Doha: Liverpool are in Doha preparing for their Club World Cup semi-final against Mexico’s Monterrey, but before that game Jurgen Klopp will spy on their potential final opponents while making sure he tunes in to watch the Anfield club’s second string in League Cup action on Tuesday.
The runaway Premier League leaders are in the bizarre position of having to play two matches in two days on two separate continents, almost 7,000 kilometres apart, with the League Cup quarter-final away to Aston Villa being followed by the meeting with the Concacaf Champions League winners in Qatar on Wednesday evening.
The club’s under-23 coach, Neil Critchley, will lead Liverpool’s youngsters against Villa, while Klopp and all of his star players arrived in Doha on Sunday looking to finish a fine year by winning the Club World Cup for the first time.
Brazilian giants Flamengo, the Copa Libertadores winners, meet Asian champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the first semi-final at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium on Tuesday at 8:30pm local time (1730 GMT), with Liverpool’s League Cup tie kicking off at 1945 GMT.
“Tomorrow night we start with watching the other semi-final live in the stadium, I think it should be possible. And then we will leave there a bit earlier and sit here in front of the television and watch that game,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website.
“Aston Villa is the big favourite, that’s clear, but who cares? It’s football and the ball rolls in each direction, that’s pretty cool.”
Liverpool arrived in Qatar without injured defender Dejan Lovren but with Georginio Wijnaldum, who came off in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Watford. Welsh right-back Neco Williams and midfielder Curtis Jones, both 18, might ordinarily have been in the team against Villa but were instead called up by Klopp to go to Qatar.
Monterrey reached the semi-final after beating Al Sadd, coached by Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez, on Saturday.
‘Massive’ for Flamengo
Al Sadd have been involved in this tournament by virtue of their status as champions of the host nation. This remains a strange, disjointed competition, and one that will soon disappear in its current format as Fifa press the reset button and come back with a controversial, 24-team extravaganza in China from 2021.
The importance of the trophy to Liverpool is debatable, and surely none of their supporters would prefer winning the Club World Cup to claiming a first English title since 1990.
Nevertheless, it is not something that Klopp and his side are dismissing, as the Anfield outfit look to continue recent European dominance in the competition — the last six editions have been won by the European representative, with Real Madrid taking the last three.
Chelsea were the last European participant to fail to lift the trophy as they lost to Corinthians in 2012.
It is a competition that tends to mean more for South American clubs, representing a chance for them to measure themselves against Europe’s best.
Flamengo secured a ticket to Qatar when they won the Copa Libertadores last month, beating River Plate in the final with two late goals by Gabriel Barbosa, the one-time Inter Milan flop.
“This is a massive title. We know this is the ultimate for clubs around the world and that it means a lot in South America too,” said Flamengo defender Rafinha, who played for Bayern Munich when they won the competition in 2013.
Flamengo won the old Intercontinental Cup in 1981 by beating Liverpool and they have their sights set on another meeting with the Anfield side, but first they must see off Al Hilal.
“In Brazil people are talking a lot about Liverpool and forgetting that we have a game before that. They are being forgotten because they are from Saudi Arabia, they are not European and so they are under-appreciated,” warned Flamengo coach Jorge Jesus, who was previously in charge of Al Hilal.