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Jurgen Klopp exclusive: Liverpool boss on Rhys Williams' chance and how Mohamed Salah has developed his game

Jurgen Klopp on Rhys Williams' rise amid injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho; Plus Mohamed Salah's development, and how Liverpool have maintained their Anfield streak; Watch Liverpool vs West Ham live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm

Jurgen Klopp speaks with Sky Sports about Rhys Williams' rise and Mohamed Salah's development
Image: Jurgen Klopp speaks with Sky Sports about Rhys Williams' rise and Mohamed Salah's development

"It's the toughest season ever, 100 per cent, for everybody," says Jurgen Klopp, as he considers the relentless demands of this unique 2020/21 season, during an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

"The teams with international football are in the toughest period ever, because October is like the usual December, November is like a usual December, and December is still like a December! And January will not be much different.

"So from one month with pretty much no break [in previous Decembers], to four months with pretty much no break, that's a massive challenge. Nobody knows exactly how to deal with it.

"We will see who gets through this, how we get through this, but we will fight with all we have."

Klopp and Liverpool are intent on meeting the challenge with typical determination, but injuries have made their task even harder.

We speak with Klopp just a few minutes after Liverpool announce Virgil van Dijk has undergone successful surgery on his knee. "I had the same injury years and years ago," says the manager. "The first few days are far away from being pleasant, that's how it is after surgery. But apart from that, we are all - and he is - already in a fighting mood. From now on we count the time backwards."

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But the Dutchman's absence has been compounded by further injuries to Joel Matip and Fabinho, who would have been alternatives at centre-back alongside Joe Gomez.

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Earlier this week, former Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana suggested Klopp would be "fired up" by the challenge of overcoming this defensive injury crisis, and the German agrees, painting a relatively - and respectfully - positive outlook on the setbacks.

"We worked obviously for a while together with Adam and we had difficult situations in our time together and yeah, actually, it is like this," said Klopp.

Whenever you get a problem, whatever problem it is, you need a moment to settle, more or less to realise 'that's it now'. And from that moment on I see it like it is, it's a challenge. And I like challenges!
Jurgen Klopp on finding solutions to Liverpool's injuries

"Whenever you get a problem, whatever problem it is - in football it is mainly about missing players, it happens pretty much every year - he's right, you need a moment to settle, more or less to realise 'that's it now'. And from that moment on I see it like it is, it's a challenge. And I like challenges!

"So I'm good with the situation, and now let's deal with it, let's make the best of it. Let's see the chance in it, the opportunity for other players and all these kind of things. Let's get even closer together.

"There are a lot of things you can take out of a situation like that. It's not easy - I know that - and it's not about saying a little bit and smiling here, smiling there. It's about really living the challenge and that's what we're doing."

Williams' opportunity

Indeed, the blows for Van Dijk, Matip and Fabinho, open the door for 19-year-old Rhys Williams, who is in line to make his Premier League debut at the heart of Liverpool's defence against West Ham on Saturday evening, live on Sky Sports.

It is a remarkable turn of events for the young defender, who was playing at Darlington for Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North on this weekend 12 months ago.

Rhys Williams
Image: Rhys Williams, 19, is set for his Premier League debut on Saturday

Klopp admits to knowing little about him back then - but he was convinced of his quality when Elite Development Coach Vitor Matos recommended he train with the first team when another young talent, 17-year-old Billy Koumetio, was injured in pre-season.

"I'm involved in most of the things but not all of the things, so it's not that I knew Rhys Williams before he went out on loan," said Klopp.

"We knew from the pre-season Nat Phillips was back [from his loan at Stuttgart]. I know him for a long time already and like him a lot, sensational boy, character, real fighter, and we knew about 'Billy the Kid', he was in a pre-season with us.

From the first moment he's pretty impressive. He's a character as well, which helps.
Jurgen Klopp on Rhys Williams

"Then when Billy was injured we thought 'OK, how can we fill it up?'. And Vitor said, 'No, there's Rhys Williams, he's really good'. 'Ok, bring him up', and then I saw him the first time, and from the first moment he's pretty impressive. He's a character as well, which helps, so that's the situation now.

"That's what I mean when you have problems you need to realise there's a problem then immediately you have to work on the solutions. Our solutions are now pretty young players.

"We will see how we will and can use them. But they will help us and we will help them, and Rhys is one of them."

On the brink of matching a home record

It is likely to be a baptism of fire for the England U20 centre-back when he comes up against West Ham, a team Klopp describes as "physically incredibly strong…a threat around set-pieces and a really tall team", but who he also praises as "a completely different animal" to the West Ham of last season after good signings and good organisation from David Moyes.

However, Williams will miss out on the Anfield roar. The absence of fans is felt across the country and Liverpool are no different. Yet they have still been able to maintain their incredible home record.

Image: Liverpool will match their all-time record of 63 consecutive games unbeaten at Anfield if they avoid defeat to West Ham

With three wins from three in the Premier League this season - the only club still perfect on their own patch - Liverpool are in a position where they will equal their all-time club record for consecutive games unbeaten at Anfield if they do not lose to West Ham.

Against a West Ham side who have won at the venue just once in 50 attempts and against an opposition manager who has never tasted victory there, Liverpool will be favourites to do just that.

But how have they been able to sustain their run to 62 games unbeaten at home, when home advantage has been scrubbed away for many other sides since football restarted in the summer without fans in the stands?

"I think I heard David (Moyes) said Anfield will be different with no supporters. It's our point to prove," said Klopp. "Good teams thought that as well and the boys did an incredible job [to win the first three home games of the season].

"I didn't see too much that nobody cheered us up because the boys did it themselves and that's what we have to do again. It's still our home, it's still our stadium, everything is there apart from the supporters. And they make a massive difference, but that's not to change in the moment so we have to deal with that."

Salah's development

If West Ham are to end the streak, they will also need to find a way to stop Mohamed Salah. The Liverpool forward has six goals from six games against the east London side, and with four goals in his last five games overall, he goes into Saturday's clash in form.

Salah has been used in a more central role during his past two appearances and Klopp says the Egyptian's desire to keep on improving, keep on adapting, is a good example for his team-mates.

Mohamed Salah celebrates after putting Liverpool 2-1 up
Image: Mohamed Salah has played a more central role in recent appearances.

"Mo has played an incredible season so far, and he developed again as a player from that pure goalscoring machine to a more connecting player, very important for us," said Klopp. "He is the hardest working, can go and go again, uses his speed but technique between the lines as well.

"As a team we have to develop, as players we have to develop. That's normal because you have more experience, you have more games in your legs, that means you understand the game better and better and better and you get more aware of your own skills and use them more consciously.

"I'm really happy with his development and season so far. But of course we need him and all the boys in their best shape to achieve our targets."

During this toughest of periods, that blend of brilliance and togetherness will be key for Liverpool.

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Sky Sports News reporter Vinny O'Connor has the latest on Liverpool's injury problems and discusses the young players who could cover at centre-back.

And Sky Sports statistician Matt Cheetham picks out the numbers which explain why Everton's defeat at Southampton could just be a blip, and makes his bold Pitch for what will happen in the Premier League this weekend.

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