Jürgen Klopp has described Liverpool’s Champions League play-off with Hoffenheim as “the most difficult step” towards reaching the lucrative group stage for only the second time in eight seasons.
Liverpool visit the Rhein-Neckar-Arena on Tuesday without the injured Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge and with the transfer saga surrounding the Brazilian plus fresh set-piece problems at Watford on Saturday casting a shadow over the start of their campaign. Hoffenheim, who like Liverpoolfinished fourth in their league last season, have also suffered disruption this summer with two key players, the Germany internationals Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Sule, departing for Bayern Munich.
“This is the strongest qualification round,” the Liverpool manager said. “England play Germany and you can go out against Germany. We were both fourth last season, both in strong leagues, but that does not increase the pressure. We want to go to the group stages. That was our target for the whole of last season and now we have two steps to go – but they are the most difficult steps. That is how it is.Klopp insists Liverpool are “in a good moment” for the first leg of the play-off and that the stance of the owner, Fenway Sports Group, towards Coutinho has not changed following Friday’s transfer request. But he believes Julian Nagelsmann’s “confident and aggressive” Hoffenheim team represent the most difficult obstacle to Liverpool’s aim of rejoining the European elite this season.
“If anybody thinks because they don’t know about German football or the quality of Hoffenheim – and a lot of people only know two names [Bayern and Borussia Dortmund] – it is clear we have to do the job. I am really positive and looking forward to the game, even when I know it is really difficult. That is no problem. That is how it should be in the Champions League, where all the games are difficult.
”Despite the difficulties posed by Hoffenheim Klopp has called on his players to enjoy the pressure of the Champions League play-off. “From all the signs of pre-season and the first game I think we are in a good moment,” he added. “But we have to show it tomorrow.
“Yes, it is big because we can go in the Champions League. You can see the opportunity in different ways. We have already qualified for European competition which we didn’t have last year. I know now people will say: ‘Yes, but who wants to play in the Europa League?’ Manchester United didn’t want to play it last year but they won it and now they are in the Champions League. Things happen like that. We can either allow the pressure on this game to increase over the next 24 hours to the extent that we cannot walk any more or we still try to enjoy this opportunity. I think that is the best way to do it.”
The Liverpool manager reiterated that FSG will not sell Coutinho this summer even with the 25-year-old, who misses the play-off first leg with a back problem, agitating for a transfer. Klopp was reluctant to discuss the Brazil international but clarified his comments at Watford on Saturday, when he stated “his bosses” will decide the player’s future.
“It is not that I don’t want to speak, it is that I can’t change my answers,” he said. “If they [FSG] say they [Barcelona] can bid whatever but we don’t want it, then that is a clear message.
“We don’t want the money, we want to invest in the team and have the best team because we have our aims and dreams. That is the message.
“I have the player from 31 August latest, again, or when the back issue is sorted. There is nothing else I can say about it. I think I said, ‘I have bosses’, right? I have many bosses, including my wife.
“I can live with this, it’s no problem. They are 100% clear on it. There is nothing else to say.”
Source: The Guardian