Jürgen Klopp has said he will never again take managing a team inside a full stadium for granted and that he is braced for Liverpool to lose the ability to welcome even 2,000 spectators, something only they and Everton in the Premier League are allowed to do under the new Covid-19 tier restrictions in England.
The spread of a new coronavirus variant has brought to a halt the widespread return of fans to grounds, with a number of regions previously in tier 2, which allows crowds of up to 2,000, moved into the stricter tiers 3 and 4. The mass testing programme initiated in Liverpool last month has played a part in the city’s two Premier League clubs being able to keep some of their turnstiles open. While Klopp said that has not provided his players with a significant competitive advantage and will not do so, he did recognise the positive feeling they get from being able to perform in front of some supporters.
Liverpool have played in front of 2,000 of their own fans on two occasions this season, against Wolves and Tottenham, and will do so again when West Brom visit Anfield on Sunday. The fixture is the only top-flight match with spectators this weekend, with Everton playing away at Sheffield United on Boxing Day.
“It’s a massive benefit from an emotional point of view [to play in front of fans]. It’s nice, much more enjoyable,” said Klopp. “Results-wise it has not made the biggest difference – we played in an empty stadium and with 2,000 fans and won most games, so it’s not an advantage.
“Long may it continue that we can keep people in the stadium but with the new tier system it doesn’t look likely. There are still bigger problems out there and the moment they say it’s not possible [to have spectators] then we have to wait for the next moment it’s possible again.
“What this year has shown us is to enjoy the good things for as long as they are there, and I will never, ever in my life take a full stadium for granted. Working at Mainz, Dortmund and Liverpool, I don’t think I played a home game for a long time in a not sold-out stadium. I enjoyed it but I didn’t think how special it is. I will much more in the future.”
Liverpool welcome West Brom with their sights set on a third consecutive league victory. The task seems a relatively straightforward one given the sides’ contrasting form, with the visitors arriving on Merseyside having lost six and drawn one of their past eight fixtures. However, they are now led by Sam Allardyce – the last manager to guide an opposition team to a league win at Anfield, having done so with Crystal Palace in April 2017.
“What I expect is a tough opponent,” said Klopp. “It’s always tough against Sam Allardyce teams. Well-organised, don’t make a big fuss of possession, and the situation West Brom are in, there will be a proper fight.”
James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri could feature for Liverpool having been sidelined for some time with hamstring and muscle injuries respectively. Thiago Alcântara is back in training having been out for more than two months with a knee injury but the midfielder will not be ready to feature on Sunday.