KLOPP LOVING THE HEAT
Derby pressure can be an opportunity, says Liverpool boss
IT’S that day again. Twice a season it comes around, fraying nerves and inducing tension. It’s the one they all want to win but, critically, it’s the fixture you dare not lose.
This is part of the logic of the Merseyside derby. Winning is glorious but the fear of failure is almost even more intense, particularly when one team has something significant to lose. It is this position in which Liverpool find themselves.
As they head into the final stretch, Jurgen Klopp has his side well placed to attack the last nine games and their pre- season objective of Champions League qualification is within touching distance. This is the time to show composure.
That, however, is easier said than done when the neighbours are coming round. Everton, resurgent in 2017 under Ronald Koeman, will visit intent on taking a wrecking ball to Liverpool’s ambitions and registering their first win at Anfield since September 1999.
‘We are ready for them, it doesn’t matter,’ said Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles. ‘We are positive and we want to win. We need to kill them, that’s it. We are positive. The last game (in December) or 1999 doesn’t matter. We are ready for the game.’
It is the kind of scenario that would have left veterans of this squabble unable to sleep the night before kick-off due to anxiety but, to see him at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground yesterday, there was no chance of Klopp succumbing to nerves.
‘It isn’t pressure,’ said Klopp, who roared with laughter when asked if he could relax before games of this significance. ‘This is an opportunity. I know what happens around here and all those things. But what I learned is that it helps a lot if you don’t think too much about the pressure in games like this.
‘We all know how important it is for everybody. The pressure is always there but that is a normal part of life. I really see it as an opportunity, so I go into a game like this feeling really positive.
‘If I created an atmosphere in the team with the feeling I couldn’t sleep, maybe it would affect one of the players and that would be much worse than me not sleeping. Think about it for as long as makes sense and then stop, relax and prepare the power you need to win.’
Preparations for both sides, however, have been wretched. Both Klopp and Koeman raised the idea yesterday that international friendlies should be abolished, having seen so many players who would have been central to this plot succumb to injury in the last fortnight.
Everton will be without Morgan Schneiderlin, who has a calf injury and has also been ruled out of next Tuesday’s trip to his old club Manchester United.
Klopp does not blame England manager Gareth Southgate for the thigh issue that has cost him Adam Lallana and the pair spoke on Wednesday. Lallana is crucial to making Liverpool’s gameplan work but so, too, is Roberto Firmino, who has returned from Brazil in fine shape.
‘Tite (Brazil’s head coach) likes the way we play,’ said Klopp. ‘We have had a few conversations, not with him personally because we have language issues. ssues. But ut theret e e is s a guy on his staff who speaks English and we had a lot of contact.
‘He likes the way we play and, while I’m not 100 per cent sure, I think Tite wants to do something similar with Brazil. Roberto didn’t score for Brazil, , but he created d nearly all their r chances. It iss unbelievable. You think, “How did they have that much space e in the box?”
‘It was Roberto to all over the pitch.h. He did a really ly good job. When nII saw the Brazilian an players I thought ht they would actuallyll lookl k tired,ti dbtbut they weren’t. There was a really big smile on their face. It was a big thing to be already through to the World Cup from a difficult qualifying group.’
Firmino will have a huge role to play, to drag Everton’s defence this way and that and make the space that Klopp hopes will end up with Liverpool taking the opportunities and improving their hopes of cementing a top-four spot.
But that is no foregone conclusion. Everton, after all, make the short trip in a different frame of mind from many previous visits this century. The club are moving forward, with ambitions to build a new stadium on the waterfront taking shape and a manager who does not accept second best.
‘It’s a new season, a new game, a new manager for Everton,’ said Koeman. In an apparent dig at his predecessor Roberto Martinez, Koeman added: ‘I heard a little bit about the last two seasons of Everton — that maybe they were too afraid to play against Liverpool. I don’t know why you need to be afraid of playing against Liverpool. I don’t understand that.
‘The team is stronger and has a different mentality, more aggression. Now we need to show it.’