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Champions League: Klopp expects no easy ride

August 29, 2019 16:25 IST

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp talks with Mohamed Salah during training

IMAGE: Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp talks with Mohamed Salah during training. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Juergen Klopp thinks Liverpool face a daunting task in their bid to retain the Champions League title this season given the "crazy" depth of quality in the competition.

Klopp has led Liverpool to back-to-back Champions League finals but is adamant that their impressive recent track record does not make them the title favourites.

"I will have no problem with it (reaching the final) if it happens again, but at this moment I am not too sure it will," the German coach told British media.

"We have the same chance like everyone else, but that is all, and I don't see us, the English teams, dominating. I really think a lot of teams have a good chance."

Liverpool are among the top seeds in Pot One along with Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester City, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris St Germain and Zenit St Petersburg for the Champions League group stage draw, which takes place later on Thursday.

 

The quality of teams in the second pot - which includes Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund -- have convinced Klopp there is no need to change the format of the competition when the current cycle ends in 2024.

"I don't think there was ever a stronger Pot Two. It is just crazy," the German added.

"They should all be in Pot One, but there is not enough space there.

"I don't think there was ever a stronger Pot Three. If people really think about this kind of Super League, then you don't need it. That's it. Then Pot Four you can get RB Leipzig – wow!"

Klopp expects Liverpool to face stiff competition from a number of heavyweights as they bid for a seventh European crown.

While Juventus, Barcelona, PSG and Dortmund looked to fine-tune their squads in the transfer market, Real Madrid and Bayern have recruited heavily.

"Look at the squad Borussia Dortmund has and tell me we are stronger than them. That is incredible," Klopp added.

"There are a lot of quality teams: Juventus will be there, PSG will be there. Real Madrid? Do you think they gave up already? Bayern Munich now finally brought in (Ivan) Perisic and (Philippe) Coutinho which is a big boost."

Ajax, Bruges, Slavia make Champions League group stage

A goal by midfielder Edson Alvarez on his first start and a brilliant strike by Dusan Tadic fired Ajax Amsterdam into the Champions League group stage as they beat Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus 2-0 on Wednesday following a scoreless draw last week.

They will be joined by Club Bruges, who beat Austrian side LASK Linz 3-1 on aggregate, and Slavia Prague, who claimed a second 1-0 victory over CFR Cluj of Romania to win the two-legged tie 2-0.

After dominating the first half against the dogged Cypriot side, Mexican midfielder Alvarez put Ajax ahead just before the break, heading home Hakim Ziyech's superb free kick.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar thought he had doubled the advantage from a similar Ziyech free kick early in the second half, but his effort was ruled out after a lengthy VAR review found that defender Joel Veltman was marginally offside in the build-up.

Apoel suffered the same fate a few minutes later as an offside flag cancelled out what would have been a precious away goal.

With the visitors tiring visibly, Tadic put the tie beyond doubt with a sublime goal in the 80th minute, deftly controlling Huntelaar's sumptuous crossfield pass before firing an unstoppable shot past Vid Belec.

That brought the 53,100 fans at the Johan Cruyff Arena to their feet, and they sang well after the final whistle to celebrate the progression of the four-times European champions and last season's semi-finalists from a tricky qualifying phase.

"This was a difficult game for us, but with the help from our fans we were stronger. Teams always play very compact against us, and the state of the pitch today did not help our play," Tadic told reporters.

"But scoring the first goal provided some rest - Ajax belongs in the Champions League, we need to play Champions League every year," he added.

Defender Jan Boril scored for Czech champions Slavia Prague to give them a 1-0 home win over Cluj and a 2-0 aggregate victory to make the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in 12 years.

"I had a chance in the first half but opted for a cross and during the break everybody told me I should have shot. So in the second half I went in there like a tank and the only thing I wanted to do was shoot at the far post," Boril said.

Midfielder Hans Vanaken put Belgian side Bruges on course for the group stage with a goal in the 70th minute but LASK Linz hauled themselves back into the tie with a penalty 16 minutes from time.

A red card for central defender Gernot Trauner ended their spirited fightback, however, and Emmanuel Dennis sent Bruges through with an 89th-minute goal.

The losing sides go into the draw for the group stages of the Europa League on Friday. The Champions League draw takes place on Thursday.

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