Liverpool must produce a “perfect performance” to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit against Real Madrid today and reach the Champions League semi-finals, manager Jurgen Klopp said. A difficult season for the English champions will end without a trophy should they fail to pull off a fightback against the 13-time European Cup winners today.
“This Real Madrid team has some of the greatest talent playing football in the world today. This isn’t a surprise — it’s what Real Madrid do. So to beat a side like this you must always strive for the perfect performance,” Klopp said in remarks published on the Liverpool website yesterday. “But what we will not lose sight of is how good we are, the talent we have, the magic in our dressing room and the character required to make special moments happen. We have the entire package at Liverpool.”
One part of the package missing from previous glory European nights at Anfield will be the crowd because of ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Liverpool famously overcame a 3-0 first leg deficit to beat Barcelona 4-0 in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on route to winning the competition for a sixth time in 2019.
But, with no fans in the stands, Klopp has played down comparisons with that clash or the fightback from 3-1 down on the night, to score three times in the last 24 minutes and beat Borussia Dortmund 4-3 and advance 5-4 on aggregate in the Europa League five years ago.
“It is an indisputable truth that a full stadium would have been significant for us,” added Klopp. “When I think back to the many special nights we have had here, I usually describe them with the word ‘together’. That is because those nights were about the collective power of this club. Supporters and players coming together to produce memories that last a lifetime.
“My job — and the job of the boys — is to channel your energy despite the forced distance. We know it’s still there, therefore we can still use it. It’s more of a challenge, of course, but since when did we ever do anything the easy way?”
Left-back Andy Robertson said the players have a responsibility to create the atmosphere themselves. “The Barcelona game, that wouldn’t be possible without the fans. The fans made us feel 10 feet tall,” said the Scotland captain.
“Walking out to 55,000 other people who believed, gave you that extra 10%. We need to try and create that atmosphere in the changing room before we go out. We’ve got to have no regrets.”
If the English champions are to reach the semi-finals for the third time in four years, they will instead need Klopp to conjure the motivation and tactical masterplan to once again eliminate one of Spanish football’s giants.
On top of empty stadiums, injuries have also played a major role. Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip will again be missing for the visit of Madrid, while Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota’s first season at the club has been disrupted by lengthy layoffs. Yet, Klopp has to also take his share of the blame for some of his side’s failings.
The decision to drop Thiago in favour of Naby Keita, in just his second start since December, for the first leg last week backfired big time. Keita was substituted for the Spanish international after just 42 minutes with Liverpool 2-0 down and chasing the shadows of Madrid’s midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
The decision to shunt Fabinho into central defence to cover for the loss of three centre-backs to season-ending injuries for much of the campaign also served to destabilise two areas of the field rather than one.
Thiago and Fabinho are expected to be paired together today to try and wrestle control from Madrid’s talented triumvirate, but Klopp also has a big decision to make up front. His patience with the poor form of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino has finally ran out as each has been benched for one of the past two games.
With Liverpool in need of goals, whoever Klopp puts his faith in alongside Jota and Mohamed Salah in attack needs to be clinical if their manager is to rediscover his midas touch.
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