(Reuters) - Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp says his side are itching to “strike back” at Chelsea following their League Cup defeat against the Blues as they seek the ideal response by extending their perfect start to the Premier League season on Saturday.
Yet the Reds’ manager also acknowledged on Friday that they would have to defend better in the visit to Stamford Bridge to stop Eden Hazard reprising the sort of solo brilliance that propelled Chelsea to victory at Anfield on Wednesday.
Hazard is in a vein of such rare form that Chelsea’s manager Maurizio Sarri later on Friday hailed the Belgian as a “genius” who could go on to be recognised as the world’s best player if he improved his training.
“It’s not cool, it’s not what you want because it’s not what we’re going for, but I don’t think it’s impacted the mood,” said Klopp, reflecting on Chelsea’s 2-1 win which was secured with Hazard’s late virtuoso effort.
“We’ve had two days to fight back on track and I’d say that’s worked. For sure, there’s added motivation. We want to strike back, it’s sport. Fighting back is a duty in sport.
“It will be tough, it will be intense. It’s a big one, Chelsea v Liverpool, but our best preparation was the Wednesday game. We’ll try to use our information from that match to do better.”
Wednesday’s loss was Liverpool’s first blemish after a spotless start to the season which had seen them open up a two-point lead over unbeaten Chelsea at the top of the league after six straight wins. They also beat Paris St Germain in the Champions League.
Liverpool had been on top and leading Chelsea 1-0 when undone by an Emerson equaliser and then one of the goals of the season from Hazard, who cut inside from the right flank, sliced through Liverpool’s defence and fired in from a narrow angle.
It was a great goal but one which Klopp felt should have been cut out at source by Liverpool’s rearguard.
“We all know we could have defended that goal he scored. Yes, he did well but we had three challenges. We have to make sure we close the right spaces... No player is not defendable.”
Yet Hazard, in current form, can make their life a torment again. “A couple of years ago, we played Chelsea when they had (Diego) Costa and Hazard and it felt like ‘wow, we can defend all of them — but not him.’
“Eden Hazard is a special player but I didn’t need Wednesday’s game to know that; it was already clear before.”
When asked if he was now the world’s best player, Sarri told reporters later: “I think for sure he is one of the best but I am convinced he can improve. I think we have seen only 70, 75, 80 percent of his potential.
“For example, he can play with more intensity in training.” If he did, said Sarri, he could go on to be voted the world’s best next season.
Asked if he was the best player he had coached, the Italian added: “It’s very difficult to compare him with another player. He’s a genius. He’s unique.”
Klopp’s main concern is the fitness of his defensive lynchpin Virgil van Dijk, who was injured in the previous league game against Southampton and missed the midweek match.
Asked if the Dutchman would play, Klopp said: “We have to wait, he didn’t train with the team so far. If Virgil is fit, he plays.”
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge