Liverpool have been handed one of the tougher starts to a Premier League season, with the awkward opener against Leeds followed by Sunday’s trip to Chelsea and then the visit of Arsenal, but Jürgen Klopp burst into laughter when asked if he would have preferred a gentler introduction to his first title defence.
“Can you supply the names of the teams who would have given us an easy start?” he responded. “I have never really known that to happen in this league. I agree that what we have been given is tough but I can’t say I thought about it too much. Pretty much any team you come across in the Premier League can cause you a problem.”
The Klopp smile was on full beam anyway with the Thiago Alcântara signing in the bag – “He is an absolutely exceptional player and there was not a lot of convincing needed, he is pretty excited about coming here” – and the manager was equally upbeat about Mo Salah’s hat-trick performance to kick off the new season. The Egyptian’s three goals against Leeds took him to 97 for Liverpool and it is conceivable – though another Klopp guffaw indicated he considered it unlikely – that he could bring up the century against his former club.
Chelsea gave Salah his first opportunity in English football but there is no doubt Liverpool have seen the best of him. Many thought he might struggle to repeat his extraordinary first season at Anfield, which in terms of scoring has proved to be the case. Yet Salah’s performance level has remained consistent and to be approaching 100 goals in a fraction over three campaigns tells its own story.
“Where else can you find a striker with those sort of numbers?” Klopp asked. Robert Lewandowski or Ian Rush, perhaps, though unlike those two players Salah operates as a notional winger, helping set up chances for others instead of concentrating only on finishing.
“His workrate is exceptional, he’s a super-professional,” Klopp said admiringly. “Two of his goals against Leeds were penalties, and if you just saw that in a newspaper you might assume it was not an outstanding performance or an outstanding hat-trick, but if you saw the game you would appreciate it was a real three-goal performance.
“The supporters know exactly how important he is to us, they can all see he works his socks off, but I see him in between games as well, how dedicated he is and how hard he works at improving. All players will do what you tell them to do but some can see it for themselves, and Mo is one of those.
“He got the goal reward against Leeds but sometimes this season it will be Sadio Mané or Bobby Firmino. We are really lucky to have those three players because every week at least one of them will deliver. They work hard for each other because they respect each other – they all appreciate what the others can do for them.”
Chelsea have been among the summer’s biggest spenders, adding two players Klopp knows particularly well in Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. “They have lost a couple of players but signed some very good ones,” the Liverpool manager said. “I expect them to do well, but I always expect that.
“I am in England five years and Chelsea v Liverpool is always seen as a top game. Chelsea are always tough to play because they have such good players, and the ones they have just signed are top quality.
“You cannot start talking about titles and final positions at this early stage of the season, but Chelsea obviously want to improve on their fourth-place finish last time. Their transfer activity shows their ambition, and if they finished in fourth place last season there’s only one direction to go from there. Usually we know quite a bit about Chelsea from previous games, but Frank has so many options it is hard to predict how they will line up.”
Klopp is not particularly surprised to see more and more German players coming over to England. “It’s not really new, Mesut Özil came years ago and Michael Ballack before him,” he said. “The Bundesliga has a good standard of football even if it is dominated by one team, and because some wise decisions were made several years ago there will always be good players coming through the German system.
“The Premier League is obviously the league with the most money, so it is naturally attractive, plus most Germans speak English so this is like a natural home for them. The Bundesliga is a good league for English clubs to scout, as long as they are prepared to pay the transfer fees.”