Pandemic football has produced another absurdity with Liverpool and Leipzig travelling for the second time in three weeks to Hungary, a country with a higher coronavirus infection rate than the UK or Germany, for a two-legged Champions League tie played entirely in Budapest that could be decided on away goals.
“I don’t understand it 100%,” said Jürgen Klopp, echoing the thoughts of many. “But I think if you compare the incidents of Leipzig, Liverpool and Budapest then there is one city where you shouldn’t play, if you really consider these kind of numbers, and that is not Leipzig or Liverpool. But we see that everything is prepared there like it was last time. It is completely fine and the people there are happy to host these games. I have no problem with playing two games. If it is good for Uefa then we have to save the competition.”
Liverpool must save their turbulent season too. Uefa’s flagship club competition is the best salvation available but, having fallen seven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, another triumph in Istanbul in May appears the only route into next season’s Champions League for the Premier League champions. That would resemble another miracle on current form. Liverpool take a 2-0 away lead into Wednesday’s last-16 second leg against Julian Nagelsmann’s side and were well worth the advantage when the sides last met at the Puskas Arena. Their home run, however, provides no security, irrespective of whether home is Anfield or Budapest for one night only.
Georginio Wijnaldum was forthright in his assessment of Liverpool’s unprecedented collapse. “Really shocking,” was how he described the run of six successive defeats at Anfield. “I don’t think it is shocking to lose a game but more the way that we lost the games. We all believe the way we are losing it was way too early and we could do better, even in this situation we are right now with injuries. That’s the most frustrating thing about the situation we are in right now. We all believe we can do better than we did.
“We feel really bad. The way we dealt with situations during games was really bad. When we analysed the games, it makes me even more angry because we can see that we can be doing so much better than we are doing right now. Of course, we have had difficult situations with injuries and those things but the situations we have faced in the games where we have conceded goals have had nothing to do with injuries.”
Self-belief has diminished along with Premier League results, the midfielder admitted, with players who have grown accustomed to success under Klopp having to adapt to a crisis for possibly the first time in their Liverpool careers.
Wijnaldum added: “It hit us hard. Everyone can see it. There is confidence in the team and the players and in each other but it is less than we are used to because of the situations we are in with the injuries, players getting Covid, difficult times in the season and also the results were not in our favour. For a lot of us as players it is a new situation we are in right now. We were used to winning games and winning trophies and now it is the opposite. The confidence is less than the previous years but that is because it is a totally different situation we are in.”
The Champions League “can rescue this season” according to the Netherlands international, who remained non-committal on the subject of his Liverpool future with only three months remaining on his contract. “But a lot of people would say the season is only rescued if you win the Champions League and everyone knows how difficult it is,” he added. “Everyone who is in the Champions League has a chance to win it.”
Klopp continues to believe in the silver lining of a seventh European triumph for Liverpool, even if the doubters are growing in numbers. He explained: “Two reasons: the team – the moments we had on the pitch, the competition, the quality of the boys – and football in general, as you will always have a chance in the next game and that must be enough most of the time.
“We have to play the game that gives us the opportunity to go to the next round. I have no doubts about us for tomorrow, not that I know we will go through 100% but I know we will give Leipzig a proper fight. That’s all I need to know at the moment. There is no guarantee for them or us but there are 95 minutes to get close to the things you want.”