Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool must play “two super games” to progress through their Champions League round-of-16 tie against holders Real Madrid, who he reckons “don’t have to play their best” to advance.
The Reds have recovered from their 3-0 defeat at Wolves in early February by claiming important wins over Everton and top-four rivals Newcastle to get their season back on track ahead of Tuesday’s huge first leg at Anfield.
Klopp reckons his side’s form might have turned at just the right moment to take on Real Madrid, the 14-time Champions League winners.
“With the recent history and [both clubs] quite successful in the competition, difficult to play against, grinding results out, it will be a top football game,” said Klopp.
“I’m really happy we can play now, four weeks ago it would have been different, but life is all about timing. Maybe we’ve found our feet right in time for this game even though I would have expected us to be ourselves if we hadn’t won the last two games because it’s a different competition and you have to use this opportunity.
“We have these two results and hopefully we can build on that but we need to play a super game, we need to play two super games, to be honest, to get through. I have no problem with that because if you don’t play your best you don’t have a chance – Real Madrid don’t have to play their best and still have a chance! That’s the difference. That’s pretty special. I can’t wait.”
‘Same clubs, different teams, different times’
Liverpool played Real Madrid in last year’s final in Paris, losing 1-0, but Klopp believes they can learn from the disappointment having not won in six meetings since 2014.
“I didn’t watch it back until this weekend. The thing I realised immediately was why I didn’t watch it back but I had to – it was proper torture,” he said.
“We played a good game and could have won the game. They scored a decisive goal and we didn’t, and that was the reason.
“You could see how experienced Madrid is, how little they are fussed when the other team has chances, they don’t lose confidence, they know their chance will come.
“This is that team, the competition and you can learn from them, definitely. But that’s six, eight months ago. Before that, we played there on the training ground and here in an empty stadium. Here, it was a really good 0-0, we let them work hard and that was good.
“But this is now, same clubs, different teams, different times. There’s a history in the last few years. One of us was always in the final, that’s how it feels at least, and usually if you go to the final you have to kick us out or them, this time we play each other, let’s see who goes through.”
Klopp defends Vinicius: ‘Nothing justifies racism’
Klopp insisted there is “nothing in the world that could justify” Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior being targeted with racist abuse.
LaLiga is investigating alleged racist abuse of Vinicius by a fan at Mallorca earlier this month following an effigy of the 22-year-old being hung from a motorway hours before Real’s Copa del Rey tie against Atletico Madrid in January.
Vinicius has scored three goals in his last three meetings with Liverpool, and ahead of their latest meeting, Klopp was asked whether the player’s actions on the pitch were antagonistic. He said: “What’s the question? That he’s doing something on the pitch which could cause what kind of things are happening to him? Racism?
“There is nothing in the world that could justify that, whatever he’s doing on the pitch. It would be nothing. Imagine I would say: ‘Yes, this part of his game could cause it’. That’s completely insane. No, nothing. He is a world-class player.”
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti believes Vinicius is fully focused on football despite being targeted with racist abuse and backed him to show his quality against Liverpool once again on Tuesday.
“I hope they are working on this the people that have to be involved in this,” said Ancelotti ahead of their last-16 Champions League tie at Anfield.
“I think racism is a really serious topic, there is no law that can change the behaviour of an individual person.
“You can only change people through culture, a common purpose and feeling of humanity. Don’t blame Spain for this, it happened in every country.
“Vini is managing really well, he is focused on the game and loves to play football and this doesn’t affect on the pitch.
“When games are important we see the best of him and it is obviously going to be a big game tomorrow.
“At the moment it is wonderful to be watching Vinicius as every football fan likes his quality.
“They like to see Pedri, Gavi, (Kylian) Mbappe – Vinicius is up there with these players and we can enjoy quality players like that.”
Nunez injury update
Klopp revealed there is a possibility Darwin Nunez could be fit for the Anfield showdown after being substituted in Saturday’s victory over Newcastle with a shoulder injury.
“There is a chance, from all the possible scenarios, apart from being absolutely nothing,” said Klopp.
“We have to see how he can deal with the pain and after that make a decision.”
Real without Kroos and Tchouameni
Real Madrid squad for Liverpool tie:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Lunin, Luis Lopez.
Defenders: Carvajal, E. Militao, Alaba, Vallejo, Nacho, Odriozola, Lucas V. and Rudiger.
Midfielders: Modric, Camavinga, Valverde, D. Ceballos, Mario Martin and Arribas.
Forwards: Hazard, Benzema, Asensio, Vini Jr., Rodrygo and Alvaro.
Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni have not been named in Real Madrid’s squad for Tuesday’s game.
Kroos missed last Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Elche and Saturday’s victory against Osasuna through illness, while Tchouameni has also recently been sidelined with flu.
However, Karim Benzema is set to return after his absence at the weekend. The striker has struggled for fitness following his hamstring injury sustained on the eve of the World Cup although he scored twice against Elche before being subbed late in the second half, and was then left out against Osasuna.