No extra pressure to make top four

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists he is under no additional pressure from the club’s owners to qualify for the Champions League.

The defending champions have slipped from top spot to sixth due to a dreadful run since Christmas but a much-needed victory at Sheffield United got them back on track.

A win over Chelsea, just a point and a place above them, at Anfield on Thursday night would lift them back into the top four but Klopp said there was no more pressure than usual from Fenway Sports Group to secure their place among Europe’s elite again.

“The main reason for qualifying for the Champions League is financial reasons but it is a great competition to play in and you want to excite some players to join,” said Klopp.

“In the beginning it was like this when I had players sitting there who had offers from clubs who played in the Champions League and it was like, ‘Sorry, we can only offer nothing or the Europa League’.

“But it is always about finances, this year is no different but that it’s important cannot change a thing.

“It is not that the owners called me and said, ‘If you don’t qualify for the Champions League this or that will happen’ because we are all together in this situation and we all understand it.

“They know we try absolutely everything to qualify this year. I hope people will still see we do our absolute best to make it happen.”

Klopp will not allow players to travel to international matches later this month if they have to quarantine on their return.

Under current coronavirus guidelines arrivals from red-list travel-ban countries are subject to 10 days’ hotel confinement, which would apply to the likes of Brazilians Alisson Becker, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho, Portugal forward Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Naby Keita (Guinea).

Due to the special circumstances, Fifa has given clubs dispensation to prevent players who may be affected by the regulations from joining up with their countries.

Klopp fully intends to apply it, saying: “I think all the clubs agree that with the same problems we cannot just let the boys go and then sort the situation when they come back by placing our players in a 10-day quarantine in a hotel, it is just not possible.

“I understand the needs of the different FAs but this is a time where we cannot make everyone happy and we have to admit the players are paid by the clubs so it means we have to be first priority.

“The whole situation is similar to the Champions League in terms of where we play and you have to wait until the last second pretty much because people need time to make decisions and we don’t think too much about it as we cannot be influential in it.

“We just deal with what other people decided so we got kind of used to it but I think everyone agrees we cannot let the players go and play for their country and come back and quarantine for 10 days in a hotel, that is not how we can do it.”

Alisson is set to return to the side for the visit of Chelsea having missed Sunday’s win at Sheffield United as he was mourning the death of his father in a swimming accident back home in Brazil.

Fabinho, who has played just one of the last eight because of injury, is also set for his first appearance in the squad while Diogo Jota, whose return at Bramall Lane following nearly three months out was denied by illness, is also back.

Klopp now has better options, with Fabinho, who has played most of the season covering at centre-back, also able to play in midfield, which means the manager could continue with the partnership of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak, the 14th different starting combination in 26 Premier League matches and their 17th overall this season.

“If we can find a way to bring Fab back in midfield that would be in some games quite helpful,” added the Reds boss.

“The most consistent player probably this season is Gini Wijnaldum: he played the six, all the positions, but Fab in at six in some games would be absolutely helpful.

“In the past we had to bring players in almost immediately because another player left the pitch injured the game before and now we don’t have to do that for the first time.

“Is Fab ready to start or is he only ready for the bench? Then which position? These decisions are still to make.

“Stability (in defence) would be great but we changed it that often, maybe we made a habit of it.

“I heard there were people were quite critical of both of them (Kabak and Phillips) which is really picky to be honest.”

A first victory in five league matches has boosted Liverpool’s top-four hopes and a win over Chelsea, now coached by Thomas Tuchel — Klopp’s successor at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund — would further enhance their chances.

“We’ve known each other for a long time, he worked for Mainz as I did, he worked for Dortmund as I did, so a lot of people we know are the same.

“I think he is an outstanding coach and it will be tricky to play his team, like it always was.”

Meanwhile Tuchel believes Tammy Abraham is missing that “little bit of luck” required to thrive as Chelsea’s attacking spearhead.

England striker Abraham is the Blues’ top scorer this term with 12 goals in all competitions, but was dropped from the match-day squad for Sunday’s goalless draw with Manchester United.

Abraham was an unused substitute in last week’s 1-0 Champions League win against Atletico Madrid, and before that was hauled off at half-time during the 1-1 draw at Southampton.

Blues boss Tuchel continues to insist his selection decisions have not been pointed in any way against Abraham, but did concede that the 23-year-old has been missing a level of fortune lately.

“He lacks a little bit of luck, Tammy, not only in games but also in training,” Tuchel said.

“And once the last touch comes back, and he’s fighting for it now, he will stay a player that we will push for.

“It’s my job to push him to his limits and we will not stop doing this in supporting him.

“We have to cut it down to 18 players, so in the end it’s not always a punishment or a signal to a player who is not in the squad.

“And in this case it was exactly like this. It was not a punishment or a signal, it was just a choice from the alternatives, on which position who starts, who could come from the bench.”

Abraham’s last Premier League goal came in the 3-1 win over Arsenal on St Stephen’s Day, but the academy graduate has registered four FA Cup goals in 2021.

Olivier Giroud led Chelsea’s line both against Atletico and United.

Abraham’s current deal at Chelsea expires in 2023, and a host of Premier League suitors are already closely monitoring his Stamford Bridge situation.

“This was a tough decision, but when things are like now, with hopefully nobody injured, we have these decisions to make,” Tuchel said.

“It’s a part of my job which I do not like, but at the same time I like because it means we have everybody available.

“And then you have to take these decisions, which we communicate normally clearly.”

Callum Hudson-Odoi is fit after a minor knee niggle, but Thiago Silva is not ready for match action despite returning to training after a thigh problem. Abraham could also be a doubt owing to a continued ankle issue.

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