Liverpool: 2018/19 Premier League Preview
Are Klopp’s team ready to make the final leap and push Manchester City all the way?
Action Images via REUTERS/Ed Sykes
For Liverpool, 2018/19 feels like a critical season. In the eyes of many, they’re the team best equipped to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title, and it’s easy to see why.
Nearly three years after Jurgen Klopp joined the club, Liverpool are surely at the peak of their cycle. Progress has been made in each of the German’s three seasons managing the Reds, and club ownership have responded to his progress by backing him in the transfer market over the last 12 months, paying the prices necessary – even when they seem excessive – to get the players management want.
Given they already boast the finest front three in the country, Liverpool have used this strategy to boost the squad in other areas, breaking the transfer records for centre backs and goalkeepers.
This has increased the level of hope and expectation for fans, who will be hoping, at the very least, to test a City side who ran away with the title last season.
2017/18 Season Review
In 2017/18 Liverpool secured their second consecutive top four finish, the first time they’d done so since the 2008/09 season, in itself an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated. However, from a Liverpool perspective, last season was, of course, all about their Champions League campaign.
While they perhaps benefited from a kind group stage draw and from Roma knocking out Barcelona in the quarter-finals, in reaching the final – the first English club to do so for six years – they undoubtably enjoyed a successful season.
On the player front, Mohamed Salah surpassed even the high expectations of those who had watched him at Roma, and made a mockery of anyone who had doubted his Premier League calibre after his short stint at Chelsea four years ago. His 32 goals in the league were a record for a 38 game season.
The loss of Philippe Coutinho midway through the season was a blow (not that it stopped them steam rolling teams in the Champions League knockouts), but the significant outlay Barcelona made to secure his services helped fund the Virgil van Dijk transfer and their subsequent summer spending.
Amongst the Premier League’s big six, Liverpool have been the busiest in the transfer window this season, with their total transfer expenditure more than doubling the other top four contenders. Here’s a rundown of their outlays:
Fee: £54 million
Given the Keita transfer was confirmed last August rather than this July, it’s perhaps easy to forget quite what a coup his signing is for Liverpool.
Still just 23-years-old, Keita lit the Bundesliga alight in his two seasons at RB Leipzig, contributing 14 goals and 12 assists in the league while offering constant dribbling through the middle of the park, creative passing and ball winning, in a pressing system not too dissimilar to what he’ll be playing in at Anfield.
He’ll add a level of creative and attacking quality in the midfield three that Liverpool were without once Coutinho left the club.
Fee: £40.5 million
Fabinho will offer some ball-winning qualities and energy in the midfield and take Emre Can’s role and place in the squad as an option at the base or as a less attack minded interior.
He also perhaps opens up the possibility of Liverpool playing a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 with a double pivot in midfield.
Fee: £13.5 million
Many have criticised the Swiss international for not being able to prevent Stoke’s relegation last term, but in getting 15 goals and assists for a weak team, Shaqiri showed that his level is more than good enough for the Premier League.
When you consider that he’ll purely be a depth option, and the relatively modest fee by today’s standard, it’s hard not to see this as anything other than a shrewd piece of business.
Fee: £56 million
Even in this period of mammoth transfer fees, Liverpool’s purchase of Alisson still felt hard to believe.
It was the first time that the inflation of the last few years had impacted the sale of a goalkeeper considered to be one of the elite, and Liverpool will desperately be hoping it will put an end to their long-term goalkeeping problems. If it does, then one of their biggest problem areas will have become a strength.
Emre Can is the only significant departure this summer after he ended months of speculation and inevitably joined Juventus once his contract at Liverpool finished.
While he hasn’t left the club, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to miss most of the season, with Klopp claiming “If we do see him back this season it will be a bonus”. Theoretically Fabinho and Keita are perfectly suited replacements.
Liverpool’s front three is almost certainly set in stone. Keita seems perfect for the right interior role that Oxlade-Chamberlain played last season and is an upgrade in the role. Fabinho will presumably play at the base of the three-man midfield but could be used further up with Henderson as the six.
James Milner, Giorginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana are all options for the interior positions. The defence will seemingly remain what it was for the end of last season, with Alisson taking the number one spot in goal.
Tactically Liverpool will likely be very similar to what they were last season. Keita offers similar attributes to Oxlade-Chamberlain as a box-to-box midfielder who can dribble and contribute goals and assists and should be able to adapt to the system relatively easily given his familiarity with counter-pressing teams.
The Key Question: How good will Man City be?
With the van Dijk and Alisson signings it’s hard to find a significant weak spot in the Liverpool starting XI. Depth could become an issue, especially if they do well in the cups and have another European run.
Partially because of their rotations in the league during their European campaign last year, they only got six points in their final nine league games. If they are to mount a serious title challenge this season, they’ll probably have to focus all their attention onto the league, which could come at the compromise of their trophy chances in other competition.
But arguably their biggest obstacle is simply how good Manchester City are. In getting 100 points last season City were the most dominant Premier League team there’s ever been, and while some regression to normality would be expected, it’s still not hard to see them amassing another high point total, well into the 90s.
If that were to happen then Liverpool could theoretically have a brilliant league season and still not win the title.
Would that constitute failure for the club and Klopp? It would seem unfair to hold them to the standouts of the blue Manchester club, who broke so many records last season, and who, despite Liverpool’s spending this summer, are still in another league financially to the Merseyside club.
At the same time, though, Liverpool have the calibre of players and, crucially, the calibre of coach that they haven’t always had the luxury of having in the Premier League era. If they were to miss out this season how long could the fans expect the likes of Salah and Klopp to stay at the club, and how long could they expect FSG to continue funding major purchases.
Liverpool could win the Premier League if their key players stay healthy and City return to normality after their 100-point season.
Salah and/or Firmino get injured or return to earth after their incredible 2017/18 seasons. Squad depth is an issue throughout the season, especially during the congested Christmas schedule and cup runs hurt the team in the league, seeing them miss out on top four.
Liverpool will push City more than any team did last season, but won’t quite have enough to win their first league title for 29 years.
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