Liverpool (AFP) – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hopes his side’s Jekyll and Hyde nature is a thing of the past as they aim to avoid a European hangover at home to Bournemouth on Saturday.
Victory will take Klopp’s men another step closer to sealing a return to the Champions League next season just days after they booked their place in the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in a decade.
The five-time European champions thrashed runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City 5-1 on aggregate in two thrilling quarter-final performances.
Liverpool lead fifth-placed Chelsea by 10 points, although the reigning Premier League champions do have a game in hand, in the fight for a place in the top four thanks to a run of just two league defeats in 24 matches.
However, one of those reverses came a shocking 1-0 loss at Swansea just eight days after a memorable 4-3 win over City at Anfield, something Klopp is keen to avoid a repeat of.
“We mature constantly. The boys get more and more used to situations like that,” said Klopp after beating City for a third time in four meetings this season.
“If you could say something bad about us in the past few months, it is on a good day we can beat everybody and on a bad day we lose, (we) concede cheap goals. We work on that. We are still in a development phase, that’s how it is but already we are a good team.”
Vital to Liverpool’s greater consistency has been the presence of centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch captain cost a world record £75m ($106 million) for a defender in January, but has lived up to his price tag in marshalling a defence that has conceded just seven goals in their past 13 matches in all competitions.
Van Dijk has brought a leadership previously lacking in Liverpool’s back line and has helped accentuate huge improvements in those around him such as goalkeeper Loris Karius, centre-back partner Dejan Lovren and inexperienced full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool rode out what Klopp called a “whirlwind” first 45 minutes from an all-out attacking approach from Pep Guardiola in midweek, conceding only once when Van Dijk claimed he had been fouled before Raheem Sterling set up Gabriel Jesus.
Of City’s 20 shots on Tuesday night, 12 were blocked as Liverpool protected Karius’s goal and showed another side to the fast-flowing attacking football led by Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane that has characterised their season.
Salah and Firmino were on target to turn the second leg around in the second-half and take the prolific front three’s tally for the season to a combined 79 goals.
Klopp must decide whether to field all three again on Saturday or hand some of his weary squad a rest with the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals just over a week away.
Salah in particular could be left out after only completing one full training session on his return from a muscle injury before playing 89 minutes at the Etihad.
Bournemouth enjoy a 10-point cushion above the relegation zone and winger Ryan Fraser believes they have nothing to lose from their trip to Anfield.
“Against the top teams, you need to forget about the relegation battle and enjoy it,” said the Scot. “We went to Old Trafford earlier in the season and in the second half we battered them, but lost 1-0 which wasn’t nice. You have to relish these moments.”