Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hopes that his side’s brilliant 4-1 dismantling of former Premier League leaders Manchester City will convince his players that they can surmount any obstacle.
Roberto Firmino scored his first Liverpool goal and set up two more as the visitors surged to a 3-0 lead inside the first 32 minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with Martin Skrtel rubber-stamping victory late on after Sergio Aguero had reduced the deficit shortly before half-time.
Liverpool have now beaten champions Chelsea and City in successive away games and while they lie six points off the Champions League places, Klopp believes that vital self-belief is being forged.
Asked what had changed for Liverpool since the dismissal of his predecessor Brendan Rodgers last month, Klopp replied: “For us it’s not important what’s different.
“What is important is that we can see and feel that there’s a development in our game. We need common experience that we can talk about, work with and other things.
“That’s why I say we can do better than tonight in many parts of the game. Maybe not in counter-attacks, because they were really good, but of course we can better defend and we can start to believe in our strength.
“At half-time, I said the lads have a little bit the feeling that they are surprised we are in the lead here. That’s what we have to learn.
“It’s normal in football if you have quality, and we have quality, that you are in the lead.”
The period immediately before half-time was the only time Liverpool looked vulnerable as Aguero curled home from 25 yards to mark his return from a seven-game lay-off due to a hamstring injury with a goal.
Briefly it seemed Liverpool might rue Firmino’s failure to take two chances when they led 3-0, first shooting at Joe Hart and then hooking a shot wide from goal-scorer Philippe Coutinho’s flick-on.
– ‘Sterling, what’s the score?’ –
But Liverpool reasserted control in the second half and after Hart had thwarted Firmino, Dejan Lovren and substitute Christian Benteke, Skrtel slammed home from an 81st-minute corner to seal City’s heaviest defeat since they moved to the Etihad in 2003.
The only concern for Liverpool was the sight of Coutinho leaving the fray in the 68th minute after clutching the back of his thigh, but Klopp expressed optimism that it was only “a little bit of cramp”.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini was at a loss to explain his side’s shortcomings and claimed that his players could not have played worse had they tried.
The hosts were second to the ball throughout the game and conceded possession with worrying frequency, while Pellegrini was correct to assert that his side “could have conceded at least three or four more”.
It was a particularly chastening night for Raheem Sterling, playing against his former club for the first time, who left the pitch to taunts of “Sterling, what’s the score?” from the away supporters.
But Pellegrini refused to discuss the 20-year-old’s display and also claimed that he had no regrets about his team selection, despite having completely rejigged his midfield at half-time by sending on Fernandinho and Fabian Delph for Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas.
“I will not explain the starting XI,” he said. “If I had to choose the same starters, I’d choose the same starters. It was not one name or another name. It was a complete disaster, the whole team.”
City now travel to Turin to play Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday and although they have already qualified for the last 16, Pellegrini sees it as an opportunity to draw a line in the sand.
“It’s very important to turn the page as soon as we can,” said the Chilean, whose side fell behind to an early Eliaquim Mangala own goal.
“This performance is not normal. All must think (about) what will happen in the future. We have an important game on Wednesday.” – Agence France-Presse