NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) – Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp hailed his squad’s depth after they clinched a 1-0 win at Newcastle United on Saturday to provisionally go top of the Premier League table despite the German making five changes to his starting line-up.
Klopp left out Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho from the side that took the field against Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
A first-half strike from Naby Keita was enough to put Liverpool two points ahead of champions Manchester City, who can reclaim top spot with victory at Leeds United later on Saturday.
Asked about his side’s ability to perform despite the rotation, Klopp told reporters: “It’s cool, eh? Yeah, that’s the only reason why we are where we are. That’s the only reason — the boys buy completely into the situation.
“The boys who didn’t come on today, you should’ve seen their faces on the bench when the final whistle went. It’s absolutely outstanding. We know that. The group is exceptional, exceptionally talented and has a really good character.”
Liverpool, who have already won the League Cup and meet Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 14, are chasing an unprecedented quadruple of trophies this season.
Klopp singled out veteran midfielder James Milner for praise following the 36-year-old’s impressive showing on the left side of a midfield three.
“Outstanding. Millie is incredibly important for us… because people think if you talk about the dressing room — he’s very helpful there, especially with a manager who is not a native speaker. But on the pitch as well, he played a super game.”
Klopp compared Milner’s professionalism to that of Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, saying they were both part of a fine generation.
“It’s difficult to be fitter than Millie. He’s a role model. I told him and can I tell the world nothing what we achieved in the last few years would have happened without James Milner.”
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)