Jurgen Klopp faces the prospect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selections having a major bearing on his distant hopes of Champions League football this week but the Liverpool manager believes there is only one villain of the piece.
The Premier League’s decision to hand United’s four fixtures in a little over one week, starting with their Europa League victory in Roma on Thursday, was described as “crazy” by Klopp after a much-needed, but far from comfortable, win over Southampton.
Solskjaer has openly conceded he will field weakened teams either against Leicester on Tuesday or for the re-arranged fixture with Liverpool on Thursday, although Klopp has no doubt United will be at full-strength for his visit.
It opens up the prospect of United facing fourth-placed Leicester, the only team Klopp can realistically hope to overhaul in his final four games, with a severely sub-strength team.
“I think everybody is 100 per cent sure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer respects the Premier League 100 per cent, but the situation is now like it is – and I really think it's crazy what we did with that,” said Klopp.
“I know there were not proper solutions, but I think there could be a better situation than that, I am pretty sure.
“United has a weekend off after that or something like that? So, three games in five days but then a weekend off, so it looks like there could have been a window where we could have done something slightly different.
“But it is a decision and I understand that he doesn't like that, definitely. We will see what we make of that.
“We have a tough programme ourselves because of that because now we play the last four games in a very short period of time. That's how it is and we will see what we can make.”
Liverpool, too, have now suffered due to the crowd unrest that forced the postponement of their original visit to Old Trafford last weekend.
Klopp now faces the final four games of the season in a ten-day span, starting on Thursday, but he is realistic enough to know that, given the intense rivalry between the two north-west clubs, he can expect United at full-strength in the re-arranged fixture.
“I think we would have played the strongest United team possible on the original date, so that's what we expect. Nothing else,” he said.
“If Man United is doing it like that, we cannot change that. I think Man United has only just good players. If I think about the players they could play, they have a really strong side available – pretty good.
“They might be young but they are good. I expect a strong team against us – and what they do in other games, we obviously have no influence.
“But, as I said, we would have played the strongest Manchester United side last Sunday and that's what we expect now.”
Liverpool, who are six points behind Leicester but with a game in hand, made hard work of finishing off Southampton despite an excellent first half finish from Sadio Mane.
Thiago Alcantara, with his first goal for the club, added a second in the final minute, underscoring Klopp’s claims, pre-match, that Liverpool will not see the best of him until next season after his debut year was ruined by suffering from Covid and injury.
“Not the first time obviously, but he played really well,” said Klopp. “He looked really good in pretty much all departments, helped us a lot with his passing game, played top passes, to be honest, was defensively in there.
“So that's all really good and really important. So he had a lot of good situations but the most important was when he finished, when he scored that goal. I'm really pleased for him.”
While a drop in goal production will be a concern for Klopp as he enters next season - Liverpool having scored 57 times to date, compared to the 85 they netted last season - it is even more of an issue for Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Promising youngster Nathan Tella was among a number of Saints to waste glorious chances of an equaliser.
“His finishing can be better but that’s what you learn over the years,” said Hasenhuttl. “When you’re a professional player you learn this from all the sessions you have.
“I must say, he was again a very lively part of our game, absolutely brave, always a threat to them. We didn’t score, this was a pity, but the rest of our play was okay.”