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Sunday 4 December 2016

Klopp: No easy fix for striking problem

Liverpool manager rules out Anfield return for Balotelli amid goal crisis

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has ruled out a return for striker Mario Balotelli from his loan
spell at AC Milan.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has ruled out a return for striker Mario Balotelli from his loan spell at AC Milan.

Liverpool may be experiencing something of a crisis in front of goal but manager Jurgen Klopp will not be taking any short cuts to solve it.

The 22 goals they have scored in 20 league matches is the lowest in their history and with Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings all injured the Reds are operating with one fit striker in Christian Benteke.

Although the Belgium international scored goals in the two matches immediately after Christmas he drew a blank in Saturday's defeat at West Ham and has so far not convinced.

Klopp was hopeful Sturridge would be fit for this week's double-header against Stoke in the League Cup and Exeter in the FA Cup after a month out with a hamstring injury, but the player has now suffered another minor setback in training and will not be ready.

Plan

"Daniel had some problems, not serious, but could not make a session and we had to wait a day," said Klopp, who has regularly referred to the last month as effectively pre-season for Sturridge.

"Because he didn't have one session with the team it was not the usual plan for this week.

"It is how a pre-season can be. Some little things happen and we have to handle this.

"It is not a row of sessions and we say 'Now we are here and go...'

"I will pick him when he is ready, I will not hold him back.

"What Daniel has to do at this moment is hard work to be prepared for the things we make in a football game. He had the last complete pre-season a long time ago.

"In pre-season we load our bodies with strength, energy, all we need for the games and then the problems start.

"It would be easy for me to say 'Come on, let's try, we have problems, we don't score enough goals, let's see what will happen' but we have to wait and be patient."

Despite the paucity of penetration up front there is absolutely no prospect of Anfield misfit Mario Balotelli being recalled from his loan spell at AC Milan after agent Mino Raiola said he wanted to speak to Klopp about the Italian's possible return for next season.

"At this moment I don't have the time or capacity to think about things for next summer," said Klopp.

"Maybe we will have a talk but it is nothing I can think about in this moment."

Injuries continue to dog Klopp with Jordan Henderson likely to sit out the League Cup semi-final first leg at Stoke tonight after a recurrence of a foot problem which caused him to miss the West Ham defeat.

"The tendon in the foot is painful but it is good and we hope when the blood is out of the foot the situation will be solved," Klopp said.

"It is not possible to train or play but we hope it is not serious. We have to wait, we cannot do any more."

Liverpool are favourites heading into the tie but Stoke pose a considerable hurdle, especially as the Reds have won just three times in their last nine visits to the Britannia.

Under Mark Hughes Stoke have become more focused on attacking football, although they have scored only 21 league goals themselves, and Klopp is an admirer of the turnaround his opposite number has achieved.

"Mark Hughes does a brilliant job there. Good scouting in the summer, maybe the biggest change in football is how Stoke played a few months or years ago and how they are playing now. That is really good," said the German.

Ironically, the old Stoke way of playing would probably have caused Liverpool just as many problems as the Reds' vulnerability in the air was exposed again at West Ham as they conceded both goals from far-post crosses.

It is an area which has been exploited regularly by opponents and one Klopp acknowledges they are weak in.

"We were passive in this moment. That is never good in football. That is never good in life," he said.

"We have an issue with crosses, before we had an issue with set-plays. It is always a ball in the air.

"As long as the ball is on the ground most of the time we handle it. When the ball is in the air we have some problems with the goals we conceded. We know this, we have not solved this."

Stoke City v Liverpool, live Sky Sports 1 (KO 8.0)

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