Liverpool dispatched Benfica on Wednesday evening to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League through aggregate goals, despite letting the opposition get within a stone’s throw of the next stage. There’s a lot for armchair managers to be upset about, but in a post match interview manager Jürgen Klopp summarized it best:
“First and foremost, the day we have qualified for the semi-final of the Champions League, and I am not happy, please come here and knock me out, because that makes absolutely no sense.”
Klopp continued: “We made seven changes, for good reasons, played a really good first half. I liked a lot of things. Scored goals, went 3-1 up and then yeah. This last line had never played together, and it’s about details. It’s difficult for you to be 100% concentrated. We had not the 1000% right mindset in that moment, maybe then we lost balls, maybe we were open in the last line, between protection, dropping and stepping up.
“Of course then it was not exactly what we wanted to do, but it’s absolutely not important because if we would’ve played the best game of the season tonight, or in our time together, we wouldn’t have been any more likely to get through to the final. Nothing to do with it. We played the game we played, we are through, that’s all I wanted. I am really happy.”
Those seven changes will hopefully make all the difference as Liverpool look ahead to facing Manchester City (again) on Saturday, and as Klopp mentioned with a back line that had never played together before. Those changes certainly paid off today, though, and further exhibited the trust that Klopp has in the squad and the depth of skill he has available to him - regardless of how many matches they’ve played together (or not).
“Absolutely, there was never a doubt about that,” Klopp answered when asked about the squad rotations.
“The one thing we knew it would be harsh was this last line had never played together. With three centerhalves you lose the boys in the last line with Virgil, you don’t have him on the pitch and these kinds of things are normal. The rest and rotation in the position was never a problem for us, and this was not a problem.
“Benfica kept believing and kept going, and that’s all. For us it was important in that period that we can really make changes and remain successful.”
Thoughts might not immediately turn to the next round of the tournament, but now that we know the opponent is Villarreal, it’s hard not to think about it, and facing them in 2016 - when both teams were very different.
“If I could analyze Villarreal now it would be strange,” the manager continued.
“What would I do over the week? I obviously saw the result, I saw last night the game was very impressive, I have to say. Really good defending - I only picked up pieces. Who kicks out Juventus, who kicks out Bayern, deserves to be in the semi-finals and it is Villarreal. They are really good, with an extremely experienced manager who is kind of the king of the cups, it is unbelievable what he is doing.
“When we play them, we will be ready, but give me a little bit of time to prepare it properly.”