John Barnes has insisted that whatever happens in the remaining weeks of the campaign it has been a successful season for Liverpool, even if they fail to win a trophy.
The Reds are right in the Premier League title race with Manchester City, as well as among the favourites to win the Champions League – they hold a 2-0 first leg advantage over Porto in their quarter-final tie.
They banished painful memories by defeating Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scoring the goals. The game fell almost five years to the day a costly error from talismanic captain Steven Gerrard saw the Blues win 2-0 on the same ground, a result that derailed Liverpool’s 2013/14 Premier League title bid.
The Reds’ wait for a top-flight English league title has stretched into a 29th year, but iconic former player Barnes – a member of the squad that last lifted the English top-flight league title in 1989/90 – says that the club can be proud, whatever happens.
“It’s been a fantastic season for Liverpool,” said 55-year-old Barnes, talking exclusively to Sport360 ahead of taking part in the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series which gets under way with the DHL Open at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on May 2.
“If we win all our games and they (City) win all their games they’ll have won the league and we’ll come second with 97 points, having lost one game all season. No-one can tell me that’s not a good season.
“But, winning trophies is what it’s all about. Everyone says how the Premier League is and how teams are always beating each other, but we’ve only lost one game.”
The Chelsea win sent Liverpool back to the top of the table, a point ahead of title rivals City, with the champions having a game in hand.
If both teams win all their remaining games, Liverpool would finish second on 97 – a total that would have been good enough to win the title in every previous Premier League season bar last term.
The 85 points they currently hold would have been enough to win the league in nine of the 26 total Premier League seasons.
“No matter how it finishes, we already have enough points to have won the league in nine of last 10 years. You can’t ask anymore,” said Jamaican-born Barnes, who made 403 appearances for Liverpool in a decade-long spell.
“We’re in the semis of the Champions League too so all you can ask is for your team to be consistent in every game they play.
“We’ve won the majority of games, beat the teams we should beat and it’s been a great season. We can’t control what Man City have done, we can only control what we’ve done and we’ve been excellent.”
James Milner is the only player in the Liverpool squad to be in possession of a Premier League winners’ medal – he won two with City in 2011/12 and 2013/14.
But Liverpool players’ collective lack of experience – just like the perceived psychological weight of the Chelsea game both five years ago and on Saturday – has been dismissed by Barnes as representing something that puts the Reds at a disadvantage.
“Until Man City won the league seven season ago, they’d never won it either so the whole concept means nothing,” added Barnes.
“You have to look at the team that’s playing, look at the manager, the confidence in and around the club to win games. We’re not playing the game next week to win the league, we’re playing to win that match, and then the next match.
“If you do that you’ll win matches.
“Jurgen Klopp is the most important person at the club, building confidence in the team. People talked this week of the Chelsea game and the Steven Gerrard slip. Jurgen Klopp wasn’t here then, these players weren’t here then so it doesn’t affect them.
“If fans get nervous it won’t affect the players because Klopp is so strong-minded and strong-willed, and those players follow his instructions to the letter, so if he shows no signs of cracking, the players won’t, even if the fans get nervy.
“Chelsea was a nervy game, the first half we didn’t play so well and Chelsea had a few opportunities. But we had the belief and went on to win. The problem is Man City can also do that.”
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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.”