Big Match

Reds fired up for run-in

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, training with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, has told his teammates to have "no regrets" as they try to deliver a first league title in 29 years to Merseyside.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, training with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, has told his teammates to have "no regrets" as they try to deliver a first league title in 29 years to Merseyside.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Klopp doesn't have to motivate his charges who are 'fighting for minutes on the pitch'

LONDON • With seven Premier League matches left for Liverpool in the season, one would have expected Jurgen Klopp to deliver grand, rousing speeches when his players returned from the international break.

There were none. Instead, it was right down to business at Melwood immediately and the manager even oversaw a double training session on Tuesday.

The message was clear: the German merely emphasised to everyone that they will all be needed over the coming weeks in the Premier League title race and the Champions League.

The true test for Klopp and Liverpool's strength in depth has now come and the arrival of Tottenham today at Anfield presents the first of seven domestic examinations, plus up to five more in Europe. These fixtures demand that the pace has to be picked up immediately.

"The good thing is, do I have to talk about motivation with the boys? Of course not. They are all on fire," Klopp said at a press conference on Friday.

"We had a big training squad. There were 21 players and only two kids involved and usually we have five or six kids involved.

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  • Liverpool have lost only one of their past 13 league and Cup games against Tottenham, winning eight of those matches.

"It means they are coming back fighting for minutes on the pitch. It's all there what you need but, on the other hand, you need to be stable and clear and not going nuts, not trying too hard.

"When we have the ball, we try to create a chance, we try to score. When we don't have the ball, then we defend with all we have. The things you did that brought you here, you have to do it again."

History suggests that he will need everybody indeed.

It was on March 31 last year when Liverpool lost Adam Lallana until the final fortnight of the campaign with a hamstring problem. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then suffered a knee injury from which he continues to recover from and Joe Gomez required ankle surgery that would end his season prematurely.

The strain on resources, coupled with the prioritising of Europe where they went all the way to the Champions League final only to lose to Real Madrid, meant that Dominic Solanke played 219 minutes in the closing weeks, Danny Ings (243), Ragnar Klavan (294), Nathaniel Clyne (184), Alberto Moreno (186) and Ben Woodburn (six).

Liverpool's league record over the final seven games last term read: won three, drawn three, lost one and they clinched a top-four spot only on the final weekend.

It is revealing that Solanke, Ings, Klavan and Clyne have all left, Woodburn would still be on loan at Sheffield United if that switch had worked out and Moreno will depart at the end of the campaign.

In their place, Liverpool have Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi as back-up strikers, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and, soon, Gomez all vying to partner Virgil van Dijk, while Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri shadow a plethora of midfielders.

While Manchester City boast greater resources, the difference in squad strength between the top two does not feel like a chasm.

Significantly, City's 2-0 win at Fulham yesterday began a crazy sequence of nine matches up to April 28 for Pep Guardiola's side.

Liverpool play seven times and will hope that if their rivals stumble, it is in the league.

Regardless of what happens, van Dijk has told his teammates to have "no regrets" as they try to deliver a first league title in 29 years.

"The most important thing is to enjoy it. You hope to be in this kind of position - challenging for the Premier League title, being as far as we are in the Champions League now," the Dutchman said.

"I think the ultimate thing would be winning something with Liverpool and we still have a chance to win it. So let's just go for it."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'Reds fired up for run-in'. Print Edition | Subscribe