Jurgen Klopp confidently made seven changes to his side that triumphed at Burnley to keep Liverpool hot on the heels of Premier League Manchester City — and Xherdan Shaqiri says the reshuffle proves the Reds have an abundance of strength in their squad.
Klopp cited a busy schedule and demands on his players for the changes and his faith in his stars was rewarded as the Anfield giants notched up a 3-1 top-flight win at Turf Moor.
The victory came despite the visitors trailing 1-0 when Jack Cork broke the deadlock. Undeterred by the deficit, Klopp’s men went about their business and recorded the triumph through goals from James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Shaqiri.
And Swiss attacker Shaqiri, when quizzed on whether or not the win shows the quality within the Reds ranks, declared:
“Definitely, it shows the depth. It gave a lot of players confidence to play this game. Obviously, it is not simple for the other players who did not play for a long time so in the first half they needed time to come into the game, but after that we managed it well and you can see we have a very strong team where everyone can play.”
Liverpool, still unbeaten in the Premier League this season following 15 outings, started without Mo Sala, Firmino and Sadio Mane — and Divock Origi was handed his first league start since the end of last season.
And despite keeping tabs on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who lead the table by two points from the Merseysiders, Klopp has been quick to play down the title bid. Following the victory over Sean Dych’e strugglers, Klopp said:
“We fight for results. If somebody tells us we are not as good as Man City – then sorry, most of the teams in the world are not as good as Man City. We still want to win football games, that’s what we want, and we did it again against Burnley.”
Meanwhile, Klopp has lost the service of Joe Gomez for the trip to Bournemouth — and beyond — after he was injured in the game. And Klopp voiced his displeasure at Burnley’s strong-arm tactics. Defender Gomez was taken off on a stretcher and the German coach said:
“I said after the first challenge, I don’t know who did it, sliding tackle from six or seven yards, getting the ball, everybody likes it, I said to the ref ‘it’s no foul but please tell them you cannot do that’.
“But with six or seven yards and then slide, these times are over. They are over. Nobody can judge that type of tackle. You get the ball, nice, but it’s like bowling because you get the player as well.
“It happened four or five times, everybody likes it, but Joe is injured, and probably not only a little bit. We don’t know in the moment, we sent him home so we have to see, but it’s his ankle yes.”
It’s a fact that irks Liverpool fans everywhere. Yes, the Reds have enjoyed a trophy-laden existence with a haul of top honours punctuating an illustrious history. Yet never have the Anfield giants won the Premier League.
And despite having won more silverware than the majority of teams who visit Merseyside, away fans are quick to call into question the lack of a Premier League crown. So, is Jurgen Klopp the man to bring the holy grail to parade before the adoring fans on the Kop?
Well, if Manchester City weren’t in the equation you could probably take a punt on the affirmative and answer an unequivocal “yes”. But the thing is, they are; and they are top, unbeaten and show very few signs of buckling any time soon as the top-flight season unfolds. But, and it is a reasonably-sized “but”, granted, if they do decide to implode and throw away the lead at the summit, Liverpool are really the only credible team poised to pounce. They are, after all, just two points behind Pep Guardiola’s side.
And they did their chances no harm with a spirited 3-1 over Sean Dyche’s Burnley last night in the Premier League at Turf Moor. James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri all hit home for the Reds after the visitors had trailed through Jack Cork’s strike for the home side.
The depth of the squad available to Klopp was evident last night as Naby Keita came back into the fold and delivered a superb performance. And his energetic efforts weren’t lost on Jordan Henderson. Reds skipper Hendo told the club’s official website:
“He started the season brilliantly and obviously then getting an injury set him back a little bit. But you can see how good a player he is.
“That shot with the left foot and the save from Hart was fantastic. In his overall play he is comfortable on the ball and he helps build up play from the back. He drives the ball forward, which is big for us. I thought he was outstanding, along with everybody else really.”
But despite the very close proximity to the leaders, Henderson has been quick to play down talk of a two-horse race for the title.
“We are not really interested in City, to be honest, because there is a long way to go. We know how good they are, we expect them to win. We just expect ourselves to win games and perform to the level that we have been — and if we do that we can keep winning. But we just focus on game by game and it doesn’t really matter about anybody else.
“The games are coming thick and fast, a lot of games in a short space of time but we showed we can use the squad and still perform to the level we know we are capable of and win games – and that’s a big plus for us.”
Liverpool defender Andy Robertson has reminded his team-mates they mustn’t get carried away by the last-ditch win over Everton — with Burnley lying in wait. Much like the anticipation of free online pokies, Robertson is fully aware that the Clarets stand in the way of another vital three points in the Premier League.
The 1-0 defeat of Everton — with Divock Origi netting an amazingly dramatic late, late winner — was the first of eight games for Jurgen Klopp’s side this month. And Sean Dyche’s outfit are the next opponents on Wednesday night at Turf Moor.
And while Robertson is happy to enjoy the celebrations of triumph once more in the Merseyside derby he is fully aware that there is business afoot sooner rather than later. He told LFC’s official website:
“This is the time of the year we all love — fans and players love it. We’ll get ready for another big game; Burnley have had their struggles this season but going to Turf Moor is never easy.
“We’ll enjoy this but we’re fully focused on Burnley because in this league you can’t let anything slip. We’ll go there at 100 per cent and hopefully get another positive result.”
Reds fans packed inside Anfield could barely believe their eyes when the drama unfolded in the 96th minute with the clock ticking down to full-time. Sub Origi proved to be alert enough to score as Jordan Pickford palmed Virgil van Dijk’s attempt into his path.
Robertson, too, admits he was astonished at the grandstand finish. He added:
“He just reacted so quickly. I’m not sure he knew what to do once the ball went in but it was a perfectly good goal and we got the three points.
“We knew we were coming up against a different Everton side. I know the manager well. They played really well. But this team… we just don’t give up. We’ve gone to the end.
“I’m sure there’ll be a few tired bodies but it’s well deserved and it’s all worth it when you go home and you’re sitting with your family with three points in the bag.
“Manchestefr City had the benefit of playing first this week and we knew they had won, so we didn’t want them getting too far in front. We stay right on their tails — another massive win for us.”
Meanwhile, Klopp said the Blues played their part in a pulsating derby and he added that he apologised to the visitors’ boss Marco Silva for running on the pitch to celebrate.
“Immediately after the game I apologised to Marco Silva when we spoke to each other. I told him how much I respect his work, because it’s incredible what he has done with that team. They are just a really outstanding side. Derbies are always difficult games but this was a completely different game to the last few years.”
It may well be international week but that doesn’t mean every player is away on duty representing their country. One such player is Liverpool’s versatile James Milner, ex of England. And while Milner has a decent number of caps for the Three Lions — he’s made 61 appearances with just the one goal — these days he is focused on his Reds career and it’s fair to say his reliability is a factor when Jurgen Klopp chooses his first eleven. In short, Milner — once of Manchester City, Newcastle United, Leeds United and Aston Villa — is dependability personified.
His dedication and attitude to his professionalism hasn’t been lost on his team-mates on Merseyside. So much so, in fact, that Trent Alexander-Arnold, the 20-year-old right-back, believes Kop vice-captain Milner, at the grand old age of 32, is the most consistent performer from Klopp’s squad.
Speaking to the official club website, Alexander-Arnold said:
“I’d say James Milner is the most consistent player I’ve ever played or trained with — I’ve never seen him have a bad session or a bad game. He’s so reliable and so versatile as well and that’s everything you want in a player.
“He’ll put his body on the line for the team and he’s non-stop. When times are hard, he’ll put in a tackle that lifts everyone and gets everyone up for the game. He brings the energy that the team needs. Off the pitch he holds the highest standards that I’ve probably ever seen in someone. He demands a lot from himself and seeing that on a daily basis is incredible. He’ll never give up in training, he’ll never stop running, and it gives you that motivation to do the same.”
it was Klopp himself who revealed Milner’s influence wasn’t just on the pitch. His ability to see tactical flaws in the Reds’ play is also a benefit. When Liverpool weren’t firing on all cylinders in the first half of the recent 1-1 draw with Arsenal in the Premier League, it was Milner who made other points in the break.
Klopp said at the time:
“Milner was the one who saw it first and was, how can we say, was not happy…was animated. That’s good. We changed it at half time and he was the right person to score the goal at half time. Of course, he’s a leader, of course, the problem is not the three that played in midfield, they can always do better, but the best way is to do it right from the first moment and then you can build on that and we didn’t do it right from the first moment.”
To Klopp’s delight it was Milner who snatched Liverpool’s goal that day and it served to remind him his international future is past him. Or is it? He added:
“Millie is a proper leader. He is like wine, I like this idea as well. A very good red one. I’m not sure if Leeds is famous for wine? He’s getting better. I think Millie should buy all of the newspapers and read this. I would like it if you write a story about James Milner, I will like it. Obviously, someone might write that he will have to play for England again. That’s a really nice idea.”
As Wayne Rooney prepares to play for England one final time tonight against the USA, Milner will probably be thinking: “Never say never!”
Daniel Sturridge can be as deadly as any goal-getter in football and can once again flourish in front of goal for Liverpool. And he may just provide the firepower that can deliver the Premier League title to Anfield ending some 28 years of hurt since they last won the top-flight crown.
That’s the verdict of Kop hero Robbie Fowler, who reckons Sturridge is as good as anyone in chipping in with crucial strikes for the Reds’ cause. Fowler knows all about scoring goals in a red shirt, of course, having found the net 183 times in his career on Merseyside. And his words of wisdom regarding the striker could even tempt fans to have a flutter on Jurgen Klopp’s side winning the top-flight title, especially if they were betting with bet365.
Sturridge, the former Chelsea and Manchester City goal-getter, was becoming to be a bit of a forgotten man at Anfield but he announced himself back on the scene with a wonder goal that earned Liverpool a point at title rivals Chelsea recently. The stunning 89th-minute leveller at Stamford Bridge won him rave reviews and Fowler predicts there is more to come from the attacker, who is aged 29.
He said of the talented frontman:
“Fit and well, Daniel Sturridge is as good as any striker in the Premier League, he really is. You’re more or less guaranteed goals with him. We want to see it at Liverpool. He has thought, ‘I’ll knuckle down, fight for my place and stay where I’m going to play good football at a great club’.”
Meanwhile, Klopp has been told that he may well need attract a playmaker to the club because the creativity of Brazil ace Philippe Coutinho is missed within the Anfield squad.
Reds hero Jamie Carragher has identified that Klopp requires more quality in the middle of the park and that could mean the German coach redoubles his efforts to bring in a playmaker. He has been linked with recruiting the likes of Lyon skipper Nabil Fekir but a £53million deal fell through in the summer. Now Klopp may go back in for his man to add the creativity missing since Coutinho went to Barcelona in a whopping £142million transfer in January.
And Carra said:
“We need a bit more quality in midfield, I think. That’s all. Maybe he’ll revisit that in January. I just look at that midfield and I think we’re missing that Coutinho type of player. Obviously, we went in for Fekir, so we’re obviously looking for someone like that.
“We’re trying to compete with City, and I look and they’ve got Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in there. I don’t think we’ve got that sort of player.
“We’ve got different types of players and we don’t play the same as them. But, now and again at Anfield, you’re going to need someone to open up teams and do something a little bit clever. That’s my only worry with this squad, but besides that, I think this could be Liverpool’s greatest squad for the last 30 years.”