Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has insisted his players will treat Cardiff and Huddersfield with exactly the same importance as they do Barcelona as they reach crunch time in their pursuit of silverware.
The Reds are through to a glamorous Champions League semi-final against Barca but though the two Premier League games that come before it do not stir the imagination in quite the same way, every point is vital to Liverpool in the title race with Manchester City.
“These are all massive games,” Klopp said. “None of them are won before we start. Everybody thinks a lot about Barcelona but before Barcelona it’s Cardiff and Huddersfield and it’s exactly the same importance to us as the other games.”
Few expect anything other than a Liverpool win at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, but Klopp recognises the challenge of facing Neil Warnock’s side has changed in the last week.
A 2-0 victory at Brighton on Tuesday has put Cardiff back within two points of safety and gave them a new lease of life in the survival battle.
“Neil (Warnock) and Cardiff have gained a lot of confidence in the last game and rightly so,” Klopp said. “It was a massive game against Brighton, if Cardiff had lost that game then the fight for the league would be finished but now it starts again for all the teams.
“Everything came together and that’s what makes football so exciting. They believe in their chances and I would do the same so we have to show we are ready for this battle.”
On Wednesday, Liverpool soaked up considerable first-half pressure from Porto before picking them off in the counter-attack in the second half, but Warnock’s physical side will present an entirely different challenge.
“We are all aware of the difficulties of Sunday,” Klopp said. “Cardiff are used to defending with all they have. They are outstanding on set-pieces, they have a lot of physical power and they make life uncomfortable.”
Mohamed Salah once again played a starring role in Wednesday’s win, teeing up Sadio Mane for the opener and then scoring the second.
It came on the day that Time magazine listed the Egyptian in their top 100 most influential people in the world, and Klopp said Liverpool were lucky to have him.
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) April 10, 2019
“He is a role model in so many different ways,” he said. “It’s really, really nice to have him, not only him but Sadio as well. They are both Muslims and they live that in a world where these things are so often discussed in a dangerous manner, where we think they are all like this or all like that.
“We know it’s not true but it’s nice to have someone around who is full of joy, full of love doing what he’s doing.
“He’s very influential with us and if somebody thought he’s very influential with the rest of the world then good.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 18, 2019
While Liverpool were cruising to a 4-1 win in Porto, title rivals City suffered a dramatic exit from the Champions League when a stoppage-time goal in a remarkable 4-3 epic against Tottenham was ruled out by VAR.
Klopp said he could not know if the game would affect City either positively or negatively for the rest of the season, but said he could only feel sympathy for Pep Guardiola’s side.
“It was unbelievable, eh? Seeing that I just really felt for them,” he said. “That’s how it is. Everybody thought the ball was in and the whole stadium is celebrating.
“I know some people say without VAR it’s a clear goal but it was offside in that moment, nobody really doubts that, but that’s tough to take I’m 100 per cent sure.”