LIVERPOOL — Jurgen Klopp has promised his Liverpool side will be a different proposition from the one that lost to Manchester United in January when the teams meet again in Thursday’s Europa League round-of-16 first leg.
United won the Premier League clash at Anfield on Jan. 17 as Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of the game, despite a limp display from Louis van Gaal’s side, while Liverpool were dominant but wasteful in the final third.
After an indifferent spell around the turn of the year, Klopp’s side have had players return from injury and seen results improve, with Sunday’s win at Crystal Palace their third victory in succession.
Klopp told reporters that United’s return to Merseyside on Thursday is a chance to show that Liverpool are an improved team — and for them to end a four-match losing streak against their rivals.
He added, however, that United had improved too after a rocky spell for Van Gaal.
“Maybe we didn’t play our absolute best but we did enough to win that game,” Klopp said of January’s meeting. “We are not that far away from Man United.
“Yes, they won the last four, they won their last few games. A lot of pressure on Louis van Gaal, but they handled it really well. If you listened to everything everyone wrote and said, you would think they had big, big problems. But three games later they’re close to the Champions League [places] — a lot of people would dream of their problems.
“They are in a good moment, more confident. But we are in a good moment too.
“Against Crystal Palace the first hour was not perfect but the last half-hour the reaction was really worth watching. It was the first time in 140-something years Liverpool won a game from a goal and a man down. Results like this help us — then you can start believing.
“We are in a completely different situation. We have more players available, we can make changes when want to make changes, not when we don’t want to, and to use this is our job. Nobody knows how it will be next week, so at this moment we have to use it.”
Klopp urged Anfield to raise the intensity on Thursday to match the scale of the occasion — which he said was not diminished by virtue of taking place in the Europa League rather than the Champions League.
“Everybody needs to be in their best shape,” Klopp said. “The crowd needs to be involved. We do it for ourselves but we do it for them especially. The relationship with the crowd, there’s absolutely no doubt it helps.
“We can show we can create a special atmosphere and it can be very decisive. If it wasn’t, we could play without supporters in the park. Hopefully tomorrow we can set a new level for younger fans — we won’t surpass what happened in the past but hope for the best since I am here.
“I saw in the Champions League a lot of rubbish games, to be honest. We want to be part of that, of course, but I always said the Europa League is a very exciting tournament.
“Now we can see the finish line and there are a lot of top quality teams in it. I can’t see one game that isn’t really exciting, so that means from now on it’s like a ‘little Champions League.’ If you want, it’s a big game; if you don’t, you’re not interested in football.”
A two-legged showdown with such familiar opponents would go to the wire, Klopp predicted, rather than anything being decided at Anfield.
“The advantage with home and away games in this special battle is not too big,” he said. “You have to do your job in the first leg, you have to do your job in the second.
“In this tournament it’s unlikely you wouldn’t have to do it in the second leg. We have to get the result that means all possibilities for the rematch.”