A packed agenda included: updates on the fitness of Harvey Elliott, Thiago Alcântara, Naby Keïta and Divock Origi; the signing of Luis Díaz; Nat Phillips’ and Neco Williams’ loan departures; interest in Fabio Carvalho; and Sunday evening’s Africa Cup of Nations final – where Senegal, and Sadio Mané, will face Egypt, and Mohamed Salah.
The German boss offered additional clarity on the respective recoveries of Elliott, Thiago and Origi.
He also explained that Keïta was fine following the midfielder’s own AFCON participation with Guinea, who were knocked out of the tournament by Gambia at the round of 16 stage on January 24 – a game the Liverpool No.8 was suspended for.
Klopp first addressed Elliott’s situation, though. Following the serious ankle injury he suffered at Leeds United on September 12, and a lengthy rehabilitation process, the 18-year-old has now been back in team training for several weeks and looks set to return to the first-team squad on Sunday.
“We have, really, to thank Andreas Schlumberger for that. He is our head of rehab here and he was very in it, very patient, but Harvey was the perfect client, if you want. So, he did pretty much everything we told him without one question ‘Why?’ or whatever. So, he’s in a good place – full team training. Now we have to see. We have to see what is right for him. Is it right to start? Is it right to come on? But he will be in the squad definitely for the Cardiff game and, from there, we go. So, most of the things look completely natural, absolutely, really quick after a long, long period without proper team training. And, when you saw him the first time, you thought immediately ‘Maybe we take him with us’ but it makes obviously no sense. So he has now, step-by-step, to get back to his best but he is close, very close.”
“Thiago trained with us. Unfortunately, when COVID is around you always think it’s the only infection you can get, or virus you can get. But he had a little chest infection so he had to step a little bit aside again. It’s not perfect, of course, but I expect him to be in team training today again so we’ll see. The rest, the injury, is completely fine. Looks really good in training but that’s sometimes how things are, so we will see how we can use him for Sunday.”
Thiago was, indeed, pictured in Friday's team training. On Keïta, meanwhile, Klopp said…
“Naby is completely fine. So, Naby came back full of energy. Had a few days off as well. Came back here after the tournament obviously full of energy and confidence so that looked good.”
“Divock, yesterday, first time full team training. Looked very good but was first time full team training after, I don’t know exactly how long, was a while – so, from here, we go as well.”
The signing of Colombian international Díaz from Porto for an initial £37.5 million, potentially rising to £50 million, has been the talk of much of the fortnight-long interlude in the Merseysiders’ season.
Particularly since Liverpool officially announced the deal last Sunday, there has been plenty of discussion surrounding what the pacy winger – who turned 25 on January 13 – could bring to the Reds squad.
Klopp spoke first on the settling-in process and then on the attributes of the new No.23 – who faced Liverpool twice in the Champions League earlier this season and who arrived at the AXA Training Centre later on Friday.
“Luis, let me say it like this – if he would now come, step on a pitch and be immediately at his absolute best and playing better than all others of us, that would be really strange because we have worked together for a while. So, that needs time, of course, that he adapts to it but that doesn’t mean I don’t speak about four, five months or whatever. I didn’t even see him yet, so it was not here at the training ground, maybe we should wait a little bit. We are really happy and excited about the signing and I think it’s a really good sign that we work on all fronts to improve this team. And, how it always is, obviously, in football, we have to be successful now and in the future – and he can help with both. So, that’s a really good thing.”
“We signed him because we like pretty much everything about him. That’s how it is. I followed him for a while, not only since we played them twice in the Champions League. So, he is an exceptional player. He has the speed, he has the skillset, he has the character, to have a really good career. And we all want him to have that career here with us and that’s it. I’m not sure but maybe nowadays when you have 16, 17-year-old boys playing in highest level, he’s maybe a little bit a late bloomer but they bloom exceptionally well, very often. Really happy that we could get him in now and can help him and he can help us. So, yes, the story so far is a special one for sure. We have some players with special stories behind them. I like that and now he’s one of us and we can’t wait to welcome him here and then start working together.”
Nat Phillips and Neco Williams loans
Deadline day saw centre-back Phillips join Bournemouth and right-back Williams go to Fulham on loan deals for the remainder of 2021/22.
Both have had limited first-team opportunities this term – and for much of their time in and around the squad – but they have often contributed positively when given the chance.
Phillips, in particular, put in several excellent displays at the heart of the patched up defence that eventually helped Liverpool to a third-placed Premier League finish last term.
Klopp was evidently pleased that both will now have a shot at more regular minutes.
“So, first of all, was really good for Neco and Nat especially. Nat deserved it so much. We would love to keep him here, to be honest, with all the things that have happened in the last few years in the centre-half position. So, Nat was incredibly reliable and great, great, figure here in the training ground. But it’s really well deserved. I’m really happy for them – for both of them.”
Another hot topic during the latter days of the window was Liverpool’s desire to sign Fulham’s 19-year-old attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho.
Particularly since he turned down a new contract in November, there has been widespread interest in the teenager, who scored his eighth goal of the season in the Cottagers' 4-1 FA Cup fourth round defeat at Manchester City on Saturday.
Despite agreeing a fee – reportedly one with the potential to rise to £8 million – in the final hours of January 31, the clubs weren’t able to finalise the transfer, which would have seen Carvalho loaned back to the Championship team for the remainder of the season, prior to the 11pm GMT deadline.
However, reports have since stated that Liverpool and Fulham could strike a pre-agreement for Carvalho to join the Reds in the summer, ahead of the expiration of the player’s contract, if a fee can be agreed.
That aforementioned fee could, therefore, prove significant but a reasonable amount of uncertainty understandably remains.
The completion of Neco Williams’ loan to Marco Silva’s side has been seen as a sign that relations between the clubs remain good, meanwhile.
When asked about Carvalho on Friday, Klopp emphasised that LFC remain interested in the England youth international.
“We are obviously still interested. It would be crazy if not. It’s obviously, in the moment, not in our hands. I think Marco [Silva] said it all yesterday in his press conference. These kind of deals, it was late before the transfer window closed again and so, in the end, it didn’t work out but we will see what happens.”
Salah and Mané to meet in AFCON final
After coming through their respective semi-finals against Burkina Faso on Wednesday and hosts Cameroon on Thursday, Senegal and Egypt are set to play out the tournament’s enticing-looking finale on Sunday.
That, of course, means Liverpool teammates Mané and Salah going head-to-head.
When asked about the final, Klopp expressed his joy regarding the achievements of each of Mané, Salah and Keïta within the competition.
“Great achievement obviously for both – getting through to the final, it’s great. Naby played an exceptional tournament as well. Unfortunately, was suspended for yellow cards in a decisive game for them. I think otherwise Guinea would have had a good chance to go through a bit further as well. So, so far, a really successful tournament for our boys and will be exciting. Now it’s obviously not so easy because we have to watch the game and one will be definitely really happy after it and the other one much less so. Yeah, but, both have a good chance to achieve something really big.”
He then went to on to discuss when the pair are likely to return ahead of Leicester City’s Premier League visit on Thursday night.
“I think they will be available. We will see. The one who wins will probably fly back to the home country for celebrations, that’s how it is. And I think Tuesday or Wednesday latest the winner will be back and the other one probably slightly earlier. So, we will see. And then I have to talk to them. I don’t know but, if they have one thing, they’ll have rhythm. They played, obviously, quite a few games. We will see. I have to speak to them then.”