Klopp insists Aston Villa are European contenders ahead of Anfield clash

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool will be facing European contenders when Aston Villa travel to Anfield in the Premier League this weekend.

Liverpool continue their push for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification this weekend when they host Aston Villa, the two sides separated by just five points amid a congested chase to secure continental football.

Villa have made huge improvements this season after narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premier League last term, with Dean Smith’s side currently ninth and just five points adrift of the top six.

Klopp is anticipating a difficult test against a side who sprung one of the shocks of the season in the first meeting between the sides earlier in the campaign, Villa trashing the champions 7-2 on an extraordinary night at Villa Park.

Klopp has discussed the strengths of this weekend’s visitors and gave a definitive answer when asked if Villa were in the race to secure European football.

“Of course they are. They are good, they are really good,” Klopp told his pre-match press conference.

“Good set-up, made some good signings – already long ago, probably will not see them anymore as signings. Watkins, only to mention him; bringing Barkley in helped as well, all these kind of things.

“The rest of the team, not sure if Cash arrived this year probably, very good signing as well. Yeah, a really, really, really good side. And good sides in the Premier League are immediately in contention for European spots, and yes of course they are.”

Klopp heaped further praise on Ollie Watkins, who has enjoyed an excellent debut season for Villa since signing from Brentford, scoring a hat-trick in the win over Liverpool in October.

Watkins was also called into the England squad and scored on his senior debut for the Three Lions against San Marino last month, with Klopp an admirer of the 25-year-old’s talents.

“Ollie is a really, really talented striker and obviously the manager knew him from before and it was a really good signing,” Klopp added.

“He’s physically strong so he can keep the ball, he can jump high, he is very fast – that’s a good package. Nobody has to remind me how good he is but how we always try to defend strikers, we try to avoid passes into their area. With him, that’s not different than it is to others.”

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