Calm Klopp says title destination is not decided as he keeps his focus
Liverpool are in a commanding position.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists this season was never designated as the one in which they would end their long wait to win the championship and that title talk is for everyone else.
The Reds return to action after the international break with an eight-point lead over Leicester and Tottenham in the Premier League as they head to Crystal Palace.
Their win over Manchester City – now nine points adrift – last time out was widely seen as a pivotal shift in their chances of securing a first title since 1990 but Klopp said no one is talking about that inside the club.
“We don’t think about the title race. The biggest challenge for us is constantly facing questions about it,” he said.
“After that it is (a) completely normal season. We never made it the season where we have to (win the league).
“We play as good as we can, try to get as many points as we can and the challenges are the 26 games we have to play – and the next one is Crystal Palace.
“These challenges are big enough so we don’t need any others and we don’t think about anything else.”
Influential centre-back Virgil Van Dijk is available for the trip to Selhurst Park after missing Holland’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia for personal reasons but doubts still persist about the fitness of Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson.
Both are struggling with ankle injuries – Salah since sustaining the problem against Leicester in October – and Klopp will have to make a late decision on the pair.
“In the moment, yes, Virgil is 100 per cent available. It’s the time of the year where people drop out of the squad overnight with other things like illness,” added Klopp.
“For the others, I cannot say 100 per cent. Today is a very important session to judge that especially with the players who came back late.
“Fabinho, Bobby (Roberto Firmino) and Ali (Alisson Becker) played on Tuesday, Gini Wijnaldum played on Tuesday, we have these players where we need to have a look how they react and what makes sense for them or not.
“(Salah) has trained the whole time he has been here (during the international break) but only the things we have wanted him to do.
“It’s not that it has got worse but it’s still kind of there, that’s the problem.
“We have to be sensible with things like this. We have to make a decision.”
Klopp is at least boosted by the return to fitness of forward Xherdan Shaqiri, who has not played since mid-September because of a calf injury.
He has made just four substitute appearances and has some ground to make up to get to the level of the rest of the squad.
“He trained this week and we gave him some different things to do. There is no reason to rush it but it’s nice to have him back,” added Klopp.
“We saw a lot of really nice things in training this week but it is intense for him and he needs to get used to the intensity again and everything will be fine.”
There had been speculation Shaqiri was looking for a way out because of limited playing opportunities – he has featured just eight times since the end of February and made just one start since January – but Klopp insisted he still had a part to play.
The manager asked: “Why should I talk about something which is absolutely not interesting for us?
“He was five weeks injured and that is a period when he is not seen as a player. Before that we spoke about him not having as many games as he wanted to but that was pretty much all.
“When I am with him he is completely happy and fine here and speculation is speculation, it is nothing we can change. Of course he has a future. This season he is a very important player for us.”