Jürgen Klopp has said he would have to be a “real idiot” to question the character of his Liverpool team after one bad defeat, but immediate improvement on the Watford performance will be essential to overcome Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Liverpool lost their unbeaten Premier League run in startling fashion at Vicarage Road on Saturday and head to Stamford Bridge tonight looking to avoid a third consecutive away defeat in all competitions.
Klopp, expected to make several changes for his first FA Cup fifth-round tie, believes no Liverpool player performed at their usual level at Watford. But he insists his faith in a team that remains on course to win the Premier League title in record time is unbroken.
“I am not a little bit in doubt about the character of the boys and I would be a real idiot if I would be because they deserve my trust, my faith, and they don’t lose it after a bad game,” he said.
Klopp analysed the Watford game when he returned home on Saturday night before hosting a regular team meeting at Melwood on Sunday.
“It can happen that I get angry but I didn’t get angry with the players in this meeting,” he said. “If I go in that meeting and shout at them like they have lost the last 10 games because of a bad attitude that would be really strange. I am not interested that after the meeting I feel better. I am interested in the boys getting the right information.
“The situation we are in is special. Could I say that is the way we have to deal with it because I was there 20 times before and we dealt with it like this and it always worked out? No. I was never in a situation like that. We came through an incredible long period with incredible performances, sensational football, wonderful goals and great success until this point.
“There is a reason for losing a game and I prefer seeing the reason than not knowing why. It was not that the fortunes changed or that destiny wanted to give us a knock. We were just not good enough. That is the easy answer and that is filled with a lot of information that the boys get but not too much because we don’t want to think about that game for too long.”
Klopp has James Milner back from injury for the FA Cup tie but Jordan Henderson and Naby Keïta remain sidelined by hamstring and hip problems respectively. He said there can be no repeat of the Watford performance against Chelsea.
“This is an exceptional group of players,” he said. “They did outstanding stuff - but not that night. For the next game we need to improve immediately or else we will get punished.
“If they respond they have to show tomorrow night but we play against Chelsea. Should I think that just because we want to respond that we shoot Chelsea out of their own stadium? No. It will be a tough game.”
Curtis Jones, Pedro Chirivella and Neco Williams have played every minute of Liverpool's FA Cup campaign this season and though Klopp is likely to deploy a mix of youth and experience at Stamford Bridge, he insists his desire to win the competition cannot be questioned.
All we have
“We cannot fight more for the cup competitions than we do already,” he said. “One cup competition that we proved we take really seriously in the last couple of years is the Champions League. The FA Cup? It’s nothing to do with us not wanting to go to the final. It was just because of draws or performances. Team selections were always reasonable. We will play Chelsea with all we have. Then Bournemouth with all we have. Then Madrid with all we have. Then Everton, then Crystal Palace or FA Cup, right? It will be with all we have.”
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said he does not expect Liverpool's first league defeat of the season to ease the challenge of facing them on Tuesday night.
Asked it is an ideal time to face Liverpool, Lampard laughed and said: “Why, because they lost one game? Maybe not, who knows? That can go either way. They have become relatively human for one game. It can happen in this Premier League which is incredibly competitive.”
For Lampard, the ordinariness of Liverpool’s performance against Watford was a reflection of how exceptional they have been for so long: “I think Liverpool have just had a couple of results like the rest of us do. They’ve been out on their own this season. It has been an incredible feat from Jürgen Klopp and the whole squad and they have just become slightly normal.”
The focus may be on how Liverpool will react but Lampard’s Chelsea are facing problems of their own. After Saturday’s deflating 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, Chelsea have won only one of their past six games in the Premier League in addition to a 3-0 battering against Bayern Munich at home in the Champions League.
Lampard continues to be coy on his decision to bench Kepa Arrizabalaga but he spoke soberly of the mounting injuries that now plague Chelsea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek returned to action for the under-23s last night but N'Golo Kante, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all out.
“It’s definitely been an issue. Christian Pulisic is out for two months and N’Golo Kante has played 50 per cent of our games and he generally plays 100 per cent of our games or thereabouts. I think people have looked in slightly different directions with us, with the transfer ban and the youth, [but] this has been a big issue for us without a doubt.”
Chelsea’s two clashes with Liverpool this season have brought a loss on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the Super Cup and then a tense 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge in September. Rather than with fear, Lampard views Klopp’s Liverpool as a “reference point”.
“I remember them doing the arms [celebration] when they drew 0-0 with West Brom [in 2017],” he said. “I watched a sports documentary recently where it came up. [They were ]probably slightly ridiculed for it at the time.
“But that shows you, to me it is very symbolic of the journey of a team that is an absolute machine rolling everyone over until the last game. It’s a reference point in terms of what a work in progress looks like, and it can take time and behind what we can see now is a lot of sweat and hard work from everyone involved which is what I’m trying to do here.”