Jürgen Klopp believes the past year has been the toughest of his life as he admitted he has found it hard to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The Liverpool manager lost his mother, Elisabeth, in January and travel restrictions meant he could not return to his native Germany to attend the funeral.
A naturally gregarious character, Klopp has also struggled with a world where he could not go out for lunch or a beer or meet friends, while Liverpool have had a unique combination of factors that has meant they could not retain their Premier League title and may need victory against Crystal Palace to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.
“It was the most difficult year of my life because I never thought I would have to deal with the pandemic; not me personally but us all,” Klopp said. “I found that really difficult to deal with at times, to be honest. Football was part of it. What did I learn? That sleep is overestimated.”
Klopp’s season has included a 7-2 thrashing at Aston Villa, Liverpool’s heaviest loss since 1963, and their worst run at Anfield in their history, a series of six straight defeats. He lost Virgil van Dijk for the campaign in October and then saw his other centre-backs, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, ruled out for the rest of the season. Klopp has had to be resourceful using more than 20 centre-back partnerships, which have included the midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, before settling on the inexperienced Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.
He added: “Am I a better manager? Better, I am not sure, but much more experienced. We make so many experiences we couldn’t have in any other years. There will be a time when I appreciate that but it will be in the future, not in the moment.”
Liverpool’s problems also extended to their attack. Roberto Firmino had his longest goal drought in England in 2021 while Sadio Mané has said it has been the worst season of his career. Mohamed Salah has been the lone Liverpool forward to retain his form throughout the season and is tied on 22 goals with Harry Kane as he seeks to join Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry as the only players to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot at least three times.
While the Egyptian has been accused of selfishness, Klopp believes that has proved crucial for Liverpool as his goals have been worth 17 points. “It is easy to see where we would be without Mo’s goals,” he said. “The team helps him a lot but Mo carries a lot as well. It’s his desire, it’s his professionalism, it’s his greed as well which helps us completely. It is a really top year for him because for a striker in a team which is not flying constantly, scoring these numbers is absolutely exceptional. That’s what makes him really special.”
Salah is likely to retain that responsibility. While Liverpool’s rivals are expected to enter the summer auctions for Harry Kane and Erling Haaland, Klopp will not but he is unworried by the prospect of their rivals strengthening.
“Whatever we do or not do in the next transfer window, we will not use it as any kind of excuse,” he said. “I really think it is my responsibility to improve the team without signings. We might not be the best team in the world at the start of the season but we want to be again the team no one wants to play against and I think that is possible.”