Jurgen Klopp discussed Liverpool’s defensive problems, Virgil van Dijk’s injury and the fixture schedule.
An FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers is arguably one of the last fixtures Liverpool would have wanted in the wake of a major January disappointment.
Twice before during Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, the Reds have faced the Molineux side mere days after a season-defining defeat. In 2017, it was a fourth round clash at Anfield following the League Cup semi-final exit to Southampton. Two years later, an away third round tie came immediately after their sole Premier League loss of the season at eventual champions Manchester City.
Liverpool were eliminated on both occasions. So they will hope to sidestep an unwanted hat-trick when, after the chastening reverse at Brentford on Monday, they begin their defence of the FA Cup by entertaining Wolves this evening.
Klopp will have to do without Virgil van Dijk, the Dutch centre-back sidelined for at least a month with a hamstring problem suffered at the Gtech Community Stadium. Having started every Premier League and Champions League game this season, along with skippering Holland to the World Cup quarter-finals last month, Van Dijk’s body had simply had enough.
And Klopp believes it is a fitness tightrope that is being walked by several others. “There are a few all-time players – so players who play for their club all the time and their national team all the time and in Europe,” he says. “I think in the Premier League Harry Kane would have exactly the same number of games. He plays all the games and others maybe don’t always play 90 minutes for the national team or don’t play always for their club 90 minutes.
“That is the highest level of intensity and of course, if you ask me now whether it would have been a good idea to leave Virgil van Dijk out against Brentford, then yes. Did anybody think about leaving him out? No. Him included. There was no reason for it. It was not that we thought ‘that could be a bit too much’.
“The player knows how he feels, he gets the treatment and my relationship with Virg is very close so if he would have felt it a little bit he would have told me 100% ‘it’s not for me on Monday’. That’s what we deal with all the time.”
English football chiefs met this week to start thrashing out a long-term roadmap for the game in the country, which could include the scrapping of FA Cup replays after the second round rather than after the fourth round as at present.
And Klopp believes that, unless change is enacted, it may result in more money being spent on increasingly larger squads. “This is what I am talking about all the time when I say we have to reduce games, FA Cup replays or whatever,” says the Reds boss. “It’s just because the best players play all the time, that’s how it is. People tell us to leave them out and rotate but who leaves their best players out? It’s not that easy.
We have to sort that in the future with bigger squads I think and more level squads internally. Is that possible? I don’t know. But it’s probably the only way to deal with it for international and club teams. It’s the direction we have to develop in if nobody reduces the games.”
There will be extra intrigue to this evening’s tie given the Reds’ ongoing interest in midfielder Matheus Nunes, who joined Wolves for a club record £38million last summer but it already being touted with a move elsewhere.
Midfield has been cited as a major issue for Liverpool this season, contributing to a lack of protection for a defence that has shipped eight goals in four games since the restart and hasn’t kept a Premier League clean sheet since October 19.
But Klopp says: “It’s a general problem, not a midfield problem. Defending starts up front, if you don’t defend there then the midfield has no chance. Balance might be a problem. Not so much in the last game as the goals we conceded were two from set-pieces and one from a counter-attack, there weren’t balls being played through the midfield. Before that, it’s all about organisation.
“It’s not so much that one midfield player could sort that, it’s about us doing it collectively in the right manner. The way we want to defend is clear. I can’t analyse the game differently when we lose or win. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s not right, it’s not right. That will never change.
“Am I completely happy with the play? No, definitely not. But it’s not a midfield problem, it’s a general thing. You don’t start pressing here (points to his head), you start pressing here (points to the heart).”