LONDON, January 1 – Jurgen Klopp’s first two and a half months as Liverpool manager have not been straightforward, but there are signs he is getting the team moving in the right direction ahead of Saturday’s trip to West Ham United.
A run of four matches in all competitions without a victory before Christmas was a cause for concern, but Klopp’s side have responded with successive 1-0 victories over Leicester City and Sunderland to improve their league position.
Liverpool begin 2016 lying in seventh place, five points outside the Champions League qualification positions, as they prepare to visit a West Ham side who won 3-0 at Anfield in late August.
Klopp turned down the chance to manage West Ham in the close season, stating that he was not ready for a new job at the time, having only just left Borussia Dortmund with the intention of taking a sabbatical.
“I’m not sure I should say too much about this, but in the summer I was not available,” said Klopp, who eventually did cut short his planned year-long break in October to take the Liverpool job.
Klopp feels he did the right thing in moving to Anfield, even though he has quickly become aware of the size of the task he faces to make Liverpool title contenders.
The German coach was pleased with the victory at Sunderland, believing it was an indication of his team’s growing strength of character –- although he still feels that there is room for improvement.
“You can make your life easier in games by taking early opportunities. It’s important that we don’t wait for the perfect game; that instead, we work for the perfect game,” he said.
– Hobbled –
Klopp has not been helped by a new heel injury to captain Jordan Henderson, who hobbled off after an hour of Wednesday’s win at the Stadium of Light.
It is the third separate foot injury this season for Henderson, who has been restricted to six league starts this season as a result.
In attack, Daniel Sturridge’s injury troubles have been even more well-documented than Henderson’s, but the England striker is in contention to feature at West Ham after recovering from a hamstring problem.
Sturridge has made just 10 league starts since the beginning of last season after suffering seven significant injury setbacks, the latest of which flared up when he appeared as a substitute during a 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United on December 6.
Fellow Liverpool forward Divock Origi is out with a hamstring problem, though, as is midfielder James Milner, while Joe Allen is suffering with a sickness bug.
Meanwhile, Slaven Bilic admits 2016 is an important year for West Ham with the club poised to move into a new home at the Olympic Stadium.
The progress on the pitch since Hammers boss Bilic took charge before the start of the season has reinforced the sense the club could be entering a new period of success.
“There’s a lot happening in the coming months. Of course, we have the new stadium which is very important,” Bilic said.
“On the pitch, we are progressing well, and we have two transfer windows coming up so, by this time next year, a lot of things will be different.”
Bilic’s hope of maintaining that progress will be strengthened by the likely return of Dimitri Payet against Liverpool, with Winston Reid and Victor Moses also set to return in the coming weeks.
“Dimitri has been training with us for a couple of days. It depends how he trains today but I am expecting him to be in the squad,” he said.
“We’ll have to see how much he can participate but it is a great boost for us of course. I think he’ll be involved for the squad for Liverpool.”