The Premier League has to be one of the tightest races in Europe this upcoming season with six teams all going into the season with the expectation of a league title. One of those teams are the Reds of Liverpool who have never won the Premier League, and last reigned supreme in the English top flight in 1990. Some say that Jurgen Klopp holds the key to Liverpool’s next renaissance, like the one they had in the 1980s. Liverpool have been rebranded as one of England’s most exciting teams under the Klopp regime, and Liverpool have returned as a premier European team with their inclusion in the Champions League this season. Although these have been wonderful leaps forward for the Reds, they’ve still been unable to win a trophy since their triumph in the League Cup in 2012. That’s all looking to change with Klopp building the formidable attacking side of his dreams as his side were unbeaten against the rest of the top 6 in their 4th place finish this past season. So what will the German’s Reds look like for the upcoming 2017/2018 season. Can this be the XI to deliver a Premier League trophy to Anfield for the very first time?
Key Pieces and Key Arrivals
It was easy to see last season where the strength of Liverpool lied. It was all in the attacking trident with wonderful support from Adam Lallana in the midfield. Philippe Coutinho ran the whole show as the magical Brazilian would often tuck in from the left wing and receives the ball just outside the box. This allows the brilliant little number 10 to pick out a dangerous pass or to cut the opposition with his wonderful dribbling and his thunderous right foot. Coutinho is a top top player and at 25, is among the top 35 footballers on Earth. Filling this side with pace on the right wing last season was Sadio Mane. Every team that faced the unfortunate matchup of Sadio Mane were left with their jaws on the floor as the sensational Senegalese winger took off like a missile down the right wing. Possessing the technical brilliance to cut in with his left foot, defenders were left to guess whether he’d continue his blistering runs down the wing or if he’d cut in with the ball on his left foot. His 5 star skills allows him to stand up defenders and face them 1 on 1 with confidence that he’d come out on top. Liverpool suffered when he left for international duty at the African Cup of Nations and when Coutinho went down with injury in January. To that point, Liverpool were the class of the Premier League sitting in 2nd, 6 points below Chelsea at Christmas. The injuries to their star men were their undoing, as well as their lack of concentration in lower tier matches (but more on that later). To support the two monstrous attacking pieces for Liverpool, Roberto Firmino will be looking to fill in at center forward once again for the upcoming season. He plays off his Brazilian compatriot brilliantly as well as delivering excellent balls for Mane to play off. He knows how to play with the pieces around him and the former Hoffenheim player is a perfect piece for the Reds attack. In addition to the returning trident, Liverpool welcome a new spectacular attacking piece that is looking to make himself right at home at Anfield. Once playing for Chelsea before being exiled to Serie A, Mohamed Salah makes his return to the Premier League from Roma. Salah has been summoned to chase Juventus at Roma before Klopp came to Salah’s rescue this summer. Although it’s yet to be seen if he’s the final piece to Liverpool’s title dreams, Salah is a fantastic winger with sublime skill and he could reach new heights under Klopp and this attack. Jurgen Klopp is looking to position Mane out on the left wing with Salah assuming the right wing position. Firmino will stay as center forward while Coutinho gets repositioned as the director of attack as attacking midfielder. With Coutinho pulling the strings, and lobbing up wondrous balls to his incredible supporting cast, Liverpool’s main attack has gotten a serious upgrade.
The Unsung Heroes
Of course all the glitz and glam in Anfield lies in the attack, but a lot of the true production sits in the midfield. With Coutinho assuming one of the spots in the midfield of Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3, the other two must be filled very carefully by Jurgen Klopp. There will unfortunately be sacrifices from other players who would be hoping to become a key piece in the engine of Liverpool’s side. Gino Wijnaldum and Emre Can are two who’s minutes will be reduced as a result of the Salah signing. Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson should be the two to accompany Coutinho at the middle of the park. Lallana should be the main primary creator on the right side towards Salah as Coutinho will be coming in towards the left. Lallana will be free in space as most of the defense focuses on Coutinho. At the same time, Lallana should soak up plenty of pressure, giving Coutinho space on his own. With the dynamic duo of Coutinho and Lallana conducting the attack, Jordan Henderson will be tasked with supporting the back 4 from the holding midfield position. Before his injury towards the 2nd half of the season, Henderson was keeping things wonderfully neat and tight at the back. His pressing and precise tackling allows for him to recover the ball and to push it up field on the opponent. His stunner against Chelsea in September was spectacular proving his worth offensively as well. Due to his production, it still seems unlikely that Emre Can will be taking his place this season unless Henderson gets hurt again. Wijnaldum wasn’t as productive on the offensive side of the ball as Lallana so he’ll have to make due with less minutes as well. But they’ll both receive substantial playing time when Lallana and Henderson need the rest and will perform to Klopp’s satisfaction. James Milner and Nathanial Clyne performed very well last season as Liverpool’s fullbacks with Milner playing the position for the very first time in his career. After Alberto Moreno was officially scrapped as an option in Klopp’s starting XI. He took the captain’s armband after Henderson went down his injury and became Klopp’s trusty knight on the pitch. Leading the team by example, as long as with spirit and passion. Now with the signing of Andrew Robertson from Hull, Milner may still be the man on Day 1 until Robertson is ready to take control of that left back spot. Meanwhile Clyne has complete control of right back with the former Southampton man being the preferred option for Klopp. These guys won’t be dominating the headlines but will be critical parts in Klopp’s plans, one parts that will mesh well together for the Reds.
I’m sure if you ask Jurgen Klopp, he’d tell you that he’d prefer a little more depth on their bench but that doesn’t mean they don’t already have a formidable bench. Along with the aforementioned Emre Can and Gino Wijnaldum, they also have a couple of attacking reinforcements in Daniel Sturridge and new, young pickup Dominic Solanke from Chelsea. Solanke, having just won the U19 World Cup with England. This leaves Liverpool with a couple of decent attacking options every single game. If anyone falls out of form or gets hurt, either of them could step in and Divock Origi would take stage as another supporting striker to call upon from the bench. Liverpool are loaded in attacking pieces, and that’s the part that frightens absolutely everyone. Ragnar Klavan adds depth to the center back position as he’s shown some bright spots in his Liverpool career while also being picked apart at times. Andrew Robertson as mentioned, will sit on the bench until it’s time for him to takeover for Milner at left back. The bench is solid and deep but like I said earlier in the section, Klopp would still prefer a bit more depth at each position as there are considerable weak spots that plotted throughout the lineup.
It’s pretty clear where the weak parts are. It’s the only thing about this Liverpool team that I haven’t mentioned yet. And that’s defense. With all due respect to Joel Matip who has proven to be the top defensive choice in Klopp’s arsenal, playing very well in his first Premier League season. Acquirred for absolutely nothing, Matip looks like quite the bargain after finishing out his contract at Schalke and joining Liverpool. The Reds’ defense looked considerably weak in January and February when injuries plagued the team and they dropped points to teams in the bottom half of the table. Klopp hasn’t done anything to improve the back line, failing to reel in the likes of Virgil Van Dijk and Harry Maguire. That goes the same for Klopp to choosing to stay with Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius for the upcoming season. Mignolet has overstayed at Liverpool and needs to move on, the same way Martin Skrtel left. Karius can develop but perhaps needs to get put under the stewardship of a more experienced and decorated then Mignolet. Former Arsenal keeper, Wojciech Szczesny was just up for sale by Arsenal after being loaned out to Roma, but Juventus already snapped him up. He lead Serie A in clean sheets with 20 last season and has Premier League and Champions League experience. Kasper Schmeicel was another option as well as the Dane won the Premier League with Leicester in 2016, and could be looking for new challenges turning 30 years old. He got a taste of a title race, heck even winning one, and got a lick of the Champions League, making it to the Quarterfinals. The son of legendary Peter Schmeicel, could easily outplay Mignolet and carry the number 1 shirt for the final years in his prime before Karius eventually outplays the Dane and takes over as Klopp’s chosen one. This decision not to act on their weaknesses may cost them the title, as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all gained key pieces in their defense. Liverpool will need at the very least, Virgil Van Dijk to help Joel Matip keep order at the back for Liverpool, with Lovren and Klavan filling in as role players for Klopp. Their defense will be a lot more stronger, and a lot more goals will stay out, as Liverpool ruthlessly score a lot more goals. Liverpool will also need to improve their concentration on the pitch. Even with all the criticism, the defense has received from the media and myself, Liverpool still went unbeaten against the rest of the top 7, including 7 victories with sweeps over Everton and Arsenal. Their downfall was in their losses and draws to much inferior opponents, and lasted from the very beginning of the season to the very end. The very 2nd game of the season, Liverpool lost their 1st of 6 games in the Premier League with an away loss to Burnley. They blew a 3-1 lead in stoppage time to loss to Bournemouth 4-3 in December at the Vitality, the Reds’ failed to avenge their stumble by drawing to the Cherries at Anfield in April. That followed by a draw to West Ham at home the following week in December, plus a draw to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light early into the new year, showed the signs for Liverpool to fall off the wagon. The wheels truly began to come off when they lost to Swansea at home towards the end of January, followed by elimination in the FA Cup to Championship side, Wolverhampton Wanderers, PLUS another 2 losses in February away from home to relegation battlers, Hull and Leicester took all the fight out of the Liverpool title hunt. In fact it had them, scrape on in to the Champions League, clinging onto the 4th and final spot where a Champions League playoff match awaits them. In total, Liverpool lost their 6 games to the likes of Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull, Leicester and Crystal Palace, while putting on showcases against Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City. A tale of two teams for Klopp’s men, and although injury can be difficult to overcome, everyone has them and these losses were due to lack of concentration. It’s the mental game that these Klopp heavy metal headbangers have got to master if they want to finish at the top of this league.
Can Liverpool Win The Premier League?
In all honesty, everyone in the top 6 has the potential to win the Premier League this season. They all have quality managers at the helm who have experience winning at the top level and have spent a lot of money to improve their sides (except for Tottenham). If Philippe Coutinho stays at Liverpool, and I think he will this season, then they will possess the most potent attack in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal football will be keeping Anfield headbanging through a majority of the season, with the potential to blow everyone away. As I had shown in the previous section however, Liverpool has shown the potential to leave their motivation in the locker room and come out flat. They will need to keep and extra sense of concentration this season as well, with the Champions League looking to fill the Reds’ schedule in the upcoming season. Glamorous Tuesday nights in Madrid, definitely won’t feel as important as Saturday afternoon games against Watford, but they must keep their sense of concentration and show up ready to play in each game. With that being said, each club is sure to improve with many of them preparing to go into their 2nd seasons with their managers. That’s another window for each mind to purchase the pieces they need for success at their clubs, which means Liverpool will more then likely not keep up their incredible success against the other top teams in the Premier League. Their failure to improve upon their defense is going to leave them exposed. Liverpool will be formidable in the league and in the Champions League as Klopp looks to continue his vision. But it’s going to be difficult, with Liverpool and Chelsea being the only teams who did not take on European football last season in top 6, and will have to adjust accordingly. Anfield will still be rocking, but a failure to bring home a significant trophy will be the final straw this season for Philippe Coutinho before he packs his bags and darts for Barcelona. And that’s exactly what will happen. Liverpool will be this season’s Arsenal from last season, competing the whole way through, but in the end, somebody has to take the back seat and that somebody is going to be Liverpool.