Manchester United fan favourite Gary Neville has made a remarkable claim as Liverpool aim for Premier League glory for the first time since the rebranding of the top flight of English football, suggesting that the Reds should forget European goals this season.
Jurgen Klopp led his team to the final in Kiev last season, following on from previous Europa League disappointment having been beaten by Sevilla in the final only two years ago.
Yet, the former Valencia coach and now pundit says that Liverpool would be wise to accept defeat at Europe’s greatest level. Drawn in a tough group alongside Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli, it could be a tough task for the team to progress.
“The Champions League — if I was Liverpool, I would kick it into touch. I know that’s very hard to do but if they could go into February, March, April without it, I think they could have a real chance if they had free weeks. Why? I think their method is exhausting for the front three [Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino]. The drop in quality below them, if there are injuries or playing Wednesday, Saturday, I think it will take its toll.”
Neville made the suggestion whilst speaking to The Times.
Neville believes that by preserving key players for fitness, it would be far from the end of the world to crash out in the group stages. He points in particular to the dangerous front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
To an extent, he is forgetting this summer’s acquisitions though. The arrival of players like Xherdan Shaqiri and the return to form of Daniel Sturridge mean that Klopp has options in attack which were previously missing.
What’s more, it must be remembered that European success not only runs in the club’s history but has also been essential in attracting some of their latest signings. Maintaining that prestige remains crucial to attracting the brightest talents to Anfield.
“As a United fan, I am very concerned about them. This front three have always been fantastic and now the midfield can run, it can pass, it has depth. And the back four looks a unit. The football they are playing under Jürgen Klopp, it’s fantastic. As a United fan, that’s a worry because it is still that mentality of ‘anyone but them’.”
Despite that, Neville’s claim is reasonable. For each of the past three seasons, Liverpool have seen their form drop off in the second half of the season as Klopp’s high pressing style and an overload of games has taken its toll.
By looking to protect the likes of Salah, Firmino and Mane and preserve them for Premier League fixtures, Klopp could be intelligent to prioritise domestic success as he remains on the search for his first trophy as Liverpool boss.
Whilst his determination for victory on all fronts has been admirable, a decision to aim for the title may be a gamble, but one that would certainly pay off if he could bring it home to Merseyside.