Klopp confident Liverpool can win title without being at their best

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
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Updated 17 May 2020

Klopp confident Liverpool can win title without being at their best

  • Liverpool two wins away from title when campaign was postponed on March 13

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp has insisted Liverpool have no need to be at their “all-time best” in order to clinch a first English league title in 30 years.

Premier League officials are now aiming to restart the season in mid-June, with Liverpool just two wins away from the title when the campaign was postponed on March 13 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

For so long the dominant force in English football, the Merseysiders have not been crowned domestic champions in the Premier League era, with the last of their league titles coming when they won the old First Division crown in 1990.

But as teams start returning to training, Liverpool manager Klopp has tried to ease any mounting pressure on his runaway leaders who are 25 points clear at the top.

“Football is a game where everyone is pretty much in the same situation we play against another team and we don’t have to be at our all-time best we have to be at our best possible and that’s exactly the same for the other teams,” he told the BBC’s Football Focus program.

“Whenever we will start we will have had the same time for preparation and our job was always, and always will be, to use the situation you are in. We will be in as good a shape as possible.”

Meanwhile, the German boss said he was desperate to return to “normal life” after an unexpected two-month break by getting back to Liverpool’s Melwood training base, where players will initially train in small groups.

“Lockdown has been as good as possible; it’s not exactly what I want to do but it’s what we all have to do so we try to make the best of it,” said Klopp.

“We started eight weeks ago and now you feel everyone is desperate to get back to a ‘new’ normal life.

“I have missed the boys the most because we have created a group there not only the boys but all the people at Melwood because we have a really good relationship and we became friends over the last four-and-a-half years.

“We see each other pretty often with Zoom and those things but it’s still not the same and going back to Melwood and doing all the things we usually do is something I really miss.”

In another development, Watford manager Nigel Pearson has raised the possibility of a coronavirus-related death should the Premier League season resume amid the pandemic.

Pearson has doubts about “Project Restart” with much of Britain still in lockdown due to COVID-19.

“God forbid we have a fatality,” he told The Times. “People are closing their eyes to the threat.

“Yes, we would like to restart it but it’s got to be safe. We should be cautious. To ignore possibilities is foolhardy. It’s about safeguarding people’s health.”

Pearson, whose Watford side are presently above the relegation zone on goal difference alone, added: “We have to try to believe (British government) advice that we’re being given that we’ve reached the peak but there’s still an incredible number of people losing their lives through this.

“The death toll in the UK is anything between 33,000 and 38,000. That’s filling our stadium and then filling it half again. It’s a sobering thought.”

Norwich captain Grant Hanley has become the latest Premier League player to express concerns about a resumption of the season, with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, Tottenham’s Danny Rose, on loan at Newcastle this season, and Brighton’s Glenn Murray having already voiced their worries.

“I think the overall feeling is that players have got concerns,” Hanley told Sky Sports.

“Looking at the protocols for going back to training, I think that’s probably fair enough. But it’s just the next step after that, like where do we go from there? In terms of going back into contact training and games.

“My missus is pregnant and she’s due at the start of July, so there’s obviously worries there for myself.

“There’s nothing (in terms of the) sort of information being given to us on, for example, how do we travel to games? Where do we stay? What are the hotels? How can we guarantee hotels are going to be safe for us to be in?

“Ultimately it’s putting your family at risk that is the main concern and that’s the worry I think all the teams will have at this minute in time.”


Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”