Liverpool have no time to fret over their chastening Champions League defeat at the hands of Barcelona as they scramble to prevent their season from fizzling out without any silverware to show for it.
After the hammer blow of two late Lionel Messi goals at the Camp Nou, which gave Barcelona a 3-0 win in the first leg of the semi-final, Jurgen Klopp’s men must raise themselves for the challenge of Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday.
Despite already posting a club record points tally of 91 with two games remaining, a Liverpool defeat would give Manchester City the chance to retain the title at home to Leicester on Monday.
“They don’t have to think about the next game against Barcelona, now we play Newcastle,” said Klopp after Wednesday’s defeat in Spain.
“That’s all our focus. We go to the hotel, have a proper sleep, get up in the morning, fly home and then prepare for Newcastle.
“Whatever happens, these boys, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
There was plenty for Klopp to be proud about in Catalonia despite a first defeat in 20 games.
Liverpool had more possession and shots on goal as they pressed and penned the Spanish champions back, particularly after Luis Suarez had come back to haunt his former club with the opening goal in the 26th minute.
“I can work really well with this game. I will use this game to show the boys what is possible,” added Klopp.
“It was a brave performance that was very passionate, very lively and in a lot of moments creative and direct.
“There will be a moment when I can convince the boys again how important this game was for us for our development because I really think it was the best away game we played in the Champions League. That’s a very important message for us, not for the world outside.”
However, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah missed huge chances, the magic of Messi swung the tie heavily in Barca’s favour.
– Messi magic –
If Messi’s first goal 15 minutes from time was opportunistic, his second was out of this world.
The Argentine’s 600th goal for Barcelona was fired into the top corner with unerring accuracy from a long-range free-kick.
“In these moments he’s unstoppable,” admitted Klopp.
A second leg at fortress Anfield is still to come, but ending a 29-year wait to win the Premier League was always Liverpool’s primary target for the season.
Now into his fourth season in charge, Klopp has still to win a trophy with Liverpool.
But if his maturing side were denied by individual brilliance in Barcelona, it is the collective class of City, led by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, that looks likely to deny them a much-desired title.
For the seventh game in a row, Liverpool would go back on top with a victory over Newcastle, led by their former manager Rafael Benitez.
However, with City on a 12-game Premier League winning run, Liverpool still need the champions to slip up either at home to Leicester or away at Brighton on the final day of the season to stand a chance of winning the title.
“I think mentally, we shouldn’t be affected,” said Liverpool defender and Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year Virgil van Dijk.
“I won’t be. It was a tough game but we have a big game at the weekend and we are still in the race. We want the same performance without conceding the goals.”