Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp denied yesterday that his Premier League leaders will have the upper hand over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the title race despite a lighter schedule after crashing out of both domestic cup competitions.
City trail Klopp’s men by four points, with Tottenham two points further back, but both of Liverpool’s rivals are still involved in four competitions. Klopp meanwhile made nine changes for Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Wolves in the FA Cup, with his focus on ending the Reds’ 29-year wait to win the title, and his team were knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea back in September.
“There’s no advantage. If you have all your players available, it’s brilliant that you can always play them, it’s really good,” said Klopp ahead of today’s trip to Brighton.
“We have to use the time. You can do a lot of wrong things when you have a week to train, that’s possible. We have to use the time and really be, week in and week out, in the best shape we can be.”
Dejan Lovren was one of only two players Klopp retained against Wolves from a 2-1 defeat to City in their last Premier League outing, but the Croatian picked up a hamstring injury after just six minutes at Molineux. Klopp now has a defensive crisis on his hands. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have also been sidelined in recent weeks, but Matip may be fit in time to return against Brighton. “It’s quite special if you would bet on having three centre-halves injured in the same moment — you could win a lot of money for that because usually it doesn’t happen. Here it happened, it was a bit of bad luck. That makes it quite a bit tricky.”
Klopp reiterated his belief that Lovren’s injury is a justification for why he was right to rest players such as Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino against Wolves after a hectic fixture list over the festive season.
“We had to make changes for the Wolves game. The players we didn’t line up in that game were either a little bit injured, or injured, or played all the games in December, plus the City game at the beginning of January. Bringing them again in that moment, as you saw with Dejan, who played pretty much all these games as well, is a risk — it’s a proper risk.”
Defeat at City on January 3 was Liverpool’s first in the league this season and Firmino stressed the importance of bouncing back immediately at Brighton to not give champions City another chance to cut the gap when they host Wolves on Monday.
“That’s what the Premier League is all about — it’s intensely competitive. If the team at the top stutters, the second place will overtake them,” the Brazilian told Liverpool’s website. “We know we can’t go to sleep and lose silly points. We must maintain our focus until the end of the season.”
Fixtures (all times 1500GMT
Today: West Ham v Arsenal (1230), Brighton v Liverpool, Burnley v Fulham, Cardiff v Huddersfield, Crystal Palace v Watford, Leicester v Southampton, Chelsea v Newcastle (1730)
Tomorrow: Everton v Bournemouth (1415), Tottenham v Manchester United (1630)
On Monday: Manchester City v Wolves (2000)
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