Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is desperate to avoid any slip-ups from his side as he targets a place in the Champions League knockout stages with the odds heavily stacked in their favour.
A draw at home to Spartak Moscow in their final group match today would put Liverpool through while a win would ensure they top Group E but Klopp is taking nothing for granted after his side let slip a 3-0 lead against Sevilla in the last round of matches.
Three years ago the five-time European champions needed to win at home to Basel to progress but a draw dropped Brendan Rodgers’ side into the Europa League.
“All good and bad things that happened in the Champions League – mostly good — has brought us to this situation and if we win we are through and that is cool,” said Klopp, whose Liverpool side are bidding to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2009.
“I know a lot of people might think we should be already through but that’s not life, it is not ‘if’ and ‘when’, it is about the moment.
“Spartak could say the same as they gave away four points against Maribor so they would be in a different situation.”
Klopp says he will play his strongest team despite Sunday’s derby at home to an Everton side buoyed by the appointment of new permanent manager Sam Allardyce. The starting team is likely to include playmaker Coutinho, who continues to be the subject of speculation over a renewed bid from Barcelona after the Catalan club’s failure to sign him in the summer.
Klopp was asked what made him so sure Coutinho would still be at the club in February but he dismissed the question.
“Nothing — but I don’t think about it, I think about the Moscow game,” he added. “Not one second have I thought about that so far. I am not unsure, I am not sure, I don’t think about it.”
Klopp is also optimistic of having Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez back to bolster his defence. Forward Sadio Mane is expected to return after being rested at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Manchester City’s stunning form does not guarantee them success at the end of the season, manager Pep Guardiola said yesterday.
City head into today’s final European group stage fixture against Shakhtar Donetsk on a 20-match winning run with top spot in Group F already secured.
“We are playing well but it does not mean we will go on to win the competition. We will try to be there (in the final),” Guardiola, who failed to win a trophy with City in his first season, told reporters yesterday.
“I assure you, sooner or later we will lose, but the next day we will recover.”
While their weekend Premier League trip to Manchester United will give them a chance to open an 11-point advantage at the top of the table, Guardiola wants his players to focus on the task at hand today.
“We are happy to be in the last 16 already but it is going to be a tough game in Ukraine,” he said. “They make a perfect defensive structure.”
City will be without midfielder David Silva, who picked up an injury after his late winner against West Ham United on Sunday, while Kevin De Bruyne is serving a one-match suspension in Europe.
Phil Foden (17) was included in the travelling squad and could make only his second appearance for City this season at the Metalist Stadium.
Yaya Toure is also set for a return to the starting lineup, having featured five times for City in all competitions.
The 34-year-old midfielder praised City’s younger players, including Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, for sharing the goalscoring responsibility during their winning run this season.
“For players like me and Vinnie (Kompany), the older players, and we see the younger players like Sane and Sterling coming in . . . we play with more confidence,” Toure told reporters.
“Our team is playing some of the best football in Europe but we want to play against the best teams to see where we are. We are full of confidence. The way we control games is fantastic.” — Reuters-AFP