Jürgen Klopp has dismissed José Mourinho’s complaint about being in an “unfair fight” for Champions League qualification on the grounds Manchester United have the resources to handle a gruelling schedule.
United trail Liverpool by two points in the race for a top-four finish, albeit with a game in hand, having drawn the Manchester derby on Thursday. After the goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium Mourinho lamented having to play “half of a Premier League more than Liverpool” – it is 13 matches more – and claimed his Europa League semi-finalists were in “an unfair fight but we are going for that”.
Klopp accepts United face a punishing schedule due to progress in Europe but, having experienced a similar run last season and given the depth of United’s squad, the Liverpool manager denied Mourinho and his team are at a disadvantage.
“I can imagine what he means but they have played a similar season to what we had last year,” said Klopp, whose team could be outside the top four by the time they play Watford on Monday.
“They also have a different squad, a wider squad, and with all of their injury problems they had so far they are still able to put out teams and you think:‘Mkhitaryan isn’t playing? Rooney isn’t playing? And him, and him …’ It is different but of course it is hard.
“They have seven or eight games left – five in the Premier League, a semi-final and maybe a final – and yes that is hard, absolutely, but we had a similar situation last season, not fighting for the Champions League unfortunately, and it’s not unfair, it is the situation. Nobody asked us last year how we felt about it. It doesn’t feel well but I know what he means.”
The Liverpool manager has defended the decision to award Dejan Lovren a new four-year contract worth £100,000-a-week. The Croatia centre-half followed Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana in committing his long-term future to Anfield on Friday and, while admitting the defender’s decision-making needs to improve, Klopp believes the deal represents good value to Liverpool.
“I am really happy about this,” he said. “In a situation like this I know how football supporters think. If you had asked them after the Dortmund game [last season when Lovren scored a dramatic injury-time winner in the Europa League] they would have said: ‘Give him a 20-year contract’. When you see the Crystal Palace game [last Sunday] they think: ‘Can we find another team who could have him?’
“The truth is in between. If Dejan played for another club you’d think about signing him and then you think what you’d have to pay for him and it would be a big number of money. Giving him a new contract, working with him, he is 27 years old – the best time for a centre-half is still to come. He is physically strong, quick and a good footballer. Sometimes decision-making could be better but no one out there – and we watch a lot – is perfect. We really think he can help us a lot and we can help him in these few decisive parts of his game and that is what we want to do.”