Q&APep Lijnders' Carabao Cup final press conference: 'Special games require special performances'

By Liverpool FC


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Pepijn Lijnders explained the need for Liverpool to deliver a 'special performance' when they come up against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final.

The Reds meet Mauricio Pochettino's side at Wembley on Sunday afternoon with the first piece of silverware in the 2023-24 season on the line.

Lijnders previewed the game during a press conference at the AXA Training Centre on Friday – read on for a summary of what the assistant manager had to say…

On dealing with the injuries in the squad ahead of the final...

LFC injury update: Nunez, Salah, Szoboszlai, Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Jones and Jota

News LFC injury update: Nunez, Salah, Szoboszlai, Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Jones and JotaLiverpool will continue to monitor the fitness of Darwin Nunez, Mohamed Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai ahead of the Carabao Cup final, assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders has confirmed.

I think the good thing we always did in the past is look at what we have. It's also good in life to just accept what you have and don't look [at] what you don't have, so that's what we are trying to do. It brought us success in the past, so we try to keep that up. I feel really happy with that because [Johan] Cruyff said a long time ago – I'm not even sure it was Cruyff – but in Holland you say every disadvantage has its advantage. With a few injuries, you get young players. You cannot have everything in the world, not at the same time at least. You get young players, you get players who didn't play five games in a row but they can show up now, so that's really cool. This season is a season where we created already three or four new teams in one season – what didn't happen a lot in the last years. It's a compliment for our squad, it's a compliment for the Academy.

On the dynamics of facing Chelsea so soon after beating them 4-1 in the Premier League…

I think a good final only starts with really respecting and acknowledging their strengths. Where to start? [Moises] Caicedo, Enzo [Fernandez] in the middle really making the game. Enzo is the one if you let him free, he can play passes everywhere. I think the instability in the beginning of the season, a lot happened there, no? A lot. So how can you expect them to perform straight away? They are growing. I think the manager is doing an unbelievable job, the coaching staff as well, both.

I think he finally finds his XI and I think one of the best signings this year in the Premier League is [Cole] Palmer; taking him from a rival, a young player, and performing like that. Then you have [Conor] Gallagher of course, a proper No.10, from the academy wearing the armband and he is a proper leader. He is somebody who is a 10 but gets his shirt dirty as well. If you let them play and let them find the players between the lines, Palmer and Gallagher there, who have a lot of technique, that will be really hard. Enzo dropping. The speed as well they have up front, when they play out of our counter-press, we will need our full toolbox to defend them.

A good game and final always starts with respecting the strength of the opposition and defending it with all we have. That's what we're going to prepare, with only one target: that's giving joy and emotions to the fans. If you want to describe our football philosophy – Jürgen [Klopp] and me and the club – it's to give joy and emotions to the fans. I'm really happy that we can give at least a final to start with, that's what you're asking for in the beginning of the season.

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On if success is having already got to a final or whether it is only considered success if you win it...

For me, success is growing. I always believe that the team who grows more in a season will be the successful team. So, we focus on developing this team, we focus on bringing young players, we focus on even the older ones to make them better with video, with training sessions, with meetings, with emotions, with passion. And then success, I think, is a logical result of that. So, you have to focus a lot because you play against good teams – look [at] what Luton did in the first half. But Liverpool Football Club is made for major trophies and each year we should fight for them – that should always be the target and that's what we are going to try to do.

On what it would mean for this squad to lift a trophy...

Yeah, 95 minutes against a really good opponent and an opponent who last week drew against [Manchester] City in a really special game. It helps, of course. But the most important thing is the way we're going to play there. For me, that's the main thing. If we can play like the second half against Luton, if we can play, what you just said, 14 out of 15 games with the style we're going into that game [with], if these young boys can show a passion, if they can show their personality, we can really show our personality there, then, for me, that would already be a good thing. And then the end result you don't know, a lot can happen.

We played finals where we lost where we played really, really well and we played finals where it was really even – see Chelsea against [Thomas] Tuchel where five goals got cancelled, I think, in one game. We're always close with them, always. We were always close with them – 11 penalties! But special games need special performances, so we have to focus on the performance. Special performances mean that we lift the stadium – we need the fans. We go for it.

On how much being involved in a final can help aid progress for younger players in the squad...

Yeah, you're completely right. You're on the spot. That's why I like Luton because you go [in at] half-time and you see the frustration in the boys and you see a lot of good things, even [in the] first half, a lot of good things. It was only the last 20 metres, the way we managed the ball against their man-marking. It's never easy but the problem was really in the last 20 metres of the pitch. How we play the last pass, how we create, how we kept the overview of these moments.

But the frustration [at] half-time and that we have to calm [the] boys down; if we do this and this better, everything will be right. Give them patience, give them faith, give them belief, and that's why I was so pleased as well because you know that game is really important going into a final. It's what I said because these boys have to do it for us. They need to grow and they need to find connection with each other. It's different if you play Mo [Salah], Darwin [Nunez], Lucho [Luis Diaz] or you play Lucho, Cody [Gakpo], Harvey [Elliott]. I'm not saying quality because all five of our strikers [have] scored 10-plus goals already this season.

What I'm trying to say is that football is a team sport. It's about how they work together and that needs time. You can only do that on the training pitch, the meetings... but the main thing is the game. When it gets difficult, when you are 1-0 down, how they then start interacting with each other. That was the most special thing of the night [against Luton] because they were growing. It helps if you play towards the Kop! [It was] a great second half and the boys were growing. These young boys need that. Then Bobby Clark comes on [and] James McConnell comes on and they show in like 15 minutes what they are all about. Then you think, 'Wow, [in] the last 10 years we created a culture in this club.' We created some real, real culture.

On Caoimhin Kelleher's development and how he takes on the added responsibility of more involvement...

I still know his first game. Derby away [with] nobody watching. On a pitch, not a main pitch, they put us on like the sixth pitch or something... I still know. He saved a penalty there and you saw a boy [at] 15 years old, not in an easy situation at that time, [he] had his trial game and with his feet [he] already impressed me. I'm not sure, but I think he played on the pitch for many years until he became a goalie. We all know about his strengths. I'm really pleased for him what's happening.

For a club like Liverpool, we need two good goalkeepers. I'm really happy that we have. It's really special and a compliment for John [Achterberg], for Jack [Robinson] and for Taffa [Claudio Taffarel] and for the guys at the Academy, because we produce some good goalkeepers already, but Caoimhin is probably the most outstanding one and who is most complete. He can make match-winning saves, he has this and he sees the game, he knows how to act as the free player, he knows when to play with direction and his calmness and his serenity creates calmness for the others. Especially how we want to play, if you want to manage the ball from the back, to find one-v-one situations, to create better one-v-one situations... it's really important to have a goalkeeper like that. Again, the culture, own players, it's cool.

On his pride at the progress and current state of the Academy…

The dream was to prove [to the] world that it's possible, even on this level in the Premier League. And not just to prove that you can bring young players, but win, to bring young players and win. The Academy is created to win, to bring players that can win you games, that can win you trophies, because Liverpool Football Club is about this. I'm really proud. I always believed in it, and how I said now a few times, we really created a culture, this one-club mentality that from a young age we play in a certain way. When we have scouting meetings, we know what's in the second team. If we have to buy a right full-back, yes or no... to go for the Academy player. We have a loan manager in place for all these years who can control at least the uncontrollable. We try to. It's not easy but try.

You really focus on this because some players just need a few more years, or a different experience, then you have players who can just come in. Everything was based about creating culture, like stability. OK, we want to play this way, we believe in this. [It's a] compliment, I think, [to] Vitor Matos because we have an elite development role just focused on the young players. We have Barry Lewtas as U21s coach. He came from the U12s when I was starting at the Academy, he was the U12s coach. He's now the U21s coach, promoted from that. We have Alex Inglethorpe who is [here] as long as Jürgen, or longer in the club. This structure and this culture takes time but you need good people to believe in certain processes. And when the difficult decisions come, that's where you have to make the difficult decision or the decision where you believe in your own.

I think Conor Bradley is a prime example, Trent Alexander-Arnold is a prime example, Caoimhin, so many. And that creates a healthy club, and that creates 200 young boys who are training now there every day, Scousers who are 10 years old and wear shirts. They dream and they hope, and that's down, not as much to the Academy director or the first elite development coach, but that's down to the manager in the end. Because you can have the best academy in the world, but in the end he has to trust then and he needs to create space in the squad and needs to make all these decisions because in the end he wants to win. It's cool.

On there being no distractions since Klopp announced his departure at the end of the season…

I think you underestimate our squad, the personalities in it. They have been through a lot already – the recent history but also how they grew up. A lot of these boys had to show character from a young age. Not everything went easy for them. You guys know better than me but a lot of us get a lot of criticism. We grow with this, it only feeds us and all these boys know how to deal with it. They're not kids anymore. They have a lot of passion for this club, a lot of love for this club, I think they all want to do the same. Jürgen was good, I think. He said [that] we signed a one-year contract each season. There's this one-year deal together with us and we try to fight. We never make it more complicated than it is. I like that. We're just, 'OK, the next game'. That's our final.

And now it is a final, so that's good but let's give everything to win that one, everything on this planet and try to give joy and emotion to the fans. It's not much more than that. And we look [at] what we have, Virgil van Dijk captain, [Andy] Robertson, all these boys in the leadership group. Then talents who are 24-, 25-year-olds who just want to win. And a lot of these boys didn't win nothing with Liverpool yet, so of course they give everything despite the manager saying he is leaving. We are stable enough to deal with it. That's what I thought before but you never know. But I agree. Of course it is in the back of your mind, but we trust the squad enough that they could deal with that.



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