New Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has insisted Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool are contenders for the Premier League title this season.
The Reds take on their English rivals in the International Champions Cup in Pasadena, California in the early hours of Thursday morning (4.35am BST), as they continue their pre-season preparations.
Conte took over from departed interim coach Guus Hiddink this summer, after leading Italy to the quarter-finals of the European Championship in France.
The charismatic 46-year-old is charged with restoring Chelsea to a title-challenging side, and speaking ahead of their clash with Liverpool, he said that Klopp’s outfit will be a major rival.
“Liverpool are one of the best teams in the league and I’m sure can fight to win the title,” he told reporters.
“Jurgen Klopp has already worked with this team for nine months, and it’s very important for him and Liverpool to understand each other.
“It’s important to work and have the time to transfer your methods and ideas of football.”
Klopp saw his new club finish eighth in the Premier League in 2015/16, two places above Chelsea, who suffered a traumatic start to the season under Jose Mourinho.
The German did inspire runs to the Europa League and League Cup finals, however, and Conte is convinced the 49-year-old will continue his fine work after a full summer with his Liverpool squad.
“It’s very difficult to go in during the season when a manager was sacked. It’s not easy,” he continued.
“You must transfer your ideas in a bit of time and it’s difficult.
“But last season was very important for Klopp and the players. The players know Klopp and he knows the players.
“It’s important to transfer your idea of football and to have the identity of the player.”
Klopp has added seven players to his squad so far, in Loris Karius, Alex Manninger, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan, Marko Grujic, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, as he looks to mould a group to realise his tactical ideals.
The German will no doubt play down suggestions Liverpool could challenge for the Premier League title in his first full season with the club, with top four a more realistic aim.
But Conte continued to stress they would be “one of seven or eight teams that can fight at the end to win the title.”
“Liverpool have a good team, good manager, good football, high intensity, good organisation,” he explained.
Liverpool supporters will be given their first real taste of what Klopp’s new-look side can achieve at the Rose Bowl on Thursday morning, with a host of summer internationals included.
Christian Benteke and Divock Origi won’t feature, however, having remained at the club’s training camp in Palo Alto, while Lucas Leiva, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are all injured.
It remains to be seen whether Emre Can will take part against the Blues, but it is unlikely with the German having only joined up with his team-mates on their arrival in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Mamadou Sakho has been sent back to the UK, with Klopp holding reservations over his attitude, and Brad Smith also returned, with the Australian set to complete a £6 million move to Bournemouth on Wednesday.