Liverpool will go in search of a third-straight victory when they visit Russian side Rubin Kazan in the Europa League group stage on Thursday. After three consecutive draws to begin his reign at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has overseen back-to-back wins to progress to the Capital One Cup quarterfinals and then on Saturday storm back to a 3-1 victory at Chelsea in the Premier League. In Kazan, he now has the chance to put Liverpool in the driver's seat for a place in the Europa League knockout phase.
Already the atmosphere around the club has improved significantly from when Klopp took over last month. His predecessor Brendan Rodgers was dismissed after a poor start to the campaign and bemoaned a lack of tools to do his job, citing a squad that remained in transition. Yet Klopp insists that he has plenty of quality at his disposal.
“They are all Liverpool players here,” he said, reports the Liverpool Echo. “Decisions that were made in the past were not as bad as maybe some people think. It is not a coincidence they are here.
“When I saw the squad -- when on my holiday -- I thought ‘good job, I can work with this.’ Yes, we have some injuries but players will come back. It’s a good squad. It’s even good for those players who can’t play in this moment to see how we work.”
On Saturday came the high point of Klopp’s reign so far, when Liverpool fought back from a goal down to defeat the Premier League champions on their own turf, helped by two goals from Philippe Coutinho. And Klopp believes the team is now in good shape heading into Thursday’s fixture.
“We are feeling confident in this moment,” he said. “It was very important for us last Saturday in London. It was far from the perfect match. But it was good enough on the day.
“We took the next step and there were important signs from the team about how they can handle situations in a game. It was a perfect row of situations. Concede the goal, stay in the game, strike back. It was really cool. Now we want to take this feeling and keep this feeling for Thursday’s game.”
Klopp has again shown his commitment to the Europa League, by taking a full-strength squad to Russia. It means Christian Benteke could start for the first time under Klopp. But the injury list remains long, with Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez, Jon Flanagan and Kolo Toure all still sidelined.
Liverpool have recorded three 1-1 draws in the competition this season, including two weeks ago at home to Rubin Kazan, when Klopp’s side were unable to take full advantage of having a man advantage for more than half the match. Still, Liverpool sit second in Group B, four points behind FC Sion, and a point ahead of both Rubin Kazan and Bordeaux.
The result at Anfield was the high point of what has been a difficult season to date for Rubin. They currently sit 12th in the 16-team Russian Premier League, having taken just 13 points from 14 games. And they changed their coach in September, with the inexperienced Ukrainian Valeriy Chaly taking charge. Still, Rubin have never failed to make it out of the group stage of the Europa League in three attempts, and they have come out on top on all three occasions that English teams visited Kazan.
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1