Dejan Lovren believes Liverpool's Champions League group stage clashes with NK Maribor will be pivotal for their chances of progressing to the round of 16.
The Reds face the reigning Slovenian PrvaLiga champions at the Stadion Ljudski vrt on Tuesday looking for their first European victory this season after two successive draws to start with.
Minnows Maribor are competing in just their third ever Champions League group stage campaign and Liverpool - huge favourites to win both ties - are in need of six points from six against Darko Milanič's men if they are to maintain hope of topping Group E.
Embed from Getty Images
"Reds must beat Maribor home and away to boost chances of progression"
Liverpool's defensive problems - conceding avoidable goals despite controlling games - have led to underwhelming draws with Sevilla and Spartak Moscow in their first two group games and Jürgen Klopp's side are in need of kickstarting their continental campaign.
On their form in Europe so far, Lovren said: "We expected much more in the first two games, that we would have taken more points than we have in this moment."
The 28-year-old called Liverpool's upcoming double header against Maribor "two really important games" and said his side must "be positive" in order to "try and win both games."
He warned that "there are no easy games" in the Champions League and that the Reds must "respect every club in this competition."
Lovren insisted that Maribor "will be a challenge" but that if they can beat them home and away - with the return meeting at Anfield in two weeks' time - then "there is a big chance to progress in the group."
He told reporters that Liverpool "definitely" showed themselves to be the "better team" in their first group game against Sevilla and then "had many chances" that they "didn't use" against Spartak, declaring that "there are still games to play" for them to turn things around.
Liverpool have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions and could only earn a goalless draw against Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday.
Lovren admitted that there is "still definitely frustration" from that result because he felt Liverpool "definitely played much better" than their rivals.
He noted that Klopp's charges again wasted their chances but must "take the positives out and move on" because they demonstrated that they "can play against big teams even if they are [defending] deep."
"We can take the positivity out that we are strong in each position and when we defend really well, everyone together, I think there is no problem when we talk about defence," Lovren continued.
He noted that Liverpool are "missing the goals" but that "everyone is confident" of improving the team's form because "there is no bad mood in the dressing room."
Embed from Getty Images
Fit-again defender calls upon Liverpool to focus on job at hand
Lovren also dismissed any idea that the extra games in Liverpool's schedule is having any impact on their form, insisting rather that the squad are managing their hectic fixture list "quite well."
He believes Liverpool are "used to it" because they played in the Europa League and "had no days off" in Klopp's first season, though acknowledged that it is "quite challenging" because they "want to win every game."
"Everyone wants to be in this competition, in the Champions League, and to enjoy as much as possible," he continued, insisting Liverpool "need to concentrate just to pass the group" before thinking further.
On Tuesday night's opponents, Lovren said: "I personally have been interested in Maribor from before when I played in Croatia, so I always respected this club."
He declared that the Slovenian side "are here for a reason" and praised their "excellent individual players" who "deserve to play in the Champions League", insisting that "it won't be easy" for Liverpool.
Lovren has missed games in recent weeks due to various injury struggles, but told gathered press: "I am fit now. I had issues with my back and with my groin until one week ago, to be honest."
He insisted that he "skipped the first game in the internationals" which helped him to "put the pain a little bit down", vowing: "I was struggling but now it is over and I am feeling good and feeling fit."