Jurgen Klopp faces the prospect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selections having a major bearing on his distant hopes of Champions League football this week, but the Liverpool manager believes there is only one villain of the piece.
Klopp described the Premier League’s decision to hand United four fixtures in a little over a week, starting with their Europa League away trip to Roma last Thursday, as “crazy” after a much-needed, but far from comfortable, win over Southampton.
Solskjaer has conceded that he will field a weakened team either against Leicester City tomorrow or for the rearranged fixture with Liverpool on Thursday, although Klopp has no doubt United will be at full strength for the latter game. It opens up the prospect of United facing fourth-placed Leicester, the only team Klopp can realistically hope to overhaul in his final four games, with a severely below-strength team.
“I think everybody is 100 per cent sure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer respects the Premier League, 100 per cent, but the situation is now like it is – and I really think it’s crazy what we did with that,” Klopp said.
“I know there were not proper solutions, but I think there could be a better situation than that, I am pretty sure.
“United has a weekend off after that or something like that? So, three games in five days but then a weekend off, so it looks like there could have been a window where we could have done something slightly different.
“But it is a decision and I understand that he doesn’t like that, definitely. We will see what we make of that.
“We have a tough programme ourselves because of that, because now we play the last four games in a very short period of time. That’s how it is and we will see what we can make.”
Liverpool, too, have suffered due to the crowd unrest that forced the postponement of their original visit to Old Trafford last weekend. They have to play the final four games of the season in 10 days from Thursday, but Klopp is realistic enough to know that, given the intense rivalry between the two North-West clubs, he can expect United to be at full strength.
“I think we would have played the strongest United team possible on the original date, so that’s what we expect. Nothing else,” he said.
“If Man United is doing it like that, we cannot change that. I think Man United has only just good players. If I think about the players they could play, they have a really strong side available – pretty good.
“They might be young but they are good. I expect a strong team against us – and what they do in other games, we obviously have no influence.”
Liverpool, who are six points behind Leicester but with a game in hand, made hard work of finishing off Southampton despite an excellent early finish from Sadio Mane.
Thiago Alcantara, with his first goal for the club, added a second in the final minute, underscoring Klopp’s claims before the match that Liverpool would not see the best of him until next season after his debut year was ruined by suffering from Covid and injury.
“He looked really good in pretty much all departments, helped us a lot with his passing game, played top passes, to be honest, was defensively in there.
“So that’s all really good and really important.
“So he had a lot of good situations but the most important was when he finished, when he scored that goal. I’m really pleased for him,” added Klopp.
While a drop in goal production will be a concern for Klopp as he enters next season – Liverpool having scored 57 times to date, compared to the 85 they netted last season – it is even more of an issue for Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has challenged the injury-prone Republic of Ireland international Michael Obafemi to stay fit after the player ended his seven-month spell on the sidelines.
Obafemi came on as a 66th-minute substitute for his first appearance for the club since last September.
“He trained quite well this week and this is the reason I wanted to give him a chance.
“With his speed he is always a threat, I think,” Hassenhuttl said after the Anfield game.
“He had one good moment I think where, if he’s a little bit earlier there, then he can maybe get a penalty.
“I am happy that he is fit. He worked quite hard in his rehab and hopefully he stays fit,” he added.
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