Jurgen Klopp believes Liverpool’s seven Ballon d’Or nominees is the surest indication his club have re-established themselves as a leading European force.
Liverpool’s manager has always spoken about his desire to make Anfield the final destination of a player’s career rather than a stopping-off point en route to Barcelona or Real Madrid, and the progress over the past two years firmly indicates Klopp is succeeding.
Central defender Virgil van Dijk is the odds-on favourite to win the prestigious award in December — the Premier League has not had a representative in the final three since Fernando Torres in 2008. With him on the 30-man shortlist are Alisson, Roberto Firmino, Giorginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
And Klopp does not think this will be the final time on his watch Liverpool have such a healthy representation. Having won the Champions League in June, there is a determination to defend their title in Istanbul next May. If they do that, Klopp knows further recognition will be forthcoming.
‘It is a very good sign after last season and how we played,’ said Klopp, who will shuffle his starting line-up in Genk on Wednesday night.
‘It is normal that a lot of players have to be nominated if there are football experts. Is this about playing in a specific tournament? Yes, it is important. Our seven players are all deserved. If it is a sign that we are a destination, I do not know. We will see. It looks like we are comfortable with each other. We want to work together for the next couple of years or more but we will see what the future brings.’
Liverpool’s opening performances in Europe have been scratchy. They won the trophy last season after losing all three away group games and this campaign began with another away defeat in Naples.
Klopp, who will make a late check on Salah’s fitness following an ankle injury which kept him out of Sunday’s draw at Manchester United, is respectful of the threat carried by Belgian champions Genk and has made it clear that Liverpool will not get away with further mistakes on the road, as they seek a first group-stage away win since October 2017 in Maribor.
‘Last year we were lucky with how tight the group was,’ said Klopp.
‘That will not happen this year. We know it’s not historically good what we have done (in the away group games) in the last few years but in general the Champions League was obviously really good.We know we have to improve and we try again and again and again until it works out.’
However, one of Liverpool’s best performances of 2019 came when the pressure was on in the Allianz Stadium and club vice-captain James Milner said:
‘Bayern Munich stands out as a good result away. A massive win against one of the best teams in Europe.
‘We go into every game wanting to win. We haven’t been good enough away from home, that’s the simple fact, but we want to put it right.’