Football: Klopp plays down talk of Liverpool decline

Jurgen Klopp who has led the club to three Champions League finals has so far escaped blame from supporters. PHOTO: AFP

LIVERPOOL – Jurgen Klopp played down suggestions that his team are in decline, saying it is “not 100 per cent fair” to judge the squad because they have had a number of injury problems this season.

Liverpool were expected to be Manchester City’s closest challengers for the Premier League title, but Klopp’s side are ninth in the standings after 12 games.

The Reds only lost two league games last season as they came agonisingly close to an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League final and finishing one point behind City.

Liverpool have lost players including Diogo Jota, Naby Keita, Luis Diaz and Joel Matip to injury while Darwin Nunez – the second most expensive player in their history at an initial €75 million (S$102 million) – has struggled to justify his price tag after being signed as a replacement for Sadio Mane.

Egyptian star Mohamed Salah, whose painful contract saga dragged on before he signed a new deal, has also been inconsistent this term.

City have kept up their end of the bargain, winning nine of their 12 games so far to sit two points behind leaders Arsenal. Liverpool, however, have fallen off a cliff. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Leeds United, their first home league loss since March 2021, was another blow.

“We do this job in public and the judgement for this will be later on in the season, or even at the end,” manager Klopp said on Monday when asked if his team are in decline.

“At the moment it’s not 100 per cent fair to judge the team because we haven’t had them (players) available, missing up front top quality. We’d usually make changes.

“Even if it’s unfair, it’s fine. It’s normal to ask these questions. Arsenal and Man City will have to answer those questions later on. We are all out there to be judged, manager, players, that’s how it is.”

Klopp, who has led the club to three Champions League finals and won Liverpool’s first league title for 30 years in 2020, has escaped blame from supporters, with fans targeting the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group for a lack of investment in an ageing squad.

For a team that prioritises high-intensity pressing, the fact they have the third oldest average starting XI in the Premier League so far this season does not help their cause.

The German said, however, there was no quick fix for the Anfield club. “Consistency and stability is our issue. There are highs and there are obviously too many lows, that is clear.

“People look at me and they say ‘he looks tired’ or whatever but I’m not. I cannot give that excuse. My job is not only to be here when the sun is shining and somebody gives us a trophy.

“My job is to be there when we go through a really rough period and I will do that with all I have.” 

Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League knockout stages and are due to host Napoli in their final group game on Tuesday. They are second in Group A and can secure top spot by beating the Italian side by four goals or more.

But they face a tough challenge against the unbeaten Serie A leaders. “I am not afraid or scared. It is a tough challenge but I really respect what they are doing,” Klopp said. “Now our situation is slightly more difficult than Napoli’s. When you are on a winning streak, you have to do a lot to stay on track.” REUTERS, AFP

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