Daily Mail


Liverpool boss primed for toughest of European tasks

- By DOMINIC KING @DominicKin­g_DM

JURGEn KlOPP smiled and followed it with a theatrical ‘wow!’ as he grappled with the last question of his media duties which was, in a nutshell, ‘how formidable is this challenge?’

liverpool’s quest to win a seventh European Cup begins tonight against AC Milan, one of only two clubs who have lifted the trophy more than them. After that, there will be trips to iberia to meet Porto and Atletico Madrid — who are to liverpool what kryptonite is to Superman.

Klopp burst out laughing when he watched the draw being made at the end of August and saw who liverpool would face and nothing he has seen in the time since has convinced him that his gut feeling was wrong.

The Champions league group stage can often be a charmless affair, a sequence of matches in which results are foregone conclusion­s, but not this time.

Klopp could not have been any clearer as he spelt out precisely what awaits this autumn. One false move, he warned, will have huge consequenc­es.

‘This is the strongest group we have had since i’ve been at liverpool, no doubt about that,’ said Klopp. ‘in 2013 at Borussia Dortmund, we had a real “Champions league” group as well. We had Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax — a proper group! People said, “How will we get through?”

‘What does it do for the competitio­n? it kicks out two really good teams, it will deliver one really strong team into the Europa league, that’s for sure! i never understand when people talk about changes to the Champions league.

‘i like it how it is, and this group obviously shows that there are no games where people think, “Do i really want to watch that?” This group will be exciting from the first second to the last second. nothing will be decided early. That keeps us on our toes.’

They will need to be. This is when the season takes on a greater pace for those teams who have the extra challenge of Europe and it is not lost on Klopp that there is no possibilit­y for easing up, particular­ly with Premier league assignment­s against the Manchester clubs in the not too distant future.

‘But it is exactly what we wanted,’ said Klopp, whose side only made certain of their place in the Champions league on the final day of last season. ‘We play Milan, Atletico, Porto, unbelievab­le stadiums, great crowds, passionate fan base.

‘Porto, they are usually champion or second in Portugal — a top, top team. AC Milan, big history and in their best moment for years. So that’s proper Champions league. it’s exactly how we like football, and now we’ve got it, so let’s deal with it.’

Remarkably, given the pedigree of the two clubs on show this evening, this is the first time liverpool have hosted Milan, their only previous meetings coming in the finals of 2005 — the story of which has been told many times over — and 2007. The last time they played each other was in a pre-season friendly in 2016, during Klopp’s first summer in charge.

liverpool made short work of Milan that night in California, winning 2-0 at the home of the San Francisco 49ers, but there won’t be any such formality now.

it is a fixture laced with intrigue and symbolism and, for Klopp, Milan will always conjure memories of the formidable side of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The German was inspired by Arrigo Sacchi, the man who mastermind­ed Milan’s wonderful successes of that era.

‘We are in contact from time to time,’ revealed Klopp. ‘Mr Sacchi has my number, and he used it from time to time. i obviously reply, but i don’t want to bother him with questions. i would never do that. He’s not only one of the best managers ever, he’s a very nice person on top of that. He was one of the most influentia­l managers for me, and for the way i like football, because he organised the pitch in a different way with the formation he chose.

‘The most influentia­l manager i had, Wolfgang Frank, was pretty much obsessed with this way of playing. That helped me a lot.’

What will help tonight is a flying start and Klopp was in a significan­tly better state of mind as he dissected this game than he had been at leeds on Sunday when Harvey Elliott suffered a serious injury to his left ankle.

Klopp has spoken to the 18-yearold, who had surgery in london yesterday and is now on the long road back to fitness.

‘Harvey knows that we are here for him whenever he needs us,’ said goalkeeper Alisson.

‘We are a real unit as a team. We celebrate together, and when an important player gets injured we are injured together for him.

‘Everybody needs to be ready for their time, even the players who are not playing so much so far. They need to be in good shape because we will need everyone in the long term.’

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Line of duty: Salah leads the way in training yesterday
GETTY IMAGES Line of duty: Salah leads the way in training yesterday
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