By Carl Markham, PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is targeting a decisive week early next month which he believes will define not only this season but the next.
His side’s exit from the Champions League after a 1-0 defeat in the Bernabeu saw them lose 6-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid, leaving them with just the option of securing a place in the Premier League’s top four to seal qualification for the European competition.
They had started to gather momentum after taking 13 points from 15 but a 1-0 loss at Bournemouth was a knock to confidence as well as being a blow to their hopes of finishing ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle, their two main rivals for fourth place.
With no match now scheduled until after the international break, Liverpool return with the toughest of tests to their top-four credentials as they head to Manchester City and Chelsea before hosting Premier League leaders Arsenal in the space of a week.
“With the history we have in this competition (Champions League), we start usually in the competition with the idea of winning it, to be honest,” said Klopp.
“We reached the final a few times, didn’t win the final that often, that’s true, but we were there three times in the last few years and that’s why I believe if you want to win the competition, you have to be outstanding.
“It is the competition and we want to be part of it every year. That’s a massive task for us, we all know that.
“When we come back from the international break we have a proper football week ahead of us, I would say, with three games: City, Chelsea and Arsenal, which will then probably define what we get out of it.
“People might say we lost it in Bournemouth, but I think this week is a pretty decisive one, so we have to hope now the boys come back healthy, early enough, in the right shape and then we will try it.”
The up-and-down nature of their season means it has been difficult to sustain any momentum on which to build any sort of platform to maintain pace with their rivals.
However, their recent run has lifted Liverpool into sixth, six points behind Spurs in fourth but with a match in hand, and two behind Newcastle, who have played two games fewer.
With a dozen fixtures left and nothing else to play for, Klopp knows his team cannot afford to have any more slip-ups like the one last weekend.
“Our job is to squeeze absolutely everything out of this season what is possible,” he added.
“It’s a strange one. Our recent two games, obviously a sensational (7-0) performance against Manchester United, which is a real good football team, and then a really bad performance against Bournemouth, which is a good football team as well, but we should not lose this kind of game.
“It put us then under more pressure. If we could have three (more) points then I think everybody really could feel, or smell our breath, if you want.
“There is again distance because other teams won their games. (But) it is clear, we want to be top four.”
Liverpool will be without youngster Stefan Bajcetic for the run-in after a thigh injury saw his breakthrough campaign cut short.
“Unfortunately I’ve picked up an injury that will keep me out until the end of the season,” the midfielder said on Instagram.
“It’s very sad to say goodbye to this amazing season for me but I understand this is part of football and will only make me stronger physically and mentally.”