Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has set his sights on a club-record 97 points as the race for the Premier League title enters its final month.
A 2-0 win over Chelsea restored the Reds’ two-point advantage at the top of the table after Manchester City, who have a match in hand, had briefly taken back first place with a win at Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
The Reds now have 85 points, five short of their previous league best of 90 from 40 matches in the 1987-88 campaign in which they were champions.
City won the league with 100 points last season but Klopp is targeting four more wins to push their rivals all the way over the closing few weeks.
“The biggest challenge for us is always facing the world outside, you (the media) and other people. We play our game,” he said
“If City lost and we find out five minutes before the game that’s not a help. You lose your focus then.
“And if that’s enough, then perfect. If not, we cannot change it. And we didn’t lose it here or there or whatever.
“Very smart people will come out and say ‘Yeah, if you would have won against Leicester you would be champions’.
“People and idiots bring something like this up.
“We see it game by game. We go to Porto now (holding a 2-0 lead in the Champions League), which will be a tough one.
“We know that they get at least two players back, Pepe and (Hector) Herrera, so they will be an interesting and difficult challenge.
“Then we play Cardiff and everybody knows that is a tough place to go.”
The victory over Chelsea was encapsulated in a couple of two-minute episodes in the second half.
Sadio Mane’s header from a Jordan Henderson cross was followed moments later by a world-class strike from Mohamed Salah, his 22nd of the season, as he cut in from the right to unleash a left-footed shot into the top corner.
Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri was forced into a change, introducing Gonzalo Higuain and moving Eden Hazard from a false nine role into his usual position on the left, which brought immediate results.
Hazard beat Alisson Becker in a one-on-one only for his shot to rebound off the post before firing a first-time, close-range shot straight at the goalkeeper when he seemed certain to score, with Higuain also missing a chance soon after.
“We were a little bit unlucky for the second goal, for the timing,” said Sarri, who was genuine in his congratulations for Salah after bumping into him after the game.
“The second goal of Mo was wonderful and then we were a little bit unlucky because in three minutes we had three goal opportunities, two with Hazard and one with Higuain and we hit the post for the 35th time in our season.
“But I am really happy with the performance because we stayed in the match very well. Two or three months ago we would not have done.”
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A fortnight short of five years ago, Brendan Rodgers’ Premier League leaders lost 2-0 after failing to handle Jose Mourinho’s defensive tactics, ending an 11-match winning run and handing the initiative to eventual champions Manchester City.
The team were criticised for not coping with the pressure but Klopp insists the current situation bears no resemblance to then.
“I never thought for one second about 2014 until I entered this room. Not one second. Why should I?” he said at his pre-match press conference.
“Last year nobody asked me about (2014) before we played Chelsea at home.
“I’m not sure it’s in anybody’s mind except yours (the media’s). If the fans talk about it I can tell them all to ignore it.
The moment Liverpool fans had their hearts broken 💔— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) 12 April 2019
They will be hoping for no repeat against Chelsea this weekend. pic.twitter.com/26DqUjMTDg
“It’s nothing to do with us, it’s a completely new story. Things happen once in a lifetime, sometimes twice, sometimes never.
“Only the colours and the names of the teams are the same, pretty much. I am completely positive about the game.
“Anybody who wants to talk to any of my players about what happened years ago, don’t do it.
“We want to write our own history, and if you do that you can build on the positives of the past, ignore the negatives of the past and learn from the mistakes of the past.
“We have to do it positively, front-foot, the way we did the whole season.”
When the teams met in April 2014 it was a top-two clash and both were in the title race along with City.
This time around Chelsea are fighting just for a top-four place but that does not mean Klopp under-estimates their opponents.
“I know we have to work really hard for the result,” he added.
“I’m not nervous, I feel the intensity of the competition, but in this moment we see the positives. We never rest there. We have to make the next step, and it’s not over yet.
“The boys are positive, but it’s still so difficult. If you want to go through without difficulties, you have no chance. We try to encourage the players to play with big balls if possible, to try everything.
“It’s not possible to play a football game without mistakes. So you don’t have to worry about them, you only have to deal with them.
“We will make mistakes on Sunday, but we have to sort it, help each other, and then we can win a football game.
“We are completely focused on the situation and hopefully it will work out.”
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane believes Naby Keita will become a big star at Anfield as the Guinea midfielder has proved before he is a slow-burner at a new club.
The pair struck up a close relationship – Mane describes him as a “brother” – in the brief time they were together at Red Bull Salzburg in 2014 before the Senegal international moved to Southampton.
Mane has since followed Keita’s career closely and feels there is a lot more to come from the £52.75million signing, who has had an indifferent start to his Liverpool career.
“I knew him from a long time ago, from the first time he came to Salzburg and he was the same,” Mane told Press Association Sport.
“At the beginning at Salzburg it was very tough for him but he never stopped working hard.
“He was not playing for a while and he was really positive and after he was the star of the team.
“I am 100 per cent sure he will do incredibly well.”
Keita has scored in back-to-back matches, after 27 previous appearances for the Reds without a goal, and his all-round performances have improved after a stop-start introduction to English football.
“To be honest I think we have more to see from him. At the moment it is going well for him and everyone is very happy for him,” added Mane.
“The real Naby is coming still. He played well the last two games. I know him very well and there is more to come.
“I think goals always give him more confidence. He scored two goals and I think it boosts his confidence.”
Having Mane at the club has helped Keita’s settling-in period but the Senegal international insists the player has worked hard to integrate himself.
“I just talked to him to do what I can but Naby is a big boy so he knows how football can work and sometimes not,” said the forward.
“He knows that so he is very positive and he knows he can do more. I am sure he can do more.
“I’m trying to help him and everyone in the team and the coach as well.
“It is not easy to move from Germany to change club, especially as the league is not the same. It is part of the things you have to deal with and he is working hard every single day.
“Off the pitch I am very happy for him, he’s very relaxed.”
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