Don’t make Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool “angry”


“This is now their Barcelona,” declared Jurgen Klopp.

The Liverpool manager had summoned the spirit of arguably Anfield’s greatest ever night to help inspire the 4-1 victory over Luton Town.

Klopp reminded his depleted squad of that Champions League semi-final fightback from May 2019 when a 3-0 first-leg deficit was overturned in the absence of attacking duo Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

“I promised my team a few months ago I’d never use the Barcelona game again as an example but I broke my promise,” Klopp said after Luton had led 1-0 at half-time.

“Just because before the game it was kind of similar with many players missing. That team ignored the fact who was missing and I wanted us to do the same. If you don’t limit yourself with bad thoughts, you can fly.”

Neutrals will inevitably scoff at the comparison. Luton, who are in the bottom three, are not European heavyweights. Stopping Cauley Woodrow is a world away from taming Lionel Messi.

Klopp’s assertion was not as crazy as it sounded. This was a triumph to cherish in the face of adversity as Liverpool moved four points clear at the top.


Diaz became the fifth Liverpool player to move into double figures this season (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Dominik Szobozslai, Thiago, Curtis Jones, Stefan Bajcetic, Ben Doak, Diogo Jota, Salah and Darwin Nunez were all ruled out through injury.

The injuries had threatened to sap morale and derail Klopp’s farewell tour before Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley.

With an average age of 25 years and 68 days, Liverpool named their youngest starting XI for a Premier League game since February 2018 against Southampton. Five teenagers were on the bench.

With the margin for error so small with Manchester City and Arsenal breathing down their necks, slipping up could have had huge consequences and everyone knew it.

The first half was fraught after Chiedozie Ogbene’s opener with Anfield increasingly consumed by anxiety and frustration.

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Luton manager Edwards said his side made Liverpool angry by taking the lead (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

As Liverpool tried to summon a response, their decision making in the final third was erratic. They looked like a disjointed team shorn of their three most potent weapons in Salah, Nunez and Jota (46 goals between them this season) with Luis Diaz wasteful and Cody Gakpo operating too deep.

When an overhit pass from Harvey Elliott was greeted with howls of derision just before the interval, Klopp lost his rag — turning and unleashing his fury towards the fans behind him in the Main Stand. Patience was in short supply.

“The boys knew the last passes were not great so if you hear that on top it doesn’t help,” he said. “We had to make sure that we all started new.”

So what changed in the second half?

There was no tactical shift or change in personnel. During the break Klopp, who told his players to “delete” the opening 45 minutes, explained that their approach play had been too rushed and urged them to display a greater sense of calm to take advantage of the spaces available. The message got through loud.

What followed was exhilarating. There was tempo and intensity and Anfield parked the jitters to provide an atmosphere more akin to a big European night.

“We made them angry didn’t we?” said Luton manager Rob Edwards.

“In the second half we saw Anfield. Full-throttle football. Their counter-pressing was incredible, suffocated us, put on the back foot, and their fans were amazing. It was like the Kop was sucking it in. I thought Liverpool were brilliant.”

What a captain’s display from Virgil van Dijk, who equalised with a powerful header. The Dutchman won all eight of his duels, made seven clearances and completed 59 of his 67 passes (88 per cent).

Conor Bradley, who excelled once again before departing to a standing ovation, helped swing the contest Liverpool’s way with his energy and dynamism from right-back. He is nailed on to start at Wembley.

“We knew it would be a difficult game in the circumstances with all the injuries,” he said. “I’m just so thankful for the support. I always had belief in myself but I didn’t expect it to go this well. I’m just trying to give everything I’ve got to help the team.”

Bradley’s intelligent quick throw led to Alexis Mac Allister contributing his second assist in as many minutes as Gakpo scored in back-to-back league matches for the first time since last February.

When Diaz atoned for his profligacy by firing home the third, Liverpool became the first club in Europe’s big five leagues to have five players reach double figures in all competitions this season as the Colombia forward joined Salah (19), Jota (14), Nunez (13) and Gakpo (11).

If Salah and Nunez are not fit for Sunday then at least Diaz and Gakpo will be going into the final with their confidence buoyed.

Ibrahima Konate and Andy Robertson look certain to come into the backline after being rested against Luton. Wataru Endo, quietly effective again, should form part of the midfield trio with Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch.

After Klopp had handed a debut to highly-rated academy striker Jayden Danns, it was fitting that Elliott had the final word late on. He epitomised Liverpool’s resilience as he recovered from an uncertain start. On the night that Elliott became the fourth youngest player in the club’s history to make 100 appearances for Liverpool (only Michael Owen, Raheem Sterling and Robbie Fowler reached that milestone quicker), he scored their 100th goal of the season in all competitions with a smart finish.

“Tonight is one of these nights where it is difficult to stop talking about it to be honest — it just wants to come out of me,” said Klopp.

“The second half was a thunderstorm. Wow. What this place is able to create together with a bunch of fantastic footballers is so special. We were undeniable. There’s one phrase that stands: as long as we have 11 (fit players), we will go for it. That’s all I can promise.”

Liverpool will head to Wembley depleted but defiant with momentum firmly intact.

(Top image: Elliott celebrates his winner with teenage sub Danns. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)





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