Ťhe change in Chelsea this season may not be limited to the older, wiser, £97.5m focal point of their attack. As Liverpool can testify, there is nothing like a Champions League triumph for the momentum required to land the Premier League title, 也.
Similarly to his 利物浦 title winners in 2020, could Saturday’s visitors to Anfield transfer the confidence that comes with reigning in Europe into a sustained fight for Manchester City’s domestic crown? “I hope not, but it’s possible,” Jürgen Klopp says.
That is the unforgiving expectation on Thomas Tuchel and his players this season. As Klopp is at pains to point out, it is no different at Liverpool, despite the setbacks that derailed their title defence last time out. If anything, Klopp suggested, his team can be stronger for them.
“Last night 切尔西 won a lot of prizes [at the Uefa awards ceremony in Istanbul] – goalie, midfielder, coach – and that never harms the confidence,” the Liverpool manager continues. “Hopefully we beat them tomorrow, which is difficult enough, and when we face them again. All the other games we have nothing to do with so if they win all of them then, when we win the two, it will be enough for them.
“Being successful helps, I can tell you, and you want to have more, but with this strange year in-between and the difficulty in-between we want to be successful as well. We are quite ambitious as well. Is it possible for us? Nobody knows. But we will give it a proper try.
“We know this league, and not only since this transfer window, is the strongest league in the world. Nobody doubts that. And being ambitious in this league means you have to be ready to get some knocks, get some punches here and there, and be ready to get up and go again. If we can do that, with the quality we have, then the only plan was always to beat the best teams in the world, whoever that is.
“We never thought about being the best team in the world. Obviously in this moment nobody thinks we are the best team in the world – good – but we still want to beat the best teams and Chelsea won the Champions League, and there are not a lot of tournaments that are more important.”
Both Liverpool and Chelsea have made 100% starts to the new Premier League season without conceding a goal. The fit-again Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip have been central to the former’s impressive start. Klopp’s complaint about the “wrestling” in last Saturday’s win over Burnley was a huge exaggeration but did not detract from his centre-halves’ authoritative performances against Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood.
They face another physical test against Romelu Lukaku, whose only goal at Anfield was in the colours of West Brom more than eight years ago, though Klopp does not believe the duel between Van Dijk and Chelsea’s new record signing will shape the entire contest.
The Liverpool manager explains: “What Thomas Tuchel did there was really good. The way they build up, the way they play is a clear structure but very flexible. They have width most of the time with the wing-backs, and have players in the half-spaces with the double 10 or the double six. Very flexible players. And now a proper target player up front.
“Last year people very often spoke about Chelsea playing really well but didn’t finish enough situations off, and that was obviously the idea behind signing Romelu. Smart business. But the good thing about football is there’s no football you can’t defend at all. It can be more tricky and more difficult – against us it’s not too easy to defend, to be honest, but unfortunately it’s possible – so these are the different aspects.
“You can make whichever headline you want to write about Romelu and Virgil, but he will show up around the other centre-half as well I guess. If we are only focused on Romelu, then Kai [Havertz] and Mason [Mount] will punish you. That’s the situation. It is a good football team, that’s why they won the Champions League. We are a good football team, 也. We have had enough time to train and talk about it.
“Today there’s another meeting with the boys and we’ll show them – as we have been doing already – what we want to do to cause them problems because we shouldn’t ignore the fact that’s possible as well.”
Lukaku’s arrival makes Chelsea a harder proposition and demands a change in Liverpool’s approach, admits Klopp, who insists stopping the supply to the Belgium international at source will be key. “Romelu is a big fixed point,” he adds.
“You can maybe find him on the wings at moments but it’s not that he will be there the majority of the time. He really wants to keep the centre-halves in the centre, have these challenges, have body contact, all these kind of things. Then you have wild running and really skilled boys around him. If you let them cross, each ball into the box is immediately a major problem. That’s how it was with [Olivier] Giroud as well. It’s really not that easy [against Chelsea]. They are impressive. It’s like always in football, if you don’t want to have problems in an area then you should avoid passes there. That’s what we will try.”