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top-four ambitions Klopp would cherish Champions League spot ‘as much as any trophy’

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

Jurgen Klopp says finishing in the Premier League’s top four this season would mean as much to him as winning a trophy, given the challenges Liverpool have had to be overcome on and off the pitch.

Professionally and personally, it has been a demanding campaign for Klopp, but having been resigned to missing out on Champions League qualification a few weeks ago, it might end in celebration in front of the Kop if Liverpool confirm their place with victory over Crystal Palace tomorrow.

The broader achievement will not be comparable to winning the title or the Champions League in 2019, but the unique circumstances will bring a different type of satisfaction.

“Yes it means as much to me,” Klopp said. “We wouldn’t have come into this situation if the boys had not shown that they have a very special character. Life is like this. If you are not performing at your top level, you are questioned from time to time on your character. If you ever questioned the character of the players in a not so good period, you have to ask yourself why you did that. The boys proved it now millions of times.”

The list of Liverpool setbacks over the past eight months ranges from a horrendous injury list through to personal tragedies, with players and staff losing loved ones and unable to return to their home countries to mourn with family and friends because of the pandemic.

That is why Klopp’s enforced changes of line-up due to high-profile absentees rank among the more trivial of the issues he has had to confront during the campaign.

But it means that whatever the outcome tomorrow – Leicester City will need to better any Liverpool victory by four goals to go above them on goal difference – Klopp believes his squad have emerged stronger and more united.

“We will look back at our time here and this season is part of our story and our history, definitely,” he said.

“For a long time it looked like this would not be a year they will talk a lot about in the future, but the boys still did something really special, I have to say. Really special.

“Definitely that brings you together even more. It will stay like this for ever. Going through tough periods makes you stronger as a unit and in that time we didn’t get distracted. Nothing came between us.

“Yes we had our moments when players were not in the best shape or the best mood. I was not in the best mood. But we always found a way to stick together. We never blamed each other or pointed a finger at each other and said, ‘It is because of you or you’.

“We came here together and we got through this together and we will get stronger because of it. We have to show that next year obviously in the new season, but we will give it a proper try to use all the experiences from this year as well.”

Klopp says tomorrow’s game must be treated with the importance of a cup final. “Nobody wants to talk about this season before we play the last game,” he said. “We are in a situation that this game is so decisive.

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“It is almost like if you qualify for a final everything is perfect, but you have to play the final, don’t forget that. We’ve experienced both ends of playing a final as a club and as a team. We want to be on the positive end of this.

“You would not ask me before our three other finals, ‘Whatever happens in the final, are you already happy with the way to Kiev, Basel or Madrid?’”

Former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will make his formal exit from the Premier League tomorrow, and it is also likely to be a farewell appearance by midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum after four years at Anfield. Wijnaldum failed to agree a new contract and can leave on a free transfer in July. He has been linked with a move to Barcelona.

“Gini’s character is without question, he is a sensational guy and completely committed to the team until the last day,” Klopp said.

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