IN a recent interview, John Barnes referenced a culture of wanting to win matched with the culture of ensuring a win as a primary reason behind Liverpool’s golden past.
It didn’t matter who the opposition were, what ground the game was at, or which competition the fixture fell under, the Reds would give everything to secure victory – during the week and then from the first to the final whistle.
It was a habit, an obsession and became a cycle. Week after week, match after match, tournament after tournament, Liverpool had what he described as an “unshakeable need” to win. To be winners. But most importantly, to ensure that they were putting in the work to be worthy of that label.
This conversation with the gliding genius, who made the sublime seem simple, shuffled in my mind as Jurgen Klopp held his first press conference of the week ahead of Liverpool’s first crucial encounter of the week. Unsurprisingly, the focus during the media briefing centred on the second fixture: the League Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley. Thursday’s Europa League tie against Augsburg, the subject matter of the gathering at Melwood, was framed as a distraction and felt like a footnote.
Not for the manager though. “If you think about the second step before you make the first step, you will always fall down, so there’s no other chance. We have to be fully concentrated and give everything for this game,” Klopp said.
“If we think, for example, to leave this player out then for sure he will be injured in a training session, so it’s not allowed. We have to be fully concentrated on this game and then go to the next one.”
The 48-year-old will field his strongest team against Augsburg. His preparation has focused solely on Augsburg. His number one priority at the moment is progressing to the next round of the Europa League at the expense of Augsburg. As it should be.
The culture of wanting to win and the culture of ensuring a win does not discriminate; it does not look ahead to Sunday when there’s still a big shift required on Thursday. Liverpool need this mentality, they need this habit.
A largely young squad can do with as much European experience as possible. They can do with as many chances of winning as possible.
As Barnes explained: “The best way to learn about anything is through experiencing it. We had the experience of preparing to win and then winning. The young players the club would bring through grew that way too. We knew that being successful was a full-time task, you don’t turn it on and off.”
There will be no flicking of the switch as far as the Reds boss is concerned. Klopp knows Liverpool cannot get wrapped up in their Wembley date while Augsburg are describing the tie at “legendary” Anfield as “Christmas come early.” Their manager Markus Weinzierl and midfielder Tobias Werner spoke of pulling off an upset and backed themselves to progress.
Liverpool’s performance at the WWK Arena in the goalless draw last week encouraged the Bundesliga side. Liverpool’s performance at Anfield on Thursday needs to encourage themselves.
Klopp believes his side can win the Europa League. Klopp has his side within a whisker of lifting the League Cup.
“The worst thing is if you go to a final and lose it. Everyone says, ‘You were so close!’ Rubbish! I can’t take it.”
Klopp has an unshakeable need to win. And that needs to spread.