Sunday 23 October 2016

Jurgen Klopp focused on top four but won't buy in January unless he must

Boss focused on closing gap to top four - and he won't buy unless he must

Paul Wilson

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

In addition to the widest smile in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp also boasts a distinctive laugh.

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He is fond of exclaiming "Hah!" in the manner of a comedy constable uncovering a ruse every time he wishes to express derision or disbelief. Which, with the sort of questions he has been facing since arriving in England, happens to be quite often. The Liverpool manager laughed out loud when asked if his side could still join the title race and snorted again when the subject of money to spend in January raised its head.

While one fully understands Klopp's reluctance to make himself the star of the show or make too many rash promises so soon after joining a new club, since the impressive dismantling of Manchester City last week, these are not idle or irrelevant questions. A manager who takes over a team two months into a season is working with his predecessor's idea of a squad, after all.

Klopp is not the sort of manager to chase big names or demand backing during every transfer window - that is partly why Liverpool found him so appealing - but on injury grounds, there is a case for strengthening at Anfield in January.

Klopp was unlucky enough to lose two players with cruciate ligament injuries in his first week on Merseyside. Daniel Sturridge's comeback seems to be on permanent hold and although Jordan Henderson is allegedly nearing fitness, the manager has seen so little of him in action, he could be forgiven for thinking his club captain is merely a rumour.

Similarly, although Klopp laughed the suggestion out of court, the idea of Liverpool entering the title race is not such a fanciful one. They have just beaten Chelsea as well as City, the last two English champions, convincingly and away from home.

No-one who witnessed the limp performance at Manchester United at the start of September would have predicted that, and you only have to look at Leicester City to know anything is possible this season.

Liverpool are not in Chelsea's position, nearer the bottom than the top and with too much ground to make up. A win at home against Swansea today would keep them in touch with the top four, at least, and it seems more likely at this stage that Liverpool will improve and climb the table than Leicester will continue as the season's surprise package. "Leicester can do anything," Klopp says. "I don't see why they cannot win the league, they have put themselves in a good position."

A couple more wins would put Liverpool in a good position, too, though Klopp would prefer to get the wins first and talk about the league table later. "If I thought it would help to be thinking about winning the league, I would start thinking about it at 6am every morning," he said. "But it doesn't help. It helps nil. It is not interesting.

"I have a little bit of experience with winning titles, not the biggest, but a little. I know what helps and what doesn't, such as to talk about things over which you have no influence. We have to work, not dream. There is quite a big points difference between Liverpool and the top, Liverpool and fourth place even. Our job is to make that smaller."

At the Etihad last week Klopp said his players seemed surprised at the interval by how well they had done in the first half against City, racing to a 3-0 lead in half an hour. If Klopp was surprised, too, he hides it quite well. "I believe the opportunity exists in football to beat any team as long as you have time to train, time to think about it and time to make a plan," he says. "You need a bit of luck too, which we had at City and at Chelsea.

"Why should I be surprised? It is important that you feel in yourself how strong you can be. It's not enough me being the only guy in Liverpool saying, 'You are better than everybody else'. The players have to feel it, too. That's what we had at Manchester City, we spoke about it for days afterwards. But then we had to play the Bordeaux game with a different team and, okay, it was not as good. But we hadn't trained so much with that team. What we really need is time to work together. Manchester City was really good, but it already feels like it was last year."

Swansea must feel the same about that part of the season when results were going their way. Should Swansea be looking to strengthen in the transfer window, they will be doing so to ensure survival. Liverpool, however, may be looking for the key component, a striker perhaps, to turn a good season into a notable one. Yet Christian Benteke is now back and scoring, and Roberto Firmino has been a revelation in the past few weeks and the manager who admired him in German football believes he can get better still. Klopp is relaxed about the situation.

"As a club, we talk about who might be available next summer, that's normal," he says. "But I only want players if we need them and at the moment, I don't feel it would help if we took five players. If you have three injuries in one position then you might have to take what you can get in January, but we will not be buying anyone just because we can."


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