Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has hit back at “ruthless and brutal” Sergio Ramos as the war of words between the club and the Real Madrid captain following last season’s Champions League final continues.
Ramos was accused of deliberately injuring Mohamed Salah in the first half, in an incident which led to Liverpool’s talismanic Egyptian being taken off, and subsequently blamed for the reported concussion Reds goalkeeper Loris Karius suffered in a later incident, with the German going on to make two vital errors as Madrid won 3-1.
The Spaniard has laughed off most of the claims, which has further incensed Liverpool, and on Friday Klopp decided to respond with an astonishing tirade againt Ramos.
“If you watch it back and you are not with Real Madrid then you think it is ruthless and brutal,” Klopp told reporters.
“I saw the ref taking charge of big games at the World Cup and nobody really thinks about that later. But in a situation like that somebody needs to judge it better.
“If VAR is coming then it is a situation where you have to look again. Not to give a red card but to look again and say: ‘What is that?’ It was ruthless.
“I’m not sure it is an experience we will have again – go there and put an elbow to the goalkeeper, put their goalscorer down like a wrestler in midfield and then you win the game. That was the story of the game.
“Ramos said a lot of things afterwards that I didn’t like. As a person I didn’t like the reactions of him. He was like: ‘Whatever, what do they want? It’s normal.’ No, it is not normal.
“If you put all of the situations of Ramos together then you will see a lot of situations with Ramos. The year before against Juve he was responsible for the red card for [Juan] Cuadrado. Nobody talks about that afterwards.
“It is like we, the world out there, accepts that you use each weapon to win the game. People probably expect that I am the same. I am not.
“We are aggressive but I always use the word ‘legal’ as well. Usually if you try something you will get punished. Someone will see it and ban you for four or five weeks. But in this example, no one.
“This ref should have had the courage to decide that game. In this situation we didn’t get it and, if you write this, people will say I am weak or a bad loser or a whiner. I am not. I accept it. It’s not like I wake up in the morning and think: ‘Ramos!’”
It’s been a busy transfer window so far for Liverpool with a number of exciting new midfield options being added to Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
However, along with the arrivals of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri there has also been some setbacks with the confirmation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season ending injury and the non-arrival of Nabil Fekir from Lyon.
Long time want-away midfielder Emre Can has finally left for Juventus in Serie A with new team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. So you could say it’s three in and three out.
The back four and front three are pretty set for the Reds: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Andrew Robertson at the back and Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and of course Mohamed Salah up front.
But in the middle of the park the German has some hard questions to answer. What is his best midfield combination – and formation – ahead of the new season?
First we look at Klopp’s options then how he could make them work.
Signed in mid-2017 but only just arrived on Merseyside, Keita has looked as good in pre-season as Klopp could have hoped. Strong in the tackle with excellent link-up play and the close ball control to be dangerous around the opposing box – the Guinea international could be the missing part of the Liverpool puzzle.
The £43.7 million signing from Monaco is settling in nicely at Anfield with Klopp so far using him in a holding role in front of the back four. Like Keita the Brazilian looks solid in the tackle and has a calmness and composure which Liverpool have been missing. Not as impressive picking out key passes or surging forward but this is not what he was bought to do.
No one gives more for the cause than the Reds captain. An excellent ball winner in the middle of the park when on form Henderson can also be a great distributor to his forward men. Comments are often made about his “engine” and the England man will literally bust a gut tracking back tirelessly over 90 minutes.
An option also for the front or middle three, the 30-year-old seems to be destined for the latter this season. After a horror-run with injuries Lallana is slowly working his way back to peak form and fitness, which he seems a little way off yet. At his best Lallana is among the Reds most creative midfield options.
Always popular with the Liverpool faithful, the selfless Milner is happy to slot in wherever required – whether it’s a holding role, a position out on the flanks or a roving commission. The 32-year-old, like Henderson, is a tireless worker but also prone to mistakes which can gift a goal to the opposition. Has looked a little off the pace in pre-season.
The Dutchman can blow hot and cold for the Reds, often dominating in the middle of the park with some deft assists and telling tackles but at other times he can go missing – simply being barged out of the match by more committed opponents. Wijnaldum is definitely more suited to an box-to-box midfield role rather than a holding role.
Some might be surprised to see the injury-prone striker included in this list but retreading Sturridge in a deeper lying role seems to be something Klopp is trying in pre-season. Sturridge knows he is not going to displace any of the front three but with no Fekir, Philippe Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain perhaps there is a midfield playmaker role available.
The Wales youngster began his career at Liverpool as a natural wideman but in pre-season Klopp has used him almost exclusively in a midfield role. The 18-year-old is taking a while to adapt to this new position and has gone missing for long periods in matches. Woodburn is freakishly talented but the best of him may not be seen in the middle of the park.
It’s academic to include the 22-year-old Serbian as reports suggest that he will probably continue his development at newly promoted Cardiff City. But Klopp spoke very highly about the young midfielder after his 45 minutes against Manchester City so perhaps he will stay at the club for at least the first half of the season.
The newest member of the Liverpool midfield, the Swiss marksmen can either slot in out wide, in the middle of the park or the front three. Shaqiri will be fighting for a starting role, in the mold of Reds great Dirk Kuyt, but most likely Klopp will use him as an impact player coming off the bench if the Merseysider’s need a goal late in the match.
FORMATION ONE: 4-3-3
This is the most likely and Klopp’s choice for last year. It has served him very well throughout his managerial career – and did the same for the Reds in 2017-18.
The question is – which of his menage of midfielders does he use?
Captain Henderson will be at risk as his role as the deepest-lying midfield player will be challenged by the excellent Fabinho.
Keita, who Klopp has spoken about as a No6, 8 or 10 will definitely slot in, most probably at No8, which will leave one or both of Wijnaldum and Milner on the sidelines.
The question then is what happens to Lallana? He is slowly coming back to full fitness but can he force his way into this formation.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: If Klopp is in a defensive mood he might go Henderson, Keita, Fabinho/Milner – if he is more attack minded he could go Henderson, Keita, Lallana/Wijnaldum. Either way Henderson and Keita start.
FORMATION TWO: 4-2-3-1
There has been a lot of talk Klopp will abandon his favoured 4-3-3 and adopt a formation which suits his squad better – 4-2-3-1.
This would enable Klopp to play with four forwards, in the much-loved diamond formation, and keep two defensive midfielders in a holding position in front of the back four.
He used this to very good effect on the final day of last season against Brighton, which may point to the future.
Keita/Milner and Fabinho/Henderson would form the formidable duo at the base of midfield, with Lallana or new arrival Shaqiri or even the resurgent Daniel Sturridge slotting into the No10 role behind Firmino.
Firmino himself could also occupy that No10 position, allowing Shaqiri to move into a wide position with Salah pushing forward though Klopp seems to prefer the Brazilian at No9.
This formation is tempting as it is very fluid and will be hard to defend against – and allows Klopp to rotate through many different personnel options.
It would also open up the possibility of Shaqiri or Sturridge slotting into the rotating front four late in the game.
The only danger here is a smart opponent could surround Keita and Fabinho cutting off supply to the front four.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: This seems perfectly suited to making use of Fabinho – so the line-up would be Fabinho and Keita/Henderson in the defensive screen while Lallana or Keita or Wijnaldum would slot in the No10 role.
FORMATION THREE: 4-4-2
This would be a total surprise if the innovative Klopp rolled out a good old fashioned 4-4-2 – but it’s not impossible with the players he has at his disposal.
Salah and Firmino would be left as the front two with Keita and Henderson/Fabinho in the middle of the midfield quartet. Then on the wings would be Mane and most probably Shaqiri.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: It’s probably the least likely of the three but Klopp may use it if he wants to get Shaqiri into the starting XI as he and Woodburn are really the only options equipped to play the wide role.
The Portuguese claimed the Reds need to win the Premier League title after spending £175million on four new players this summer.
However, Klopp dismissed those suggestions ahead of the two sides’ meeting in Michigan on Saturday in the International Champions Cup.
“One of my biggest goals in life is to make Jose smile – it doesn’t happen very often,” joked the German.
“I don’t even think it is a mind game, I think it is normal. I would never talk about Manchester United if no-one asked me about it.
“I have no problem with what Jose Mourinho is saying, it is a free world and he can say whatever he wants. If he is happy about our transfers even better.
“We know it doesn’t mean you win (trophies) automatically.”
Asked whether he had to win the Premier League this season Klopp said: “I don’t think so.
“Do I get the sack if not? Depends on the football we play.”
With the world’s most expensive goalkeeper Alisson his fourth and likely to be final signing of the summer, Klopp will be looking to trim his squad over the next couple of weeks.
Liverpool have opened talks with Besiktas about the sale of Simon Mignolet but other clubs are have also expressed an interest in the Belgium international.
The 28-year-old, who has three years remaining on his contract, fell down the pecking order at Anfield last season and Alisson’s £65million arrival cast his future into further doubt.
Press Association Sport understands talks have begun with the Turkish Super Lig side over a permanent transfer as the Reds will not countenance a loan deal.
However, Besiktas are not the only club chasing the Belgian and Liverpool are expecting others to formalise their interest in the near future.
Klopp continues to support Loris Karius, who replaced Mignolet as number one midway through last season, despite his two errors in May’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
“We have a new goalkeeper and Loris Karius is still here. He is young enough to still have a fantastic career,” he told Sky Sports News.
“We don’t need 54 players and 20 goalkeepers but can someone come and ask us (for a player) for £4 – no of course not.
“They are quality players. We are not in the situation where we have to do something but if someone comes in we are always open for talks.
“There is nothing decided at the moment. I know it is part of the business that some players will leave the club but let’s see what happens.”
One player who seems destined to depart is forgotten man Lazar Markovic, with the club opening talks with Greek club Olympiacos.
The Serbia international has not featured for the Reds since a late substitute appearance against QPR in May 2015 – five months before Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers as manager.
Since then the 24-year-old, a £20million signing from Benfica by Rodgers in the summer of 2014, has had loan spells at Fenerbahce, Sporting Lisbon, Hull and Anderlecht.
Markovic is currently with the first-team squad for their International Champions Cup campaign in the United States but has played a minor role in pre-season.
The club would expect to receive a fee between £5m to £7m with Standard Liege and a number of English sides also interested after watching his appearances in pre-season.