“It’s only the middle of August and then in September the games will come,” Klopp said. “The future of football will be rotation. We need to be ready and have that quality. … I told the boys one or two could be disappointed but that will change, if they make the best of their time.”
As for the match itself, Liverpool looked the part of genuine title challengers. Naby Keita was as advertised, and — thanks to a lack of shots from West Ham — it’s hard to tell whether Alisson is the answer in goal.
“It was good, not surprisingly good, but it was better than I could have expected because I saw a lot of pre-season hope on the pitch,” Klopp said.
He’s keeping it all in perspective:
Klopp: "West Ham will play for sure a good season, but they are not the Uniteds, the Citys. We have to be ready week in, week out for all the different situations." #LFC
Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Champions League finalists — and fourth-place finishers in the PL — just four months ago, Jurgen Klopp has given himself an incredibly tough act to follow and a high bar to clear. The Reds are pretty widely agreed to have had the best summer transfer window of the 20 PL sides, while one could make a very strong case for West Ham to finish as runners-up: Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko just shy of being considered world-class wingers on their days, while Carlos Sanchez and Issa Diop are likely to plug longtime holes at defensive midfield and center back, respectively.
New Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini likely played a key part in the above summer signings choosing West Ham over a number of other suitors, and Sunday will be the Chilean’s first chance to put his stamp on the club on the field.
Just a year or two ago, Southampton were the PL club to go from recently promoted side to Europa League qualifiers in a relatively short period of time. While Saints were busy falling into a relegation battle last season, however, Burnley were more than happy to barge their way up the table and finish seventh. Now, it’s the Clarets’ turn to prove they have the depth and desire to compete on domestic and continental fronts this season, while Southampton hope to simply stabilize a club that has seen its fair share of turmoil over the last 24 months.
Arsenal vs. Manchester City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Last season’s runaway champions begin their title defense against a top-six side in the midst of arguably the greatest transition period the PL has ever seen — Arsene Wenger left Arsenal in May, and Unai Emery has replaced him. To state the obvious, it’s a tall task for Emery to end his winless run against Pep Guardiola, whom he has never beaten in 10 meetings, while also taking charge of his first competitive match at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger’s Arsenal didn’t fare any better against Guardiola than Emery has done, as City dominated all three meetings between the two sides last season, winning 3-1 at home and 3-0 away in league play, plus another 3-0 thrashing away from home in the League Cup.
We know about the superstars. We know about the big-money transfers. We know about the young wonderkids.
But who are the players that have yet to reach the highest heights that could see a breakout performance? Harry Kane went from Spurs youth product to household name with 21 blasts in 2014/15. N'Golo Kante rocketed to stardom by leading Leicester City to a stunning Premier League title. Kevin De Bruyne made Chelsea sorry with 21 assists for Man City in 2016/17, cementing him as one of the best attacking mids in England. Jordan Pickford went from Premier League bottomfeeder to World Cup starter thanks to his performance last year with Everton.
So who makes the leap this coming season? We detail a few of the possible choices, will full knowledge that the true breakout star emerge come from a place nobody saw coming.
Liverpool’s outstanding young star was a true unknown midway through last season. The 19-year-old earned a starting spot in February and never gave it up, garnering respect from pundits and fans alike. At his tender young age, TAA started a Champions League final at right-back, tasked with marking the immortal Cristiano Ronaldo. He performed spectacularly. If that moment isn’t too big for the youngster, then what is? It’s not a question of if Trent will become a star, it’s when.
A relatively run-of-the-mill center-back at Leicester City before this summer, Maguire earned himself global notoriety at the World Cup, displaying aerial prowess and superior marking ability. Now, it’s up to the 25-year-old to back up that one month performance as more than a flash in the pan, whether he begins the season at King Power Stadium or at Old Trafford. Maguire set himself up perfectly with a summer to remember, but he needs a longer boost at the club level to become a true global household name.
At 17 years old last season, young Ryan Sessegnon became the first Championship player to ever be named to the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist. Beginning his career at left-back, it became clear that Sessegnon’s true value was higher up the pitch, and Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic obliged. With the freedom to maraud forward, Sessegnon couldn’t stop scoring. He bagged 20 goals and nine assists last season in Championship play, but his young legs tired as the season came to a close. If he has rested up and fires goals in the Premier League like he did last season a level below, he will be worth a fortune in a year’s time.
New Arsenal defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira is just what the doctor ordered for the Gunners. Last season Arsenal maintained plenty of possession but struggled to cover the counter when they gave the ball away. With Unai Emery now in charge at The Emirates, the 22-year-old simply needs to beat out Granit Xhaka for minutes in the middle of the pitch. If he can earn his place in the lineup, Torreira showed in Serie A last season what he can bring to the Gunners, ranked the #10 overall player in the league last season by Squawka Statistics’ player metrics. He proved at the 2018 World Cup that his season was not a fluke, and now he’s ready to do big things in London.
Arsene Wenger may be gone from Arsenal, but that isn’t stopping the Gunners from plucking up premiere French young talent. Guendouzi is just 19, yet was a standout performer in Arsenal’s preseason run-up to the league campaign, and his David Luiz curls give him the edge needed to be a recognizable figure off the pitch. Costing just $10 million, his transfer from French club Lorient was utterly unnoticed, and that could make him one of the steals of the summer if he can earn regular playing time behind Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Danish center-back was a critical figure last season at Chelsea, earning significant playing time. However, he dipped in form through the final third of the season, and wasn’t that spectacular at the World Cup. 2018-19 appears to be a critical season for the 22-year-old, but if Christensen can recapture the form that earned him a starting role under Antonio Conte, he can develop into one of the best center-backs in the Premier League.
Spending much of his young career either out on loan or a bit-part player at Chelsea, the Blues youth product has been on these lists and has yet to make the jump into a significant role. However, England manager Gareth Southgate saw enough ability to use him in a repeated substitute role at the World Cup this summer, and that might be the signal flare Maurizio Sarri needed. Working against Loftus-Cheek is a crowded Chelsea midfield, competing for time with Cesc Fabregas, Mateo Kovacic, Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Ross Barkley, but if he can come up with the goods this year, he will have pedigree to back up his hype.
With one Fulham player already on this list in Sessegnon, a new White makes the cut in new Ivory Coast international Jean-Michael Seri. The 27-year-old midfielder was a passing wizard in his three seasons at French club Nice, and he reportedly picked the Cottagers over Champions League clubs in England, Italy, and Germany. In Ligue 1 play, he was seventh in the league in completed through balls, and third if you don’t count absurdly dominant PSG. He was third overall in the league in key passes from open play. His xGBuildup, a stat that compiles the xG of every possession the player touches the ball not including shots and key passes, was better than Paul Pogba last season. Seri could be critical in Fulham’s attempt to play a Manchester City style in the top flight, and if he excels, he could be a valuable asset to not just survival but even greater accomplishments.
Wolves obliterated the Championship last season from start to finish, and a big reason why was the 21-year-old Portuguese winger. His pace was blistering, and with it he racked up 17 goals and drawing comparisons to Eden Hazard. Of the 16 games Jota scored in last season, Wolves won 12 and lost just one. He’s critical to the newly promoted side, and if he continues his form from last year, he could earn himself a look not just for Premier League Young Player of the Year, but also in the Portuguese national team, where he’s played significantly at the youth level but has yet to crack the senior squad.
With so many Liverpool stars around him, it would be easy for Naby Keita to enter the Reds starting lineup in his first season and fly under the radar. Don’t expect that to happen. The 23-year-old enters into a logjammed midfield with Fabinho making his way from Monaco, Jordan Henderson coming off a spectacular World Cup, Girginio Wijnaldum having a great preseason, Adam Lallana healthy and James Milner continuing to grind games out. He has plenty of talent around him, and with any luck can be a more well-rounded N’Golo Kante, even if those are massive shoes to fill.
Bonus +1! Kepa Arrizabalaga
What would this list be without the new Chelsea goalkeeper? A relative unknown until recent weeks, the 23-year-old has suddenly become the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. He will have a massive weight upon his shoulders to replace Thibaut Courtois, and if he performs, would help Chelsea fans forget the Belgian’s departure altogether. Kepa is relatively untested with just two full top flight seasons under his belt. Yet so was Courtois when Chelsea brought him in and loaned him to Atletico Madrid where he helped bring the Spanish side to the Champions League final. His first Premier League season could go a long way to defining his future.
With the transfer window ending earlier than usual in England and a number of the Premier League’s top talents just getting back from an altered summer vacation, it’s safe to say the 2018-19 season will be different than most years.
The World Cup always affects the top leagues across the globe, whether that be in the transfer market or the injury department, so with a short turnaround Pro Soccer Talk decided to take a look at a few of the club’s that will be most affected by the World Cup, which saw France hoist the 2018 edition.
The clear favorites to repeat as PL champions don’t have many things working against them outside of a large portion of their squad having played in Russia.
While some other clubs benefitted from having their players having a summer vacation and time to rest, City had a full compliment of squad members in Russia, including Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and Kyle Walker.
Players like De Bruyne, Walker and Vincent Kompany, who made deep runs in the World Cup, have had less than a month to prepare for the new PL season, which will really test their physical capabilities over a grueling nine-month season.
For a player like Paul Pogba, the World Cup should have greatly helped the Frenchman’s stock. After all, he did win a World Cup with France — the country’s second in its history.
However, a strained relationship with Jose Mourinho has caused more questions than answers to be raised at Old Trafford, and now with about a day to go in the transfer window the Red Devils could lose one of its biggest stars.
Meanwhile, a similar situation has transpired between Mourinho and Anthony Martial — a teammate of Pogba’s on the French national team. Martial left United’s preseason tour of the U.S. due to family reasons, which left Mourinho displeased with the attacker.
An early exit for Senegal and Egypt might have been the best thing for Liverpool.
With Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah coming off of a hectic season in 2017-18, the Reds’ two biggest stars needed a decent break to reinvigorate themselves for the upcoming PL campaign.
The duo have looked to be in fine form throughout preseason, and while some of their teammates like Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson had to deal with lengthy stays in Russia, this Reds side looks a major threat to topping Man City at the top of England.
The World Cup helped the promoted sides greatly because it took the attention off the clubs and allowed them to handle their business in the transfer market.
It’s probably unfair to just single out Fulham because Wolves and Cardiff did their fair share of spending as well, but Fulham did a tremendous job to improve itself in every facet of their game.
That includes a deal for Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri, which could prove to be one of the best pieces of business this summer, after he was linked with moves to several bigger clubs across Europe.
The progression for the Reds under Jurgen Klopp is ready to take the next step this season. Having made the Champions League final last season and finishing a comfortable fourth in the Premier League table, Liverpool is now a title contender.
Contender. Not favorite.
That would be Manchester City, the team that blew the rest of the league out of the water last season and by all accounts threatens to do so again this coming year. Not if the Reds have anything to say about it.
But what will it take for Liverpool to make the leap? Is it realistic to think they can give Manchester City a good fight?
Yes. Yes it is.
We all know how good this Liverpool attack is. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino comprise a deadly trio of attacking threat. There is no Premier League defense that can adequately lock these three down for 180 minutes a season. Now add Xherdan Shaqiri, and it becomes virtually unstoppable.
What Liverpool has struggled with in recent years is its defense. They brought Virgil Van Dijk in last January, and he had an immediate impact. In the 14 matches van Dijk played for Liverpool last season – all of which he played 90 minutes – they conceded two or more goals just three times. Now, the Reds add Fabinho and Naby Keita in front of the defensive line and Alisson behind it, and the lockdown continues. Mix in Jordan Henderson who showed next-level capability as a number 6 at the World Cup this summer, and the midfield looks utterly stacked.
This is the most loaded team from front to back in the Premier League not named Manchester City. Not only that, but consider the presence of players like Giorginio Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana, and Daniel Sturridge, and this is the deepest team outside of Manchester City.
It’s obviously that Liverpool can win the title. Manchester City won’t have the cakewalk they had last year, and the Reds are a big reason why.
However, asking will Liverpool win the Premier League title is a whole other level. We’re not ready to go make that leap. Yet.