Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said “nothing in the world can justify” the treatment of Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior following a number of recent incidents of the player being subjected to racist chants and insults in Spain.
The Brazil international will face Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday in the first-leg of Madrid’s Champions League round-of-16 tie aiming to extend his record of scoring three goals in three games against Klopp’s team.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
– Vinicius Jr ‘to keep dancing’ despite abuse
Having scored the only goal in Madrid’s 1-0 Champions League final win against Liverpool in Paris, Klopp said he is fully aware of the threat the 22-year-old poses to his side’s hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.
Vinicius has been subject to racist abuse on several occasions this season, most recently from fan chanting against Mallorca earlier this month, as well a mannequin wearing the player’s shirt being hung from a bridge outside Madrid’s training ground in January.
However, Klopp rejected any suggestion the player might have prompted his targeting of racist abuse with what a questioner at his news conference described as “provocative” actions on the pitch.
“What is the question? That he [Vinicius] is doing something on the pitch that could cause it?” Klopp said. “There is nothing in the world that could justify that.
“Imagine if I say yes? That would be completely insane.”
Although Vinicius has scored just seven goals in 21 La Liga appearances this season, he has registered four goals in six Champions League games and also has his individual record against Liverpool, so Klopp said he will be a huge threat during the tie.
“He is a world class player and you should not leave him a lot or alone in one vs. one situations,” Klopp said. “He was in that night [Champions League final] at a young age, but he scored in the decisive moment and I am pretty sure that makes him already a Real Madrid legend.
“You try to deny passes to him, but the problem we have is if you can defend and we need to, there is also [Karim] Benzema and then there is [Fede] Valverde or whoever, and if you can defend all three then Toni Kroos can fire the ball from 25 yards in the top corner.
“Luka Modric has an idea, [Aurelien] Tchouameni can fire it from 25 yards. That is the thing with world-class teams they have world-class players and you have to defend them properly and we will try.”
Liverpool go into the game with a doubt over forward Darwin Nunez, who suffered a shoulder injury during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Newcastle at St James’ Park.
Klopp said Nunez “has a chance” of being fit to face Madrid, but the Uruguay international is likely to undergo a late fitness test on Tuesday to assess his ability to be involved.
The Anfield game will be a rematch of last season’s final in Paris and Klopp said that facing Real is the “ultimate test.”
“We played this final in Paris and I didn’t watch it back since then until this weekend and now I know why I didn’t watch it back,” Klopp said. “It was a proper torture.
“We played a good game and could have won, but didn’t because they scored. We saw how experienced Real Madrid is and how little they fuss when the other team has chances. You can learn that from them, definitely.
“We need to play two super games. If we don’t play our best, we don’t have a chance. Real doesn’t have to play their best and still has a chance.
“Carlo [Ancelotti] is the most relaxed manager I met in my life, one of the best people you could meet, his man-management is on a completely different level to anyone. I admire him a lot.
“With this world class team, they brought in super exciting young players, they struggle a little in the league, but are always super competitive and difficult to beat, so this combination is a difficult one.”