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:
Alexander-Arnold — Van Dijk — Lovren — Robertson
Keita — Henderson — Fabinho
Salah — Firmino — Mane
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.