Season Preview: Liverpool loaded, ready to take the next step

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Liverpool at a glance

Premier League titles: 0 (English First Division titles – 18)

FA Cups: 7 (1965, 1974, 1986, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2006)

League Cups: 8 (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1995, 2001, 2003, 2012)

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Seemingly out of nowhere, Liverpool advanced all the way to the Champions League final in May, so how do Jurgen Klopp and the Reds improve upon that feat in 2018-19?

One could say that the only way to do so would be to unseat Manchester City as Premier League champions, but given the state of the club — the entire institutions wayward trajectory — when Klopp took over in October 2015, additional signs of progress in re-establishing and further solidifying Liverpool as one of England’s — and Europe’s — best will more than suffice.

Sure, they’ve spent nearly a half-billion dollars during Klopp’s 34-month tenure, but they’ve spent it wisely, which is more than can be said for other mega-rich clubs around the world. The entire process from identifying weaknesses/needs, to identifying targets, to assessing targets, to signing incoming players, to integrating them into the first team, to enjoying nearly immediate return on investment, has been nothing short of inspiring to witness over the last two seasons. As we’ll discuss momentarily, they did it again this summer.


Liverpool will win the title because… they were really good — while extremely young — last season, and they only got better this summer. Klopp fashioned a midfield out of shoestring and bubble gum for much of last season, whereas now he has a pair of rising stars to deploy central this time around. Goalkeepers was a problem position for the entirety of his tenure, but now he’s got a 25-year-old who’ll be Brazil’s no. 1 for the next decade. They were a bit thin for depth behind the superstar attacking trio, so they added a 26-year-old with World Cup experience and nearly 100 PL appearances to the ranks.

Liverpool will fall out of the top-four because… they deal with a ton of injuries all season long? Outside of losing Salah and/or Firmino and/or Mane for three or four months at a time, it’s really tough to see how Liverpool finish worse than last year’s fourth-place finish (to which they essentially resigned themselves as the progressed further and further in Europe). Everyone who’s likely to play 30-plus games should be expected to be better this season than last, given their age, ambition and overall individual/club trajectory. If you’re a Liverpool fan, you should be very excited.

Best possible XI:

Alisson

Alexander-Arnold — Van Dijk — Lovren — Robertson

Keita — Henderson — Fabinho

Salah — Firmino — Mane

Transfers In: Naby Keita ($68 million, RB Leipzig), Alisson ($73 million, Roma), Fabinho ($51 million, Monaco), Xherdan Shaqiri ($17 million, Stoke City)

Transfers Out: Emre Can (free, Juventus), Danny Ward ($16 million, Leicester City)

Ranking their offseason: A

Losing Can for absolutely nothing was a tough pill to swallow, but it was hardly a back-breaking departure for a club that could throw down $119 million for not one, but two replacements in central midfield. Keita’s transfer was announced last summer, only to be executed this time around, and Fabinho was announced before June began. There’s something to be said for doing most of your transfer business so early in the window, even if Shaqiri and Alisson weren’t signed until mid-July (still ahead of a number of other clubs’ key business, if any was done at all). A young, energetic squad got even younger and more vibrant this summer. Klopp soared past cloud nine long ago.

Star player: Salah was the star last season, but this year it could just as easily be Firmino who pushes the 30-goal mark (15 last season), or Mane who goes for 20 goals and 15 assists (10 and 7 last season). While Salah was irresistible and captured the world’s collective heart, it’s tough to see him putting up anything close to 32 goals and 10 assists for a second straight season. As opponents become fixated on stopping him, it’ll open up more time, space and chances for his front-line mates, and they’re more than good enough to make the most of it.

Coach’s Corner: Everything outlined above fits Klopp’s personality — and ideal personnel — to a T. His initial partial season in England was something of a slog, and the second season had more downs than ups, but it all came together last fall and resulted in a renewed excitement and raised expectations for everyone at the club.

PST Predicts: If anyone poses a genuine title challenge to Manchester City — as in, they’re within five points on May 1 — it’ll be Liverpool. They looked the second-best side in the PL last season, but their attention was clearly divided. They’re better — maybe a lot better — now than they were then.

Report: Joao Felix unavailable against Liverpool

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Atletico Madrid is facing a defining moment of its 2019/20 season as Liverpool visits the Wanda Metripolitano on Tuesday in Champions League Round of 16 action. In such an important match, the Spanish side may be without one of its most creative attacker.

According to a report by Goal.com, Joao Felix will not be available as he has been struck down by tonsillitis, missing training on Monday. Felix has not played since picking up a muscle problem on January 26, and while he has mostly recovered from that injury, his unavailability for training means he is not able to fully prove fit to play, so between that and the illness itself, he has been ruled out.

The 20-year-old moved to Atletico Madrid this summer for a whopping $147 million, and while fans have had high hopes for the Portuguese youngster, he has flopped in his first season in Spain. Still, despite his struggles to carry the entire Atleti attack on his shoulders, Felix remains one of the club’s best attackers playing alongside true striker Alvaro Morata, and his presence will be missed in what is already an anemic attack.

Atleti is 13 points back of leaders Barcelona, sitting fourth in the La Liga table. The side is also out of the Copa del Rey, shocked in late January by third-tier side Cultural Leonesa. The Champions League is Diego Simeone’s last chance to salvage something positive from an otherwise struggle-filled season.

Atleti is also without midfielder Hector Herrera who is also suffering from an illness, while Kieran Trippier continues to recover from a groin injury.

Lacazette thanks Arteta, Arsenal teammates for support

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Alexandre Lacazette‘s 95th minute goal to finish off a 4-0 victory over Newcastle may seem meaningless, but to him it meant the world.

The 28-year-old Frenchman snapped a 10-match goalless streak across all competitions when he found the back of the net for the first time since a Champions League match on December 12. In total, Lacazette had been on the field for nearly 470 minutes without scoring before his goal in the final seconds against Newcastle.

“It has been really hard and complicated,” Lacazette said of his goal drought. “Sometimes I had some games with no chances, sometimes I missed or the goalkeeper saved it. Of course for a striker it is always hard to not score, but it happens in football. Hopefully it is the last time for me.”

However, Lacazette says both new manager Mikel Arteta and his teammates were supportive during the time he struggled to find the back of the net.

“He [Arteta] talked with me to give me confidence. I am really, really happy because I waited for this moment for a long time.  I am touched as well because of the way all my team-mates reacted when I scored that goal.  It means a lot to me and a lot for the spirit we have in the team. This is good.”

Arteta kept faith in Lacazette for much of his goal drought, starting in seven straight Premier League matches between late December and early February, but he was dropped for the Newcastle game for Eddie Nketiah, only coming on for the final five minutes when he found his moment. Lacazette confirmed that Arteta spoke to him about the match decision, saying “he explained it well” before pausing to say he cannot go into more details about the conversation.

Arsenal is on a six-game unbeaten streak in league play and eight overall, without losing since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates on December 29.

Timothy Weah re-injured on return to field

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An absolutely brutal turn of events has befallen American international Timothy Weah as the 19-year-old was re-injured just minutes after returning from a six-month layoff.

Weah, who will turn 20 this weekend, suffered a nasty hamstring tear just two matches into the season and has been missing since August. He finally returned to the field on Sunday, coming on for the final 10 minutes of a 2-1 loss to Marseille. However, Weah confirmed on his Instagram account that he was re-injured during his return. Reports in France say he was injured while making a run into the Marseille attacking third, grabbing at his thigh. He completed the match without being subbed off.

After thanking Lille fans for their support during his previous injury, Weah wrote, “Unfortunately for me things didn’t go as planned and I’ve injured myself again…. Better days will come and I know that God is watching over me 🙌🏾❤️Small setback for a major comeback 🙌🏾❤️”

It is unclear how severe the injury is, or if it is separate from the one he just worked so hard to come back from. His club Lille followed up with an official announcement to confirm the injury, saying it is his right hamstring that was most recently troubled, not the same one he had just finished rehabbing. No official timetable was given for his return, and no information on the severity of the injury was released.

Weah got support from some big names in the comment section of his Instagram post. Fellow American Tyler Adams posted “Onwards and upwards 🙌🏽❤️” while Bayern Munich full-back and Canadian international Alphonso Davies wrote “Yessir 💪🏾” and Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham gave him praise hands emojis.

The injury, if serious, is another big blow to the U.S. men’s national team, who has already seen Paul Arriola go down with a serious knee injury and is sweating another possible problem for the oft-injured Adams. Weah has not earned a senior international cap since November of 2018, while he last played internationally last summer during the 2019 U-20 World Cup.

Report: Barcelona given permission to sign emergency striker

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According to a report by Spanish tabloid Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona has been given permission by La Liga authorities to sign an emergency striker outside the January transfer window.

With Ousmane Dembele ruled out for the season after a serious hamstring tear, the Catalan club has just three healthy forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and teenage sensation Ansu Fati. Luis Suarez was ruled long-term after knee surgery in mid-January.

The situation is not all that uncommon as far as La Liga is concerned, as the league often authorizes clubs to sign emergency players given injuries of longer than five months and low roster availability. There are certain restrictions that come with any potential signing, such as the player must be a forward. Any potential signing will only be eligible for league competition, and the player can only come from another La Liga side or be a free agent. The club has 15 days to complete a potential signing, while any club it raids would theb be given a window to sign its own replacement.

Barcelona somewhat made its own bed here, having sold both Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz at the end of the January transfer window.

Getafe striker Angel Rodriguez, Alaves target man Lucas Perez, Levante striker Roger Marti, and Leganes frontman Martin Braithwaite have all been mentioned as possibilities. Despite having scored 10 goals this campaign, Rodriguez seems to have lost his place in the Getafe starting lineup, without a start since January 4 with Jamie Mata and Deyverson occupying the spots on the teamsheet. Perez has had an odd season, with eight of his nine league goals coming in a nine-game stretch from late September to late November. Marti has 10 goals this season, but six of those have come in multi-goal games.

Any new signing would not be eligible for Champions League competition, as Barcelona matches up with Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16 this week.