The silence that enveloped the room was almost suffocating. Jurgen Klopp had his features set in stone.
He had just been asked if, with Liverpool ’s lengthy injury problems, they’d be playing an U23 team in the Premier League by the turn of the year.
After a moment of dead air, he grimaced, and replied: “I understand the joke, I just don’t laugh!!” It really is no laughing matter for the Reds boss. Not in a season he says “no squad is big enough” to cope with.
That is why he has left behind the belief – the conviction – of a managerial lifetime that it is quality which ultimately wins titles. This season, this painful, dreadful season, he said, becoming Champions will be more about luck rather than judgement.
“All the teams are quality so that will always be influential, but you need to be lucky with injuries,” he said, without a hint of relief in his voice. Klopp is already wearied by the challenge, you sense.
“Some things we can influence, rotate, make decisions but whatever squads you have for the problems, they are not enough.
“You cannot leave players out for four or five weeks because you do not need them and then you bring them in and they will be convincing, in the best shape in 100 per cent for the next game, I don’t think that is always possible.”
Liverpool of course, have lost Virgil van Dijk for practically the whole season, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has been sidelined for months, and they have already been without Alisson, Thiago, Joel Matip, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez and Kostas Tsimikas in barely six weeks of the season.
Yet he knows there is no point complaining about it. Every top Premier League club – ‘seven of us who are in Europe’ – are in the same boat, and the challenge now is simple: how to survive a season unprecedented in football history.
“It has an impact on the health of the players, but the boys enjoy playing and have to be ready for it. My job is to make decisions, to change here, rotate there and to help them all to be on the pitch in the best possible shape,” he explained.
Do Liverpool have the depth to win the Premier League this season? Have your say here.
It has been a hectic season so far – so make sure you don’t miss a single thing by signing up for the brilliant new Mirror Football newsletter!
All the latest transfer news and big stories will land straight into your inbox. You won’t miss out.
To sign up, put your email at the top of this article or follow the instructions on this link.
“It’s very influential this time, of course. It will be interesting in the summer, after an unbelievably intense season, that we will have a European Championship and for the first time now triple-headers in the international break.
“That makes October, November, December so challenging. We have all the information on the table, the schedules are there, and we have to deal with it.”
That Klopp doesn’t want, is for people to think for a second he is moaning, when then are much more grave problems in the world. “So it was always clear, life is in the moment, really difficult and we don’t make this football problem the biggest problem,” he said.
“My concern is the welfare of the players. Now and then it’s a big thing to talk about the mental welfare of players but we have to talk about the physical welfare of players much more often.
“That’s because the boys always want to play even if they can’t. So we have to make fixture lists and schedules where they can and are able to.”
It means getting creative. He is down to only one senior fit centre back, and though Joel Matip is in training again, is unlikely to be risked this weekend. There are young centre halves, but Klopp will think out of the box this season.
“We still have other options like Hendo, Gini, or James Milner or Andy Robertson can all play centre half as well. They are not smaller than Mascherano and he played it pretty well in that position.”
Sign up to the Mirror Football email here for the latest news and transfer gossip.