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Liverpool brace for a ‘reunion’ with Benitez

Vulnerable defence remains Klopp’s biggest worry this season

Gulf News

Newcastle, United Kingdom: Liverpool are seeking to end a frustrating September on a positive note as they face a reunion with their former manager Rafa Benitez at Newcastle on Sunday.

Benitez remains a popular figure at Anfield, having guided Liverpool to the Champions League title with a remarkable victory over AC Milan in 2005, a night remembered fondly at a club who have won just two trophies since then.

Jurgen Klopp’s attempts to bring back the good times have yet to pay off, with Liverpool continuing to look dangerous in attack but vulnerable in defence.

That was illustrated perfectly during last Saturday’s 3-2 win at Leicester, when Klopp’s team twice led by two goals, but only won in the end thanks to Simon Mignolet’s penalty save from Jamie Vardy.

Klopp’s response was to field all four of his main attacking players from the start for the first time on Tuesday at Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.

But for once, Liverpool’s forwards did not produce the goods; Philippe Coutinho scored, but Sadio Mane, Mohammad Salah and Roberto Firmino were off target, as was Daniel Sturridge when he came on as a substitute.

That draw means that Liverpool have won just one of their six matches during September, going out of the League Cup in the process.

However, they still went into the weekend sitting fifth in the Premier League, only five points off the top.

“The big improvement of this team in the moment so far is that we really create a lot,” Klopp said.

“We have had a lot of talks in the last two years about when we played against sides who are only defending and we don’t create enough.

“That has changed. We’ve made a big step in this. So far it hasn’t led to the results that we want, but in a few moments you cannot create bigger chances.”

Mignolet is set to return in goal for the trip to Newcastle, having missed the match in Moscow as Klopp has decided to play Loris Karius in the Champions League this season.

Klopp is looking forward to the clash with Benitez, saying: “I met Rafa once when he was manager of Liverpool, we beat him 5-0 with Mainz. I hope he remembers that.”

Benitez backed Klopp to emulate his trophy-winning spell at Liverpool as the Newcastle manager prepares to face the club which helped to forge his reputation.

The Spaniard led the Reds to the Champions League and FA Cup success during a celebrated six years in charge at Anfield, and retains strong links with the club and area, with his family still based on Merseyside.

Klopp is yet to earn his first silverware after almost two years in charge, but Benitez is confident the German is capable of adding to the club’s lengthy list of honours.

“It was a good period at Liverpool and we did well over six years, with four trophies and three finals,” Benitez said.

“Jurgen is someone I know well, so I don’t want to put any pressure on but he has the tools and the potential and I think they can win trophies.

“The hard part is to sustain the success with all the top sides you have to come up against, and at the moment the way everyone’s spending it means it isn’t easy.

“They have everything in place to do well, but they are competing against some very good sides.”

Benitez leads Newcastle for a second time against Liverpool, after the Magpies came from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at Anfield shortly after the 57-year-old took over 18 months ago.

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