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Jürgen Klopp: Liverpool’s Champions League hopes may begin in Augsburg

Jürgen Klopp last returned to Germany for Oktoberfest but believes this visit could kick off Liverpool’s clearest route to the Champions League. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty ImagesJürgen Klopp last returned to Germany for Oktoberfest but believes this visit could kick off Liverpool’s clearest route to the Champions League. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Jürgen Klopp has said the Europa League represents Liverpool’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League and that his team are among the few capable of winning this season’s competition in Basel.

The Liverpool manager was the centre of attention before Thursday’s last-32, first-leg game against Augsburg, the small Bavarian club who host his first competitive appearance back in Germany since leaving Borussia Dortmund last summer. Klopp underplayed the significance of his return – “I was here for 47 years,” he said, before revealing his last visit to Germany was for the Oktoberfest in Munich – and attempted to ensure his players remain focused by warning Augsburg regard the tie as “the biggest game in their history” and will therefore “fight for their life”.

Klopp is expected to return the compliment by fielding a strong side at the Augsburg Arena. The selection may also reflect his intent to win the Europa League, with the Liverpool manager admitting the prize of automatic entry into next season’s Champions League cannot be taken lightly. Liverpool are eighth in the Premier League, nine points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City, and Klopp accepts his team may have to triumph at St Jakob-Park on 18 May to rejoin the European elite next season.

“Only a few teams in the world can think about winning the Europa League and I think we are one of these teams,” the Liverpool manager said. “We are not one of the clubs that says: ‘We have no chance,’ but if you look at the teams in the competition now it is like a little Champions League. There are a lot of high quality teams in it. Sometimes you can look at winning a cup as the shortest way to get somewhere. For sure the Europa League is not the shortest way to get to the Champions League; it is a really hard race and not a normal road. The chance to qualify for the Champions League makes it more interesting – ask Sevilla who would have qualified many times with this rule.

“We are in the last 32. We can see the line. But I cannot say to the players now: ‘This is our only chance of being in the Champions League.’ It’s a chance. How many points in the league are we away from the Champions League? I think it is nine. So, at this moment, I would say we have a better chance this way. Maybe the top four clubs will have a crisis but we have to solve our own problems. We have to be at the highest motivation for the game without thinking about the last moments of the competition.”

Klopp’s message has been received by his players, with the full-back Nathaniel Clyne saying Liverpool are seeking to build momentum following Sunday’s 6-0 mauling of Aston Villa and having qualified from the group stage of the Europa League unbeaten. “We are looking to win as many games as we can,” said Clyne. “We know Augsburg will be difficult but we want to get into the next round and keep winning so that we reach the final. It would be great if we could win that cup. We know it offers a route to the Champions League and we are taking it seriously.”

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The Liverpool manager dismissed suggestions that English clubs, for example Tottenham Hotspur, will treat the Europa League lightly in order to concentrate resources on the Premier League. “You have to take what you can,” he said. “If people think Tottenham can only be [Premier League] champions by going out of the Europa League, it is good for us because one team is out. But I don’t think they think like this.”

With Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho recovered from injury, and Klopp keen to establish “a rhythm” with the League Cup final against City a week on Sunday, Liverpool are likely to face Augsburg with a stronger side than deployed in several cup fixtures this season.

The manager said: “We played Sunday and we play Thursday. That’s a good gap, enough time to recover, no problem. It’s nothing. We then play Thursday, Thursday, so no problems again. We then have a final. Before a final you don’t have to think about anything because you don’t need to be recovered. You could play the final on Friday!”

Probable teams

Augsburg (4-1-4-1): Hitz; Verhaegh, Hong, Klavan, Stafylidis; Kohr; Esswein, Koo, Moravek, Caiuby; Bobadilla.

Subs from: Manninger, Opare, Max, Trochowski, Janker, Feulner, Werner, Altintop, Ji, Thommy.

Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Mignolet; Clyne, Touré, Sakho, Moreno; Milner, Henderson, Can; Firmino, Coutinho; Sturridge.

Subs from: Ward, Caulker, Randall, Lucas, Ibe, Chirivella, Benteke, Origi, Sinclair, Teixeira.

Referee D Borbalán (Spain) – theguardian –

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