We explore Liverpool and their prospects for the 2018-19 Premier League season. Can the signings this summer propel Jurgen Klopp & co. to break their duck?
There is something eternally tragic, yet thrilling to be a Liverpool fan. The club may have won its last league title in 1989-1990, but every season since then has started with the fans expecting nothing less than a finish at the top of the Premier League pile. For years now, the hallowed trophy has eluded the Merseyside faithful but this year, it may finally turn into a reality. Liverpool have been building a spine to reckon with for the past few years but they have really upped the ante in this window. For all the heartbreaks and could-have-beens, season 2018/19 is literally Anfield’s best chance to end the drought.
Ever since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival at English shores, he has slowly been transforming the rut that had set in Liverpool over the years. He may not have won silverware yet but they came close, especially last season when they went on a barnstorming UEFA Champions League run where they lost to eventual winners Real Madrid in the final.
Led by the inimitable Mohammed Salah, the Merseysiders had a top-heavy side which failed to go all the way because of an error-prone defence. That issue has however been addressed by Klopp in a spectacular fashion in this transfer window.
The signings of Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Allison Becker have made fans sit up and take notice of the proceedings at Anfield. Alongside Virgil van Dijk, the Reds now boast of a squad that is balanced and suits the strength of every individual player.
To put things into perspective, it was just in 2010 that they had Roy Hodgson in charge who had just signed the motley crew of Joe Cole, Danny Wilson, and Milan Jovanovic. In fact, a picture has been doing the rounds on social media with Hodgson and his signings displaying rather bullish looks during their official inauguration.
The squad also had the likes of Paul Konchesky, Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen and Brad Jones and to illustrate just how poor the quality was, Hodgson was sacked only 6 months after the aforementioned photo was taken.
At about the same time, their current manager was making a name for himself with Borussia Dortmund. He led the Yellow Wall to 2 Bundesliga titles and to a Champions League final and was eventually signed on for Liverpool in November 2015. Ever since he came on board, Klopp has slowly weeded out the deadwood and implemented his world-famous “gegenpressing” with exceptional effect.
Last season, Klopp unleashed his trademark pressing style to an enthralling measure. He made his team sit back, defend narrow and then tear down the opposition with breathtaking counter-attacks. It helped that he had a trio as gifted as Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Salah. The latter broke several records last season, the most prominent of which was becoming the highest goalscorer in a Premier League season.
The Egyptian netted 32 times, one better than the 31 goal record that was jointly shared by Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo. Mane and Firmino were no less either, as the trio combined to score 57 goals throughout the season.
Liverpool started all their games with an extremely high intensity, chasing every ball whenever possession is lost, regardless of the opposition. It is another tactic that Klopp has been able to embed in the team during his time in charge and the current crop of players will help him execute that even better.
Fabinho is a smart, no-nonsense central midfielder who can also double up as a right back while Keita has made his name as the bullish box-to-box midfielder who can control the tempo of the game. Several times last season, the lack of an imposing, technically gifted midfielder caused Liverpool to drop points despite having such a gifted attack and that is an issue that their German gaffer has seemingly addressed this season.
Moreover, the acquirement of AS Roma goalkeeper Alisson has solved another major headache for Klopp. The inconsistency under the crossbars displayed by both Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet has hurt the Reds over and over again, most memorably in the Champions League final. With Becker donning the goalkeeping gloves, the Anfield faithful will breathe easier knowing that one of the world’s best goalkeepers will be featuring for them.
In Xherdan Shaqiri, the Kopites have a player who can play the perfect foil for Mane or Salah. Given the length of a season, Shaqiri is likely to be an understudy for the front three. He will not only bring quality, but also under the correct system, he can score goals and make the difference in the crunch but tight games.
Gifted with a lethal left foot, the Swiss’ long distance shots are a sight to behold and could make a telling difference against lowly opposition who are most likely to “park the bus”. Perhaps not since the late 80s has a Liverpool side ever looked as strong as balanced as this one looks currently.
With Virgil van Dijk settling in alongside Dejan Lovren in central defence and both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold displaying exceptional promise in their fullback position, the Kop have a genuine reason to be excited about the new season. They are also linked with a move for the Olympique Lyon captain Nabil Fekir as well as Barcelona prodigy Ousmanne Dembele, and capturing either or both of them would make it the perfect window for the Merseysiders.
A lethal attack, an industrious midfield and a miserly defence along with a world class goalie would make them the team to look out for, perhaps only bettered by Manchester City on paper.
However, they will be wise to avoid complacency. The vagaries of a 10 month long season, coupled with travel and injuries can rip apart even the best of teams and Klopp will be wary of that. His high intensity football usually takes a toll on the players, so he will have to figure out how to extract the best out of each of his player without overexerting them.
If he manages to do that, there is a good chance that the Premier League trophy may find itself at the famous “Anfield Boot Room” once again at the end of the campaign.