Jurgen Klopp has urged Liverpool to turn its recent improvement into a season-saving revival as the Reds eye Champions League revenge against Real Madrid.
Klopp's team is showing signs of finally emerging from a dismal spell that threatened to ruin its entire campaign. Liverpool has reeled off successive victories over Everton and Newcastle to give it renewed hope of snatching a top four finish in the Premier League. Saturday's 2-0 win at Newcastle moved Liverpool to within six points of the fourth-place Magpies, who have played one more Premier League game than the Reds.
While it is too early to say that Klopp has found remedies for everything that has ailed Liverpool throughout a traumatic season, the club welcomes Real Madrid to Anfield for Tuesday's round of 16 first-leg match with its morale no longer at rock bottom.
Klopp will take that as a foundation from which to kick-start Liverpool's bid to win the Champions League for a second time under the German manager. Liverpool, six-time winner of Europe's elite club competition, would already have more Champions League triumphs in the Klopp era if not for pesky Real Madrid. The Spanish giant beat Liverpool in the 2018 final, eliminated it in the 2021 quarterfinals and won last season's final, 1-0, in Paris thanks to Vinicius Junior's goal.
Liverpool has not beaten the Spanish club since a Champions League round-of-16 victory in 2009. Last year's loss was especially painful at the end of its failed quadruple chase, a quest that brought just FA and League Cup success, and left Klopp's players struggling mentally and physically this season.
Even greater scars were worn by the Liverpool fans traumatized after police used unnecessary force in ugly scenes outside the Stade de France before kickoff in the Champions League final. The repercussions from those incidents are still being felt and it would be a cathartic moment for Liverpool if it could end Real Madrid's reign as Champions League holder.
It hasn't escaped the attention of Liverpool fans that this year's Champions League final is in Istanbul, the scene of its against-all-odds victory over AC Milan in the 2005 title game.
A return to the Ataturk Stadium would bring back sweet memories for the Reds, but first it has to get past Carlo Ancelotti's team. After a season marred by defensive problems, Klopp takes heart from Liverpool's second consecutive shutout against Newcastle, a feat it had not managed in the league since October.
"Massive, 100 percent," Klopp said. "It explains a little bit the issues we have in the games where we can't control it better. It's so long ago we were in a situation like that. It's unfortunate that soccer is not like cycling, always exactly on the same level. It's different. The only way you can get back on track is by winning. We've now done it twice in a row and that feels absolutely incredible."
After a wretched run that featured embarrassing defeats at Brentford, Brighton [twice] and Wolves, Liverpool has received a chance to get back on track. Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo were scorers against Newcastle, but Klopp was most encouraged by the way Liverpool fought to subdue a team that threw players forward in search of a way back into the game. That togetherness, traditionally a trademark of Klopp's teams, has not always been evident this season.
"We didn't score a third and that keeps the game exciting," Klopp said. "All credit to them, they put a proper shift in, they fought really hard."
The only concern for Klopp ahead of the Real clash was the shoulder injury Nunez suffered in a second-half collision with Kieran Trippier.
"The bad news, Darwin has something on his shoulder," Klopp said. "We will see. We need further assessment. I don't know in the moment. In the moment it is painful, but hopefully it's just painful and not more."
For once, even another injury issue could not shake Klopp's spirits as Liverpool look toward its Real grudge match in a confident mood.
© Agence France-Presse