As Liverpool prepare for Sunday's crunch clash with Middlesbrough, Jürgen Klopp spoke of his belief that his side have made clear progress in their development this season – but insisted now is not the time to talk about it.
The Reds play host to Boro at Anfield this weekend knowing victory will guarantee a top-four finish and with it, a place in next season’s Champions League qualifiers at a minimum.
And Klopp was fully focused on the job in hand during his pre-match press conference on Friday morning, preferring to talk about the clash rather than offering any assessment of his team’s evolution over the course of 2016-17.
Here’s a summary of what he had to say…
On the importance of Sunday’s game…
It’s important of course, another game of this so far very successful season and we want to finish it successfully, so it’s all clear. We have to perform, we have to win and if we have enough points after this matchday, then we deserve to go into the Champions League. If not, we don’t deserve it. It’s pretty easy. I’m not sure if I’ve said it before on the importance or whatever, but it only could be more important if we thought before another game this season that it was not that important. But we’ve never thought that, so it’s exactly the same importance. The big difference is it’s the last one and so it’s a big opportunity for us. It’s what we’ve tried to do the whole week and the next two days, to prepare as good as possible.
On facing a team who have already been relegated…
It’s only one [piece of] information of 500 we have about Middlesbrough. If you’ve watched their last few games – which is what we obviously always do – then it was close and they fought really hard for staying in the league, they had good results and good performances. They were not really lucky in different moments and not too long ago they played City, which for us is always a very important game to watch, and they were closer to getting more than a point. It was a difficult season, that was the decisive thing for not staying in the league, the last few games under this pressure is absolutely another kind of pressure. I’ve had it a few times in my life and it’s not easy to enjoy it. Three teams have to go down each year and this year Middlesbrough is one of them. But they are a big club and have a big opportunity and chances to use this time, because that’s always like it is – you can use things like this, but of course I don’t know too much about it.
On whether Sunday’s game has a ‘cup final’ feel to it…
It’s everything, it’s the end of the season, it’s in the middle of development, it’s the start of the new season – there are a lot of things you can think about this game, but in the end it’s a football game. First of all, you have to respect the opponent, the rules, the 95/97 minutes and all that stuff, so that’s the only thing we have to think about and all the rest, we can talk about after the game and what it means for us and all that stuff. Never, ever in history somebody has said before a game, ‘this will be the start of a new era’. Maybe we can mark it or say this after the middle of next season or later and say it’s had a big influence, but it’s not the game – it’s the season then. Everything we will get on Sunday, we have to take. That’s how life always is, to make the best of it.
LFCTV GO: Watch Jürgen's pre-Boro press conference in full
On how important starting well will be…
The best thing would be 4-0 after two minutes, but that’s not possible so we have to be ready for a football game. Football games develop and development always depends on the start. Again, that’s like normal life. So, the start is very important but if the start is not good does that mean we should stop then? Maybe we will have to re-start a few times in the game, but everybody can be sure that we will fight for each yard for sure, that’s clear. Middlesbrough are a football-playing side. They defend sometimes deep, but if you give them the opportunity to play football they have good players, good in counter-attacking, quick wingers, very experienced striker and all that stuff. They want to enjoy their football and have 0.0 [per cent] pressure if you want, they only want to have a good game and that’s the not the worst circumstance for playing good football. But we are there and we have to be as ugly as possible to play, that’s for sure. It’s not about performing, it’s about creating, scoring, defending, defending, creating, scoring… in football it’s always like this and for this, we need to be ready.
On his assessment of his first full season as Liverpool manager…
There is no assessment possible. It’s not for me to assess it or to judge or whatever. I am really only focused on the game and then after the game, you can say whatever you want and I can think whatever I want. There are different ways to see it. 73 points we have so far, we have the chance for the next three – that didn’t happen that often in the last few years, Liverpool having a number like this. So is it an improvement? Yes, of course, in a very difficult season with a lot of real competitors around, difficult games and difficult situations. So yes, of course there was an improvement but we don’t have to talk now about improvement – we have to talk now about the chance to get these three points. Then it would be easy to see it, but if not, it would be more difficult to see the improvement but it would still be there. I don’t have a real space to think about something like this because after the game, for 30 hours I have a long flight to Australia and then after that I will have thought about everything from this season and we can talk then if you want.
On how he feels after his first 20 months at Liverpool…
I feel good. Everything is getting better since I’ve been here, everything has improved, everything has developed. The nice thing of life is if you are open, you can create relationships and 20 months is a long time. We have created wonderful relationships, not only with the players but with the staff around and all these things. We did wonderful things. 20 months… you should not waste time in life, ever and we didn’t. Everything is better than it was when I came in, but that does not mean it was not before – only now for me, as a person, everything is better. We really feel on a really good way and that’s all I need, actually, because I know there’s no alternative for each step to get to the goal. You have to make each step and we’ve done a lot of important steps. We know we have to go a lot more.
Jürgen was wearing an item from Liverpool's New Balance training kit range for 2017-18 during today's press conference. Click here to browse the collection.
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