Liverpool to skip the Champions League? No thanks, Gary Neville - we're contenders
Jurgen Klopp sounded as nonplussed as everyone else when asked how what he thought of Gary Neville's theory regarding Liverpool's strategy for the season.
The former Manchester United defender-turned pundit had suggested Liverpool should forget the Champions League, "kick it into touch" and focus all their energies on the Premier League. Such comments were ill-timed at best and provocative at worst -- though many supporters assumed the latter since relations between Liverpool and United are always strained.
Klopp simply asked how such a plan could even be activated. He also made a remark about it being something that could only be hatched up at a desk, not by somebody who actually has to do the job. Whether that was an indirect barb aimed at Neville's failed attempt at coaching Valencia for four months, only the German can say for certain. But the reality for Klopp isn't any less disconcerting.
His first full season at Anfield ended with a top-four place, aided significantly by having no European commitments -- unlike his main rivals.
His second saw further progression. Liverpool remained in fourth spot for the Premier League but augmented that with a fine Champions League campaign that ended with defeat in the final.
For Klopp's third full season, it would be a big step backwards if Liverpool were to just focus on one competition, however prestigious.
The club's owners made their own statement with over £250 million spent on Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keita, Alisson and others; if the team are to progress, there must be a proper title challenge as well as a long run in Europe.
It's obviously a monumental task, but there is no rational alternative. Football clubs, at this level anyway, must keep going forward. Treading water is no longer an option.
Try telling those Liverpool fans packed into Anfield on Tuesday for the first group match against Paris Saint-Germain that it doesn't matter, that three points against Southampton this Saturday were more important. You'd be laughed out of the ground.
Was Neville's idea ever a serious one? It could be taken as a criticism: that Liverpool don't have the squad to compete on two major fronts. But the Reds' European record is far superior to that of United -- the one area where they still have bragging rights.
Klopp taking it easy on the continent this season still wouldn't help United though. Neville claims his days of "hating Scousers" -- as the Old Trafford chant regularly contended -- are over. But he freely admitted that Liverpool's current quality wasn't to his liking. The largely indignant reaction to his words have no doubt been music to Neville's ears, particularly as there is every chance Liverpool might not make much progress in this year's competition anyway.
They've drawn a far stronger group than last year. Maribor were easily dispatched last time, while the top-seed ranking of Spartak Moscow felt more like a bureaucratic stipulation than a measure of quality. Liverpool proved that emphatically by thumping Russia's champions 7-0. It was with the group's other team, Sevilla, that Liverpool had their problems.
This time, PSG's star-studded forward line of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani are more than a match for Liverpool's own breath-taking forward line. Napoli have been excellent for years, their quality helping Maurizio Sarri secure the coveted Chelsea job. Red Star Belgrade aren't the same side that won the Champions League in 1991, but Serbia is certainly no easy place to go.
Were Liverpool to fall at the first hurdle, they'd inevitably have to revise their approach like any other club. History isn't on their side. Given straight entry into the Champions League group stage, they've failed on all three occasions to progress any further: 2002, 2009 and 2014.
So far this season, one game a week has been manageable. Five wins out of five is proof of that. Now comes the hardest part of any season at the highest level. There'll be two games a week for most of the next three months, followed by the traditional Christmas fixture overload.
Far from capitulating and saving his best players for one competition, Klopp needs to juggle his squad judiciously and hope injuries are kept to a minimum. Sacrificing Europe couldn't be done without making it obvious. Even if they finish third in their group, they'd still have to drop into the Europa League and fulfil those fixtures anyway.
Ultimately Liverpool fans will be delighted their club is playing on the minds of rivals. Jose Mourinho's insistence that Liverpool should be under pressure to challenge for the title was a transparent attempt to deflect from his own arduous circumstances. Has Neville suggested Manchester United should sacrifice Europe in order to give local rivals City a greater fight for the Premier League?
Oscar Wilde once wrote "there's only one thing worse than being talked about, and that's not being talked about." Liverpool are in a good place. Any unease in their rivals is resounding proof of that.