Secure a top-four finish, make a fist of the Champions League and prepare for a summer clear out… Jurgen Klopp has conceded the title after Liverpool’s loss at Leicester, but there is still plenty for the depleted champions to fight for this season
- Jurgen Klopp has conceded defeat in the race for the Premier League title
- Liverpool find themselves 13 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City
- Despite this, there is plenty to fight for in the remaining games this season
- The Reds need to secure a top four spot and are also in the Champions League
- Klopp can also use the remainder of the campaign to prepare for next season
Jurgen Klopp has insisted for some time that his understrength Liverpool side are out of the title race, but Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Leicester City proved a comprehensive final nail in the coffin for the Reds’ aspirations of retaining their crown.
‘Yes, I’m conceding,’ a shellshocked Klopp said, in a lowered tone after defeat at the King Power Stadium. ‘I don’t think we can close the gap to City.’
The champions have conceded seven goals in their last two games, admittedly against two of the league’s best sides this campaign. Depleted or not, Klopp will demand more from his group as he looks to avert the threat of this season seriously derailing.
Liverpool are all but out of the title race following their 3-1 defeat to Leicester on Saturday
Jurgen Klopp conceded that the Reds are out of the title running but there is plenty to play for
And there is plenty left for the Reds to fight for.
Klopp will relish the opportunity to change focus this week when his side take on RB Leipzig in the Champions League last 16, while the champions are in the midst of a gritty battle to secure their place in the top four.
‘The situation is a challenge,’ Klopp said on Monday.
‘I don’t want the situation but I see it as an interesting challenge. We will sort it.
‘We will sort it by playing football, by sticking even more together, by learning more than we have learned in every season before.’
He bullishly insisted that he does ‘not need a break’ and that he ‘doesn’t need special support’ as he navigates his trickiest period in charge at Anfield.
Klopp is ready for the fight now and in the future – and he will learn a lot about his side against RB Leipzig next.
The German can also focus on laying the groundwork for next season with success between now and May as he bids to galvanise his forlorn squad and make another tilt at top honours. Sportsmail outlines what the remainder of the season means for the champions.
Get into the top four
Given the level of competition and the relentless nature of the domestic season, retaining the Premier League title is no mean feat.
Roy Keane, who won a host of back-to-back titles at Manchester United, dubbed Klopp’s side ‘bad champions’ in the wake of their 4-1 defeat to City at Anfield.
The Irishman’s assessment would appear somewhat harsh, but to miss out on the top four would spell disaster for Liverpool given their dominance last season.
All may be lost in the title race but Liverpool still face a huge battle to finish in the top four
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s (left) Man United and Brendan Rodgers’ (right) Leicester are in the hunt
The last Premier League champion to finish outside of the top four in the season after winning the title was Chelsea in 2017-18, with Roman Abramovich wielding the axe on Antonio Conte after he had seemingly lost the dressing room.
The same won’t happen to Klopp, of course, but having been far and away the best side in the league last campaign, to finish outside of the Champions League places would be an altogether humiliating conclusion for the Reds.
And they face a real fight on their hands to clinch a top four spot.
To finish outside the top four would represent a huge fall from grace for the champions
Brendan Rodgers’ high-flying Leicester City will be determined not to allow the same slip up that saw them fall out of the top four last season on the final day, Manchester United are prone to a poor result but have arguably the best player in the league in Bruno Fernandes driving them forwards while Chelsea are showing signs of improvement under Thomas Tuchel.
Beyond that, West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa are capable of putting a run of results together to propel themselves into the mix, and all have games in hand over the champions.
All may be lost in the title race, but Klopp must ensure his charges are still determined to retain their Champions League status.
Make a good go of the Champions League
When all else fails, you can always rely on Liverpool to make a good fist of the Champions League.
Having made successive finals in 2018 and 2019, beating Tottenham two seasons ago to become European champions for a sixth time, last season’s last-16 exit to Atletico Madrid was an underwhelming showing for Klopp’s side.
The Champions League will come as a welcome distraction for Klopp’s below-par champions
The Reds face a stern test against RB Leipzig in their Round of 16 clash in Budapest this week
The Reds will hope that their European exploit will offer a welcome distraction from their domestic struggles in what is a wide open race to lift Europe’s biggest prize.
Klopp knows that his side need to be back on form, though, if they are to return to winning ways as they take on RB Leipzig at the Puskas Arena in Budapest this week.
The German outfit have been viewed negatively in their homeland but have enjoyed a host of plaudits across the continent in recent seasons, with young coach Julian Nagelsmann taking the side to the semi finals last season.
The 32-year-old has drawn comparisons with Klopp, but the senior coach will hope to teach his ambitious compatriot a thing or two when they meet in Hungary on Tuesday night.
A confidence boosting win over two legs against the Germans could prove a turning point in the Reds’ season and send them on their way to what fans will hope to be a seventh European title.
Outwitting Julien Nagelsmann would provide a huge boost for Klopp and his Liverpool side
Restore Alisson’s confidence
Klopp has attributed his side’s below-par showings this season to the plethora of injuries picked up throughout the campaign.
To some extent that is true, with the absences of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Diogo Jota among the devastating blows.
But the performances of several key players has also contributed to the champions’ plight this season, and the last two displays from goalkeeper Alisson Becker have cast the spotlight on the typically unflappable Brazilian.
Klopp must restore Alisson Becker’s confidence after a nightmare seven days for the Brazilian
The £65m man made a host of uncharacteristic errors in the defeats to Man City and Leicester
The 28-year-old endured a five-minute spell of madness at Anfield to gift Manchester City two goals and the three points, playing the ball directly to a man in sky blue on two occasions in an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment.
At the King Power, Alisson also committed a huge error in darting out of his penalty area to clear a long ball, colliding with a team-mate and allowing Jamie Vardy to dispatch the ball into an empty net to give the Foxes the lead.
Alisson’s arrival played a decisive role in Liverpool establishing themselves as the best team in the country, with the Brazilian a bedrock between the sticks, a welcome sight for Reds fans given their woes with goalkeepers in recent years.
There can be no doubt that the £65m man is one of the best keepers on the planet, and Klopp will be hoping that his last two showings are merely a blip. The German is renowned for his excellent man-management skills, and will need to pick his keeper up as the champions head into a crucial stage of the season.
Alisson is typically unflappable and needs to return to that form fast to help turn things around
Try a new formation
Liverpool have spent the best part of three seasons playing vibrant, pulsating, relentless football that has blitzed through all manner of opponents, with Klopp’s gegenpressing style proving tough to match.
However, this season a jaded Liverpool side have struggled to rediscover that high-pace tempo and as such have found it difficult to break opponents down.
Liverpool’s vibrant, enthralling style has made way for a blunt and jaded attacking force
The Reds have found goals hard to come by and have scored once at Anfield in three games
Back-to-back Anfield defeats to Burnley and Brighton, in which the Reds failed to score over 180 minutes, epitomised the champions’ bluntness in front of goal, so perhaps it is time to consider tweaking things slightly to get the goals flowing once more.
And the expected return of Jota will help provide Klopp with the flexibility to change things up.
The Portuguese attacker enjoyed a scintillating start to life at Anfield following his £41m switch from Wolves last summer, almost singlehandedly providing the goals when Liverpool struggled to break rivals down.
Diogo Jota’s return may afford Klopp the flexibility to play a different system and formation
Reds fans have called for the 24-year-old to start more regularly, and Klopp played Jota alongside Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in the 1-1 draw with City earlier this season in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Mane and Jota were utilised on the flanks while Salah played just behind the Brazilian centrally.
The Egyptian has remained a bright spark for Liverpool this season, and you would expect him to thrive in a more central role should Klopp opt for that system change.
Prepare for life after Wijnaldum
It is the saga that has rumbled on for far longer than Klopp had expected. The German has insisted that Gini Wijnaldum’s contract conundrum has not been a negative distraction in the dressing room, with the Dutchman destined to leave Anfield for free this summer.
The 30-year-old has been an unsung hero in this Liverpool side, but his performances have been some way off the displays of recent seasons.
And with the title out of the picture, it would be an apt time for Klopp to entrust other players to step up to the plate and give a glimpse into life without Wijnaldum.
Gini Wijnaldum’s contract saga has rumbled on for too long and he looks set to leave in July
Klopp ought to prepare for life after Wijnaldum and give several other players a shot in midfield
There is always a clamour over young English players when they first break through, with the majority proving false dawns, but Curtis Jones looks the real deal.
The 20-year-old was limited to mostly cup games last season, but with the lengthy injury list this campaign the local youngster has been afforded more minutes in the league and has duly taken his chance with both hands.
The midfielder has the energy and dynamism to fill the void left by Wijnaldum and with a consistent run of games under his belt could come on leaps and bounds in the final knockings of this campaign.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been on the outskirts for some time and needs game time
So too could Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has fallen by the wayside since picking up a knee injury against Manchester City in the Champions League in 2018.
Klopp turned to the former Arsenal man to set the tempo in midfield and he flourished with consistent minutes, but has found game time hard to come by since returning.
Naby Keita has been out since December while Klopp has been forced to play Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in defensive roles, but the English duo could provide a refreshing alternative to Wijnaldum.
Decide who to move on in the summer
Jamie Carragher opined that Liverpool are in need of fresh faces at the club, with the core of the squad having played the majority of games for the last three seasons.
It is no secret that the Reds have lacked the necessary squad depth to navigate through the marathon campaign, with there being a significant drop off in quality in a number of key areas, particularly the attacking positions.
And Klopp will be aware that the time has come for a number of stalwarts to move on and make way for fresh additions who will revitalise his squad.
Klopp must have one eye on next season and will be preparing for a clear out this summer
Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool lack freshness and will need reinforcements this window
Divock Origi is a cult hero among fans and has provided the club with some fond memories, most notably his strike in the Champions League final as well as the winner against Everton.
But the Belgian has been on the outskirts for some time and has been linked with a move away the last couple of windows, with Wolves most heavily interested in the 25-year-old. A fresh start would seem favourable for all parties.
Joel Matip has shown his quality since joining on a free transfer, but his availability has proven a source of frustration, with the Cameroonian vulnerable to knocks and unable to put in a consistent run of games.
Divock Origi has been linked with an exit for some time and could do with a fresh start
Joel Matip is a classy operator but his reliability is an issue having picked up lots of injuries
Xherdan Shaqiri has also proved good value for money since arriving from Stoke and offered a host of game changing performances, but is highly unlikely to pose a serious threat to Salah, Mane and Firmino’s status as starters.
Klopp faces several big decisions this summer and the coming months could be pivotal in the futures of a number of players on the outskirts.
Ultimately, the Reds need to turn things around fast. Games come thick and fast and there is simply no time to dwell on past results.
‘At the moment it’s tough,’ Klopp said at Leicester. ‘But the only way out of the situation is to play good football, fight and work hard. That’s what we will do, we have to. We’ll get the results and see where we end up.’
The fight begins in Budapest.
Klopp needs to turn things around fast and it begins with the trip to Budapest this week
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