Jurgen Klopp hopes Liverpool can have a little more luck with regards to injuries next season, believing a full-strength squad would see them sitting much closer to runaway leaders Manchester City.
Liverpool finished 18 points clear of second-place City in the 2019-20 Premier League season as they ended a 30-year wait to be crowned champions again.
However, while they have struggled in the defence of their title, Pep Guardiola’s squad are once again the team to beat. They set a new record with Wednesday’s 3-1 triumph at Everton, becoming the first top-flight team to start a calendar year with 10 straight league victories.
The Reds’ focus has switched to finishing in the top four – they sit in fifth place ahead of Saturday’s Merseyside derby, 16 points behind City – but Klopp feels such a huge gap would not have existed if he had key players available.
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been long-term absentees, with fellow centre-back Joel Matip now out for the rest of the season. Diogo Jota, meanwhile, has not featured since December 9, while Naby Keita is only just nearing a return having yet to make an appearance in 2021.
Asked in his pre-match media conference about what it will take to be closer to City next season, Klopp replied: “We don’t have to think about that now.
10 – Manchester City are now 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League – the only two teams to fail to go on and win the title having had a lead of 10+ points are Newcastle United in 1995/96 and Manchester United in 1997/98. Cruising. pic.twitter.com/3ilRLBXtmZ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 17, 2021
“We don’t play them this year anymore – probably not, maybe the Champions League. For next year, then we have a little bit more time.
“It’s never the case that we thought, ‘How can we overtake City and become the finest team in English football?’. We never saw it like this – we wanted the best version of ourselves.
“We have that chance again, then if that’s good enough, it’s good enough. If another team is better, then that’s how sport works. You cannot do more than be the best version of yourselves.
“That’s what we really try again, as a team especially. We need a little bit more luck, then a few other things as well.
“But, in the beginning, slightly more luck with injuries would help. Then we can come closer to them.
“I think we can all agree if I would say, probably Pep would say it too, that a full season for both teams and we wouldn’t be 16 points away. But we are. That’s how it is, we accept that. This season, though, it is not about how close we can come to Manchester City.”
We’ll miss you on derby day but it’s important to keep yourself, friends, family and the local community safe
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 19, 2021
Van Dijk has been out of action since the previous Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, back in October 2020.
The defender was hurt early in proceedings following a challenge from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, while team-mate Thiago Alcantara also suffered an injury in the game after a wild tackle from Richarlison that saw the Brazilian sent off.
Klopp, however, made clear the game takes on no extra importance because of what happened in that 2-2 draw last year, as Liverpool look to avoid suffering four consecutive Premier League defeats for the first time since December 2002.
“We play the way we play. It’s very emotional but we are always emotional, to be honest,” Klopp – who confirmed on Friday that Fabinho will not feature at Anfield – said. “That’s our way to play.
“What the other teams do I don’t know, because I have no influence on that. I can imagine that after the first game you try to create some stories around that, but we will be prepared for a football game, for a derby, like we always do.
“Nobody can say about his team that they are not ready for derbies, from an attitude point of view, from an understanding point of view over how important it is.
“This team always was [ready] and will be tomorrow. Obviously, there are stories around, all these kind of things, but I have nothing to say.”