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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Liverpool need Anfield to conjure up 'something special' to beat Napoli, says Jurgen Klopp

A 1-0 win against the Italians will see Liverpool progress to the last 16. If Napoli score, they need to win by two clear goals

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he would have taken the position of needing to beat Napoli in their final group game to reach the Champions League knockout stage, given that PSG are also in Group C. Reuters
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he would have taken the position of needing to beat Napoli in their final group game to reach the Champions League knockout stage, given that PSG are also in Group C. Reuters

Perhaps Jurgen Klopp was drawing on Liverpool’s rich European past, on the history of late drama and the mythology of the great Anfield nights. “If something special is possible, it is here,” he said. Liverpool may need something remarkable, not merely to beat Napoli but to do so with a scoreline that guarantees progress.

A 1-0 win will suffice. Let any goals in and they have to win by two. Liverpool have experience of both scenarios. They have won 1-0 against Chelsea in semi-final second legs in both 2005 and 2007, requiring a penalty shoot-out on the latter occasion. They have conceded but gone on to win 3-1 in two of the most famous Anfield nights, against St Etienne in 1977 and Olympiakos in 2004.

One of Klopp’s great feats has been to restore the magical European evenings to a ground that had precious few for years. Then Manchester United were beaten and Borussia Dortmund dramatically defeated 4-3 in 2016. Rewind to April and Manchester City and Roma were overwhelmed, Liverpool scoring three goals in 19 quarter-final minutes and five in 34 in the semi-final. The players fed off the crowd and vice versa. They aim to do so again. “We have to create a special atmosphere and use it,” Klopp said.

Optimism underpins his management. Virgil van Dijk reflected on the possibility of last season’s Uefa Champions League finalists exiting the competition before Christmas. “You don’t want to be in a situation we could be in where we could be knocked out,” the defender said. In contrast, Klopp savoured the sense of opportunity. “We need to be really happy about the chance we still have,” he said. He argued it was one he would have settled for when Liverpool were drawn with Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain.

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It is nevertheless the consequence of the wrong sort of historic feat. For the first time, Liverpool have lost all three of their away group games. It led to a frank admission from Van Dijk. “It is our own fault that we are in this position,” said the Dutchman. “He is 100 per cent right,” Klopp agreed. “We caused the situation in a good way and in a bad way. We knew after the Napoli [away] game that that was not good enough. [Red Star] Belgrade was not better. So far at home we are good. We have to be even better.”

It is no simple task. “Napoli is for sure in a better position but they deserved it,” Klopp said. Liverpool are the Premier League’s new leaders but their visitors sit second in Serie A. “Napoli is good in possession and good in the counter attack as well, a typical Italian team with good defending,” Klopp noted.

He could have been in their dugout on Tuesday. Napoli’s loquacious owner Aurelio de Laurentiis approached Klopp during his Dortmund days. “Mr De Laurentiis is quite chatty,” said Klopp. “I don’t think I told anyone and he mentions it all the time. I think he is happy with all the choices he made. Bringing Maurizio Sarri in was incredible and now Carlo Ancelotti. I am happy and at the moment we don’t have to think about changing. I still have a three-and-a-half year contract so I am not sure if anybody wants me after that.”

Blending humour with a self-deprecating streak – “I like Italian food, unfortunately I don’t speak the language that well,” Klopp smiled – he did not look like a man feeling the pressure. He is boosted by the possibility that Sadio Mane, who was only a substitute in Saturday’s 4-0 win at Bournemouth, should be fit to start and the news that Joe Gomez, who is out injured, has signed a new six-year contract.

“His development is incredible,” Klopp added. “It is brilliant for us but also I think is brilliant for him. He loves being here so it is a smart decision.” In Gomez’s absence, Van Dijk will assume an added responsibility. Liverpool’s record buy has already taken on further duties. While Klopp has made a reputation as a motivator, Van Dijk supplied a rallying cry.

“We should be confident,” he said. “We should be ready. We should be believing in ourselves that we can do it and we can progress. We have a way to get out of this.”

Liverpool’s past shows they can be experts in escapology. The equation is exactly the same as it was in their final group game 14 years ago. Then Steven Gerrard etched himself into Anfield folklore with a superlative late strike. It was something special, and Liverpool may need it again.

Updated: December 11, 2018 08:10 AM

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