Jürgen Klopp did not spell it out in quite these terms but over the past four seasons Manchester City’s Premier League finishes have been fourth, third, first and first. This coincides with his tenure at Liverpool. Since he arrived in October 2015, Liverpool have finished eighth, fourth, fourth and second.
It is why Klopp said of City: “They are clear favourites. How could we be favourites?”
City’s points tally over those four seasons reads: 66, 78, 100, 98. Liverpool’s is: 60, 76, 75, 97.
As those figures show, it is only last season that his team seriously rivalled City, or anyone else, for the Premier League title. Liverpool made an impressive 22-point jump but it was 12 months after City, under Pep Guardiola, did the same. Essentially, Klopp feels his Reds are a year behind the Blues.
As Klopp prepared for tomorrow’s Community Shield match with City, there was a hint of incredulity about his response when asked about City’s favourites’ status for the title.
“Because they’ve won the league twice in a row?” he replied by way of an isn’t-that-obvious explanation.
“That’s one reason. Ours was the first year on that level; we have to prove again that we can be on that level. Ninety-seven points was not a coincidence but it’s not as if we outplayed all the teams, that we shot them out of the stadium constantly. We had tight games. We were a real results machine last year, really impressive.”
The same description could be applied to City, who seized the title with 14 straight victories from February to May and, as Klopp said, City have not got weaker.
“The champions didn’t lose a player, apart from [Vincent ]Kompany, but they will be able to do something there. They are pretty consistent, a good age group, experienced.”
Klopp omitted the sales of Fabian Delph and Douglas Luiz, but City have signed Rodri and Angelino. Liverpool, as some of the more anxious fans note, have not made a perceived major signing.
This, however, is not the negative to Klopp that it is to some. He has retained his core squad and is relaxed, perhaps, because his Bundesliga-winning Borussia Dortmund teams were raided for players such as Mario Götze, Nuri Sahin and Robert Lewandowski before fully maturing together.
“For the first time in my career, from next Monday I will have the team back together again, that’s true,” he said.
"These are the transfers we did," referring to new contracts secured over the past year for Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and others. It is 18 months since Virgil van Dijk joined, 12 since Alisson arrived, plus Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.
“Keeping the boys together, staying aggressive, greedy: let’s get going again,” he said.
It is evolution after a revolution, although losing once in reaching 97 points suggests scope for improvement is limited compared with, for example, Liverpool’s previous summer. Klopp acknowledged this: “The higher you get, the more difficult it is. But we have a lot of space for -improvement. First, we have to try to reach last season’s level again.
“When, if that happens, then you can make the next steps but it’s not always . . . it’s not PlayStation where you can go to the next skill or whatever.”
What he has stressed as much as anything is the Champions League win over Tottenham is not dwelt on. That, he knows, is easier said than done.
Reflecting on continuing jubilation, Klopp said wryly: “If you’re not successful, people still want pictures, but don’t talk to you that long.
“If you win something, everybody feels the need to tell you – first of all ‘congratulations’, then where they watched it, how they watched it, how they felt, how their family felt, how their friends felt, how the dog felt.
“It’s all nice but it keeps you in that moment. I want to be completely focused on a new season.”
Liverpool’s planning goes beyond it: they have begun preparations for next year’s pre-season and Klopp said he was resigned to not having around 15 players because of the European Championship and Copa América. He has been vocal about player burnout and cannot understand why the Premier League begins next weekend.
“Somebody has to start this discussion,” he said. “I spoke to [Napoli’s]Carlo Ancelotti Italy has 20 teams as well and their season starts on August 24th.”
Mané, Klopp noted, will have had 16 days off this summer. Fifpro, the international players’ union, released a report this week on the subject: ‘At the Limit.’ Mané, they said, played 70 games for club and country over the past 12 months.
There will be a winter break in the Premier League this season, although the league described it as “a mid-season player break”, as games will continue in a staggered form over two weekends in February.
It feels a long way away to Klopp.
“The Premier League is such a wonderful product. We don’t need these two weeks now where nobody in the whole world is playing, only the Premier League. It doesn’t make sense.” – Guardian