When Liverpool allowed Adrian Lopez of Villarreal to pounce in stoppage time last week, wrecking a professional first-leg performance, Klopp’s dismay was replaced by bewilderment as he spun on his heels to see the home coaching staff cavorting on the pitch.
From that moment, battle lines were drawn and Klopp’s team talk was written. Those who were celebrating at El Madrigal seven days ago, feeling the job had been done, have no idea — according to Liverpool’s boss —what they will walk into this evening as they try to reach the Europa League final.
‘I don’t know what they know about Anfield,’ said Klopp. ‘If you don’t celebrate (a last-minute goal) then there’s something wrong.
‘But it was more about when (Villarreal coach Marcelino) said after the game that 1-0 was the result he dreamed of.
‘We still feel good, so that’s how it is. It’s half-time. I don’t think we are through but I don’t think we are out. That’s how it is. It’s not that I always expect wonders from us or the crowd. But we all know an outstanding atmosphere can have a big influence.
‘In this week of wonderful weather on Merseyside, everybody could be in the perfect mood. I don’t want to make it too big but it is a moment for the whole Liverpool world. Everyone will be watching.’
Liverpool have been superb in this competition at home, dismantling Manchester United 2-0 in the last 16 before conjuring a remarkable victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals, but this clash with Villarreal is loaded with peril.
In many ways, it is a reminder of Liverpool’s last Europa League semi-final, in April 2010, when they faced Atletico Madrid having lost the first leg 1-0. There may have been a high-tempo start but it fizzled out and Liverpool were beaten on away goals.
Villarreal have the capacity to connect with a sucker punch and, should they breach Liverpool’s defence, Klopp will face an even greater quandary than when Dortmund — who were committed to attack — surged into the lead. ‘Maybe it will be even more than 90 minutes,’ Dejan Lovren observed. ‘We need to be clever. We don’t have 20 minutes, we have 90 minutes, so everything is possible. The fans expect a massive game and we will be smarter than last time.’
Klopp has to get his selection spot on. Emre Can will start, now he is fit following ankle-ligament damage, but who will be given the task of scoring the goals? Daniel Sturridge looks the obvious choice but is his manager so convinced?
Klopp will not finalise the XI until a couple of hours before kick-off and he will use a training session this morning to clarify his thoughts. All he would say about Sturridge is that it ‘absolutely could be’ the right game for him. ‘A lot of things are possible and I don’t want to talk too much about what we’ll do because hopefully we can surprise them. It is about playing smart,’ said Klopp. ‘A big threat is their counter-attacking game. It is not their only strength, but it is a big part of their game.
‘We have thought about everything and will be well prepared. If we can create with our game a similar atmosphere as Dortmund then it will be much more difficult for Villarreal than they imagine.’
In between sips of water, Klopp kept smiling. Expectation on Merseyside can be stifling but he relishes it. He spoke about how everything Liverpool have done since October was for ‘these 90 minutes’.
‘Fight for your life,’ said Klopp. ‘That is how it is. This is a specific game where this mood would fit perfectly. It is a wonderful opportunity, nothing else. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, after the draw at Dortmund, nobody really expected we would go through.
‘When people saw Dortmund (after Manchester United), they said, “Oh my God!” People thought we would go out. But we showed what is possible. It is only an opportunity. A big opportunity. It is something like a dream. We want to make it through.
‘I am really happy about this opportunity with these hard-working boys. We’ve done wonderful things throughout this season. We know everything we need to know. So let’s go for it.’ — Daily Mail
Original source: Klopp’s warning to Villarreal boss