With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Liverpool and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
Prelude: The Backdrop
Jurgen Klopp & co. enjoyed a rather spectacular 2018/19, winning 30 games and attaining 97 points in the process. However, they failed to clinch the Premier League title, finishing just one point below Manchester City. It was not only the highest points won by any team in a single season without winning the title, but it was also the third-highest total ever in the Premier League – at that point.
With a bit more heart in their stride, Liverpool went again next season. Their season started against newly promoted Norwich City, who were beaten convincingly at Anfield, after four first-half goals from the Reds. This victory put them third in the table, and the only way was up from here.
They beat Southampton in the consequent gameweek and went to the summit, not coming back down ever again. Liverpool kept grinding results in the Premier League despite suffering an early Champions League upset against Napoli in the group stages.
After eight consecutive victories, the soaring Liverbird flight came to a temporary halt when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tactically outplayed Liverpool, only for Adam Lallana to secure one point for the Reds in the dying minutes of the game.
At this point in the season, keeping their incredible unbeaten streak going felt too much to ask from Liverpoo,l who had played out eight games with a goal difference of +1, including one against Aston Villa when Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane rescued the three points for them, with goals in the 87th and 94th minute, respectively.
The turn of tide came against Leicester City, who were sitting at second by Gameweek 19. That did not help the Foxes, though, as Trent Alexander-Arnold ran riot, assisting two goals and then scoring one to cap off a brilliant 4-0 win.
The Reds went on to win their next nine games and got ready to face Watford at Vicarage Road in Gameweek 28. The game that was supposed to end with a routine win for the visitors was anything but. The first half ended 0-0 as the Hornets dominated the game, with Liverpool unable to register a single shot on target.
The hosts then went all guns blazing in the next 45 and got the goal they so deserved through Ismaila Sarr in the 54th minute. The Senegalese international doubled his tally for the game six minutes later. Just when Liverpool started to get into their stride, Watford struck again, courtesy of captain Troy Deeney. It was the unlikeliest of outcomes as the Hornets went into the game with just the odds of 15%, and a round off result rate of 1%.
Life came fast at Liverpool, who were knocked out of the FA Cup against Chelsea and then pushed off their Champions League perch by Atletico Madrid, who sealed the game over two legs with an aggregate score of 4-2. This was the last game Liverpool played before all sporting events came to a cessation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Klopp’s men took to the pitch again three months later as part of Project Restart against derby rivals Everton, who held them to a 0-0 draw. The runaway leaders needed at least three points to seal the Premier League title, and six if Manchester City won against Chelsea.
Indeed, Frank Lampard’s troops came through for Liverpool who won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, as Liverpool were crowned champions of England for the 19th time, and for the first time in 30 years in the most anti-climactic manner. They wanted to do it at the home of their modern-day rivals, but there was little to complain about.
Liverpool got their guard of honour at the Etihad in the following game, but were also on the receiving end of four unanswered goals as Pep Guardiola’s men went on an absolute rampage. In the next six games in the Premier League, Liverpool won all but two – a 1-1 draw against Burnley, and a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in a match when Emiliano Martinez came through for the Gunners with eight saves.
Martinez repeated his heroics in the Community Shield a month later as Arsenal recorded a win over the now defending Premier League champions on penalties. Not the perfect end to the season for Liverpool, but they were able to achieve their biggest goal, and on September 12, they go again, as Anfield gets ready to host tactical mastermind Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.
Liverpool have been incredibly quiet in the transfer market so far, mostly pertaining to troubles regarding their finances. They have been regularly linked with Thiago Alcantara, but have failed to make the €30 million bid Bayern Munich demand from them.
The Reds have, however, completed the signing of Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos for a fee of £11.75 million. He is expected to provide cover for Andrew Robertson, while Neco Williams fills in as the deputy right-back.
Curtis Jones, Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliott are in line for their official promotion next season. Jones was on target for the first time in his Liverpool career during their 2-0 win over Aston Villa and could get more chances next season from the bench.
Meanwhile, Harry Wilson, Marko Grujic, and Ben Woodburn have returned from their loan spells. Wilson enjoyed a tremendous individual campaign with AFC Bournemouth and could come in as a stop-gap in midfield or attack.
On the other hand, Liverpool have completed two sales, the more significant one in the form of Dejan Lovren. The centre-back departed the club after being relegated to the fourth-choice role in his position and was sold to Zenit St Petersburg for £11 million. Ovie Ejaria also left the club, joining Reading in a £3.6 million deal after spending the previous season on loan there.
Additionally, Adam Lallana has joined Premier League rivals Brighton & Hove Albion on a free transfer after his contract with Liverpool ran out. Nathaniel Clyne has been the victim of the same, but is without a club at the moment.
A title defence is never easy and Liverpool will have to take all their opponents with the utmost seriousness. If they start the new season the way they ended the previous one, it could spell trouble for them in the long, hectic run that is the 2020/21 Premier League campaign.
The Merseyside giants start off at Anfield, welcoming newcomers Leeds United, who are about to grace the Premier League for the first time in 16 years. The last time these two sides locked horns was in 2004, and the game ended 3-1 in favour of Liverpool.
Immediately after that, the Reds have to travel to Stamford Bridge to take on a revitalised Chelsea. They play another London club in Gameweek three as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal visit Merseyside. October could breeze by for Liverpool, who have Everton away as the only competitive fixture on paper on Matchday 5 over the course of the month.
November, though, will bring cold winds as Liverpool face Leicester City at Anfield squeezed between away trips to the Etihad and Amex Stadium, where they will face Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion, respectively.
December will be rather hectic with six games compressed in the space of four weeks. It starts with Wolverhampton Wanderers at home and ends with Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. In between, Liverpool also have to host Tottenham Hotspur.
Two days after the start of 2021, Liverpool will have to travel to St. Mary’s to go head-to-head against Southampton, led by their former player Danny Ings. Manchester United and Tottenham are next up on Matchday 19 and 20, respectively before January comes to a close against West Ham United.
February brings the most challenging run of games so far; the Reds will have to go through Brighton and Manchester City, Leicester away, Everton at home and then finally Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. March brings to us the international break, but before that Liverpool have to face Wolves at the Molineux, and then prepare Anfield for Chelsea on Matchday 29.
Our 2020/21 @PremierLeague fixture list 😁
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 20, 2020
Immediately after the international break, Liverpool will stand against Arsenal at the Emirates on the 6th of April. Their next challenging fixture is against Manchester United on May 1. 22 days post that, they finish their campaign just the way they started it – at home, this time against Crystal Palace.
Virgil van Dijk
An elite club such as Liverpool hosts a plethora of world-class talent across all positions on the pitch, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a handful of players who can be counted as indispensable. One of them is their central defender Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutchman joined Liverpool after the January transfer window in 2018 and has managed to change the persona of the club single-handedly. Six months after joining, van Dijk led them to the Champions final, where they lost, only to continue at the same pace in the following season.
He was named the PFA Player of the Year after a spectacular 2018/19 campaign with Liverpool, as they finished second and lifted the Champions League. Virgil van Dijk was also named European Player of the Year and handed the FIFA ‘The Best’ award – given to the best player in the world.
After starting 2019/20 rather slowly, van Dijk picked up pace and ended the season with 15 clean sheets, scoring 5 goals and giving 1 assist. He was at the cornerstone of Liverpool and inarguably their most important player as they lifted the Premier League with a 17-point gap. He was rewarded for his spectacular season with a PFA Player of the Year nomination and a place in the PFA Team of the Year.
At the age of 21, Trent Alexander-Arnold has managed to take the role of the modern right-back to new heights, capping off two spectacular seasons a year after his debut.
The Englishman is not a standout defender for Liverpool, but he can very well be called their primary creative force. In 2018/19, Alexander-Arnold finished the season with 1 goal and 12 assists – the record highest assists for a defender in the Premier League, which was quite bizarre in itself.
Still, he managed to take it a notch higher in the 2019/20 season breaking his own record and registering 13 assists, creating 18 big chances, playing in 12.3 key passes per game. What a gem at the disposal of Jurgen Klopp.
Just like any team that has attained the highest level of success in Europe in the past, Liverpool, too, are an extremely balanced team. They certainly boast of an excellent defensive unit, but they also have some of the best in the world leading their charge for goals. This includes Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah.
In his first season back in the Premier League, Salah delivered a 32-goal season, breaking the record for the most goals in the single 38-game season in the Premier League. He then went on to win his second consecutive Golden Boot in 2018/19, finishing with 22 goals and 8 assists.
As Liverpool went on to build the most balanced team in European football, Salah had to continually do less, but still managed 19 goals and 10 assists, in the process maintaining his total goal contribution from the previous season.
There are not many forwards in the Premier League better than the 28-year-old, and he certainly proved that for the third season running. To stop him Salah season could be the most formidable task for Premier League defenders.
There is a good chance that Liverpool will start this season with practically the same squad they finished last season with. The only significant change has come at left-back now that Andrew Robertson has the chance of being rested.
There have been no alterations in midfield, which lacks game-changing players. This was visible in several games last season after injuries to Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. Additionally, Liverpool also lack depth in the forward line and more often than not, the burden to score has been dropped solely on the shoulders of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
Xherdan Shaqiri has failed to come through as an able deputy and Divock Origi cannot face Everton and Barcelona every week. Takumi Minamino still looks unsettled and lacks chemistry with the rest of the team.
In defence, if Liverpool are to lose Alisson to injury this season like last, they will have to re-deploy one of Loris Karius or Adrian, both of whom have been the victims of Champions League blunders. On top of that, Neco Williams does not provide a steadfast cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool’s chief creative threat. And God forbid, if something were to happen to Virgin van Dijk…
This season will bring extremely congested fixtures to cope with the time lost due to the Coronavirus pandemic and once you balance that out with how Liverpool ended last term and the international break that will be upon them this season as well, it is troublesome to imagine if Liverpool have the depth to mount a title defence.
THT Expectations: 2nd
Personal Expectations: 3rd