Gary Neville warns Jürgen Klopp’s reds against pursuing Champions League Glory
On the 26th May, the sheer excitement that emanated around Liverpool’s glorious Champions League run, which saw them brush aside the likes of Manchester City and Roma, was palpable. Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid; this would be a final to go down in history, or so it seemed.
The resulting 3-1 defeat, which saw Salah limp off early in the first half, following a highly contentious tackle by Sergio Ramos, failed to live up to expectations and left Liverpool fans with a bitter taste. Although much was left to be desired with Loris Karius’ goalkeeping – later revealed to be linked to the concussion he’d suffered earlier in the game – there was a general feeling amongst supporters of having been cheated, at the very least, of a fair contest.
Heartbreak in Kiev: Salah consoled by Ronaldo, as he is brought off the pitch
Fast-forward several months; the message from the Liverpool camp is clear: forget about the final. Cherish the memories of a thrilling European campaign, but be prepared to face another challenging season. “We are the ones who have to do more and fight more – that must be our attitude” Klopp told journalists, back in his pre-West Ham presser.
Yet, in an interview for The Times, Neville argued that Liverpool should kick the Champions League ‘into touch.’
“I know that’s very hard to do but if they could go into Febuary, March, April without it, I think they could have a real chance if they had free weeks.”
With the way in which Liverpool play, Neville warned that it would be difficult for Liverpool to win the league, and challenge effectively in both European and domestic cup competitions. Indeed, one could argue that Liverpool’s last ‘title challenging season’ of 2013/14 – featuring a brilliant Luis Suárez – was demonstrative of this assertion. In a bittersweet season, free of European competition, the club came sickeningly close to winning the league.
Neville: Liverpool have best chance to secure title – if they prioritise the league
Yet, Neville fails to take into consideration Liverpool’s much improved depth, following an impressive transfer window. Certainly, the assuredness a world-class goalkeeper brings to a squad cannot be understated, nor can we ignore the sheer quality in the rest of Klopp’s purchases. With his direct runs and combative play, Keita has already acclimatised well to life in the Premier League, and let us not forget that Fabinho has yet to start to start a competitive game.
The acquisition of Xherdan Shaqiri has also helped bolster a bench considerably improved since the start of Klopp’s tenure. Whilst not a like for like, Shaqiri fills an important gap in the squad, as an alternative for high-scoring Salah.
Indeed, the existence of such a gap became blaringly clear when, having to replace Salah early in the Champions League final, Klopp was faced with a choice between Adam Lallana – still recovering from injury – and a misfiring Dominic Solanke. It may not have changed the end result, but few could argue with the fact that Shaqiri would have offered a far more potent threat down the right flank.
Strength in depth aside, Liverpool is a club with European pedigree; it would go completely against its DNA to drop the Champions League, regardless of whether or not it increased the chances of securing a long awaited league title. Even if Klopp wished to, he would be hard-pressed to find a supporter sympathetic to the suggestion. On MNF, perhaps with this in mind, Neville conceded that it would be impossible for the German to do so.
This will certainly be one of Liverpool’s most challenging seasons yet; if the club can maintain its promising early form and continue to grind out wins where necessary, then fans will have much to be excited for. Nonetheless, let it be said: to sacrifice Europe, would be to sacrifice the very essence of the club. Make no mistake, to bring the Premier League title back to Merseyside would be a tremendous accomplishment – albeit perhaps a season too soon – but, it must come on our terms.
Should Liverpool prioritise the Premier League at the expense of the Champions League? Have your say below.