mo­ment.

“If some­one has de­cided we are al­ready through, then Moscow may think of the im­pres­sive win ver­sus Sevilla. I see this as an op­por­tu­nity. I don’t know if I can or­der it, but if I could or­der it this would be a good mo­ment for An­field to be at its best.”

Al­though he is still with­out cen­tre-half Joel Matip be­cause of a thigh in­jury, Rag­nar Kla­van and Joe Gomez are fit again af­ter ill­ness.

Klopp is ex­pected to re­unite his at­tack­ing quar­tet of Philippe Coutinho, Mo­hamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sa­dio Mane af­ter sev­eral games of ro­ta­tion.

Mane said he un­der­stood be­ing rested, and clar­i­fied that a heated dis­cus­sion with his man­ager at the end of the Pre­mier League fix­ture with Chelsea was mis­un­der­stood.

“It was not be­cause I was not play­ing. We have to re­spect this de­ci­sion. The man­ager has to make it,” said Mane. “Hon­estly, I won’t lie. Ev­ery player would love to play ev­ery sin­gle game, ev­ery sin­gle week­end.

“That is our job and we are still young. But we have a good team and I am happy to re­spect the de­ci­sion of the coach. Hon­estly. The team is al­ways more im­por­tant.”

The Sene­gal for­ward be­lieves that if Liver­pool can get through, any­thing is pos­si­ble once the knock­out phase be­gins.

“It is the dream of each player in the world and it is very im­por­tant for us to be in the Cham­pi­ons League,” he said. “The fans de­serve it, the club also. Liver­pool is a big and great club; we want to play a big part in the Cham­pi­ons League. We want to go as far as we can.”

Klopp, mean­while, has apol­o­gised to Brighton man­ager Chris Hughton for de­lay­ing a post-match hand­shake at the end of Satur­day’s 5-1 vic­tory.

There were sug­ges­tions Hughton was un­happy with Klopp’s goal cel­e­bra­tions, but it seems that was not the case. “It was a mis­un­der­stand­ing – noth­ing else. I went to go to Chris to shake his hand and Mo Salah passed my way so I gave him a hug and Chris wasn’t too happy,” said Klopp.

“For one or two times in my life I was dis­re­spect­ful but I would never be in a mo­ment like this dis­re­spect­ful. I can only apol­o­gise, it was not my in­ten­tion.” De­jan Lovren’s goal helped Liver­pool to knock out Borus­sia Dort­mund in the semi-fi­nal of last sea­son’s Europa League.

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