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'Ready for Ronaldo' - Lovren & Liverpool looking fearless ahead of 'dream' final

11:00 EAT 22/05/2018
Dejan Lovren Liverpool 2017-18
The Reds appear to be in confident mood as they prepare for their date with destiny against Real Madrid in Kiev on Saturday

Four more sleeps.

As Liverpool’s date with destiny approaches, expectation on Merseyside is growing.

The drive from Melwood to Anfield only takes around 10 minutes, but the route is packed with reminders of what is to come this weekend. Some windows hang flags and scarves, while in others, cardboard cut-outs of Jurgen Klopp, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino stand smiling and beguiling.

Yep, it’s Champions League final week. Nervous?

Liverpool aren’t, if Monday is anything to go by. The biggest week of their lives began in the most relaxed fashion, as the club held its media day at Anfield.

Klopp and his players spent most of last week in Marbella and they seem to have brought the weather back with them. There was glorious sunshine as the squad trained on a pristine surface, watched closely by the assembled media.

It is a rare treat for journalists to watch a full session, but those looking for trade secrets or inside info were to be left disappointed. This was an ‘open’ session in name, but not in nature. Liverpool were giving little away.

With assistant Peter Krawietz absent due to illness, Klopp allowed Andreas Kornmayer, his head of fitness and conditioning, and Conall Murtagh, his fitness coach, take the lead. Stretches, some short sprints and shuttles, activation exercises and then, finally, some low-intensity ball drills down at the Kop end.

Krawietz aside, it was a full squad. Emre Can was fit enough to train with his team-mates for the first time in two months. The German, Klopp would later reveal, is “desperate to play” in Kiev, though a spot on the bench may be the best he can hope for. Plenty of Liverpool fans would argue even that is undeserved, given his imminent move to Juventus.

James Milner was present having missed the final Premier League game of the season, while youngsters Rafael Camacho, Curtis Jones, Ben Woodburn and Conor Masterson took full part.

What remarkable experience these teenagers have picked up during this European run. All four will be part of the travelling party which leaves Liverpool on Friday morning. Their mate, Trent Alexander-Arnold, will be in the team.

Training done – the session finished with a ‘crossbar challenge' between Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk, Firmino striking with his first and only effort, Van Dijk struggling through five increasingly wayward efforts – it was time for media duties. Liverpool’s players, generally, are comfortable with the press or in front of the cameras; good thing, too, because there were plenty dying to speak to them here.

Sadio Mane and Dejan Lovren were the two selected for the main press conference, and both struck exactly the right tone throughout it; relaxed and confident, yet focused on the job in hand.

Both spoke of their delight at potentially starting in a Champions League final. “A dream come true for everyone,” said Lovren.

Mane, the most softly-spoken of interviewees, was first to venture the idea of Liverpool lifting the trophy in Kiev. “Why not?” smiled the Senegal star.

He was smiling again soon after. “Are you in peak form?” came the question. “Yeah,” was the answer. “And I think more goals are coming!” Later, he would state that “personally, I don’t know the word ‘pressure’ – I always enjoy my job!”

Lovren, meanwhile, was asked about a potential Ballon d’Or for Mohamed Salah – “Of course it’s a possibility, Messi, Ronaldo, Mo Salah, he deserves to be in the top three” – about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s development – “He’s 19 but he doesn’t play like he’s 19, and to me he looks about 14 or 15!” – and, perhaps most pertinently, about Cristiano Ronaldo. How will he stop the Champions League’s top scorer?

“Even if he has a bad year, he scores 30 goals!” said the Croatian. “Of course you respect him, but in the Premier League we play against some of the best strikers in the world. We know how to defend like a team. To stop Ronaldo, we will stop him together. It’s a challenge, but I’m ready for it.”

There was laughter as Lovren was asked to give a message to fans travelling this week – “Don’t go without a ticket!” he grinned – and eyebrows raised when one journalist asked which trophy the players would prefer, the Champions League or the World Cup. “We want both!” came the most obvious of replies, courtesy of Mane.

With the players finished, it was time for Klopp. “We feel really good,” he told the cameras. Then came more laughter as he was asked about Lovren’s suggestion that he feels “more confident” since the arrival of Van Dijk. “I think Joel Matip will love that!” he stated, not unreasonably.

He too was asked about pressure – “You cannot go into a game knowing you can lose it,” he replied, “we will show the players why it makes so much sense to be brave.” – and about the challenge that faces his side against Real Madrid.

He watched their draw with Villarreal on Saturday, he said. “They are a very good football team, but we are a really good football team.”

And then, the killer line.

“We are full of desire and we really work for our dreams,” he said. Dreams again. Liverpool are dreaming.

Four more sleeps.