Less than three days after the Reds had won their Champions League semi-final first leg against Villarreal 2-0, Klopp rested Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Mohamed Salah at St James’ Park with one eye on Tuesday night’s return in Spain.
If doing do might have seemed a gamble to those outside the dressing room, it proved to be a profitable one as Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and evergreen 36-year-old midfielder James Milner slotted in seamlessly and played their part in a 1-0 Premier League victory.
Asked about the changes afterwards, Klopp said: “It’s cool, that. That’s the only reason why we are where we are, that’s how it is, it’s the only reason. The boys buy completely into the situation.
“The boys who didn’t come on today, you should have seen their faces on the bench on the final whistle. It’s absolutely outstanding.
“We know that. The group is exceptional, exceptionally talented and with real character, and that’s very helpful.”
In truth, Liverpool dominated from the off against a team which had won its previous six home league games and ran out with high hopes of leaving the visitors with a bloody nose.
In the event, Keita’s 19th-minute strike was sufficient to secure the points and but for some wayward finishing and the efforts of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, the margin of victory could have been significantly more comfortable.
Gomez told the club’s official website: “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a tough place to come, the atmosphere’s unbelievable and obviously they’re under new management and you can see they’ve definitely improved – their results show that.
“So we knew it wasn’t going to be easy this afternoon and I think we ground out the result. It wasn’t the easiest, but we got the three points.
“I think the clean sheet always gives us the platform to get a goal and the three points. As a unit, we did well and ground it out.”
The Magpies struggled to lay a glove on the latest visitors to St James’, an illustration of the distance they still have to travel on their journey back to where they believe they should be.
Howe said: “I want the mentality that we want to win every game regardless of who our opponent is and regardless of where we play, so you can never be happy in defeat, for me. I’m certainly not and I know my players will feel the same way.
“The biggest thing you can judge is your performance, and our performance was workmanlike, but probably lacking in the quality that we needed to win the game or get something from the game. That’s how I’d assess it.”