Pepijn Lijnders has attributed Liverpool’s stirring recovery this season to their summer recruitment, fresh leadership and the threat of a punch in the face.
Liverpool’s assistant manager made the threat as a pre-season joke to the squad as he and Jürgen Klopp sought to draw a line under the disappointment of the 2022-23 campaign. Lijnders believes the determination to move on, along with the quality of Liverpool’s midfield rebuild and players such as Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold assuming greater responsibility, has re-energised Klopp and the team.
Liverpool remain in pursuit of all four available trophies and host Fulham in the Carabao Cup semi‑final first leg on Wednesday. They will be without Alexander-Arnold for the next three weeks, however, after the influential defender sustained a knee ligament injury in the FA Cup third‑round win at Arsenal.
“There is not a good manager without a good ownership,” said Lijnders, when asked how Klopp revived Liverpool for this season. “The ownership invested in the squad where we needed to invest and that’s a really good sign. You bring energy, power, talent, young players and that energises the manager and the coaching staff because you are working with new players and you have to explain the idea again. So that’s one thing.
“The second thing, and probably the most important, is we really drew a line before pre-season started. I said as a joke that if anyone was negative in this building I would punch them in the face. I said that to every single one of them. Just to make sure that we didn’t carry anything over.
“Then pre-season starts and we had all the players available for a long time. A lot of key players went, seniors who were always the leaders, so new players had to step up – Mo Salah, Virgil, Alisson, Trent – and they did, they show, and then you can start training three times a day, which we didn’t do before. There was a voice in their head saying: ‘We want to be successful and so we have to go through this.’
“These things help, these things are crucial, but then you have to have success. You need to win games when you think that maybe you are not going to win them. That’s why Newcastle away was a massive one. That creates momentum. In the right moments the team really stepped up.”
Lijnders believes the development of Curtis Jones has also fuelled the recovery, as well as improved distribution from central defence.
“I don’t want to go on constantly about the new players because if you see what Curtis did to the team since the end of last season it’s as good as a new signing,” he said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, maybe because he comes from the academy, I don’t know.”
He added: “What does not often get seen is our centre-halves are playing much better with the ball. If you look at how close they play to the offence and how they are stepping in with the outside or inside pass – they are playing to a level we needed. They are making a big, big difference.”
Although Alexander-Arnold’s absence is a setback for Liverpool he could miss only one Premier League game, at Bournemouth, owing to the winter break and domestic cup fixtures. Lijnders revealed the left-backs Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas could return by the end of the month from respective shoulder and collarbone injuries.