Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is adamant not even Manchester City would have won the league this season had they had to deal with the injury crisis he has endured.
Klopp lost influential centre-back Virgil van Dijk to a season-ending knee injury five matches into the Premier League campaign, before partner Joe Gomez joined him on the sidelines three weeks later and, in January, Joel Matip – the one remaining senior central defender – became the third long-term absentee.
The German had to mix and match, with midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson playing alongside the inexperienced Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams in defence, and even when he brought in Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies as cover in January, both had their own injury problems.
Despite being top of the table at Christmas, the impact of the injuries eventually caught up with Klopp’s side, who went into a 2021 slump but bounced back with seven victories in nine matches to leave them knowing that if they win their final match at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday they will qualify for the Champions League.
Klopp has been ridiculed in some quarters for suggesting that would be a massive achievement considering they were well off the pace in eighth in March, but he believes it was the absolute maximum possible in the circumstances.
And he does not think any of their rivals could have done any better.
“So a football team is like an orchestra where plenty of people work together and if you lose one piece you might be able to still do it, but if you lose two then it becomes difficult,” he said.
“It is how I said before this year, with the amount of injuries we have had it was not the year to become champions. No chance. For nobody.
“As good as they are, if City have their three centre-halves out, no [they don’t win the league]. Three centre-halves of United, no.
“For the whole season pretty much too, that is how it is.
“We have fought back a bit, accepted the difficulties and made the best of it, and if we win on Sunday, and if we qualify for the Champions League, then we made the best of it. That is it.
“Ask Manchester United now if at the moment they like the Europa League and they would say ‘yes’. They love to play the final and have the chance to win.
“So we already did kind of a job but not the one we wanted to do.”
During their title-winning campaign Klopp frequently hailed his players as “mentality monsters.”
This season it has required a different kind of mental resilience and the manager believes it has made them stronger.
“Yes it means as much to me [as the title win]. It is clear we wouldn’t come to this situation if the boys wouldn’t have showed this kind of character. They have very special character,” he added.
“Sometimes we suffer things, we don’t have a lot of influence on that. That’s why things go the wrong way, but I never question the character or the mentality of this team.
“If you ever questioned the character of the players in a not so good period, you have to ask yourself why you did that.
“The boys proved it now millions of times, it’s not about their mentality or character if something has gone wrong.
“Going through tough periods makes you stronger as a unit and in that time we didn’t get distracted. Nothing came between us.
“Yes we had our moments, players were not in the best shape or the best mood. I was not in the best mood, but we always found a way to stick together.
“We never blamed each other or pointed a finger at each other and said, ‘it is because of you or you’.
“So whatever happens on Sunday, we found our way out to bring us to this situation.”