It’s been a frantic couple of months in the red half of Liverpool. Having gone from falling agonisingly short in Kiev’s Champions League final, watching the bulk of their squad perform at the World Cup to being absorbed in a busy transfer market; it’ll feel like two seasons have merged into one.
It may have taken a bit longer than expected, but Jurgen Klopp is finally building something on Merseyside.
Having had a rather flat debut season, things had to change for the German, and fast. Last summer’s window saw the arrival of Mohamed Salah from AS Roma, as well as the likes of Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Long-courted target Virgil van Dijk then arrived at the club in January to provide defensive solidity when the team needed it most. Slowly but surely, Klopp is building. Areas of shortfall are being addressed, and the team are making strides.
Building blocks are laid
Liverpool fans will forever be haunted by the disastrous end to the 2013/14 that saw them collapse and their hopes of a first Premier League title disappear in front of their eyes. That season held lots of promise, but the acquisition of Klopp is starting to pay off and the nightmares may not be far from being erased.
Fans have had to be patient, as the German needed time to assess things. A season-and-a-half of somewhat stale play and stunted growth may well soon be a distant memory.
At the end of last summer’s window, Klopp had gathered almost all the resources he needs. His team was almost exactly how he wanted it, and the players at his disposal were able to play the style of football he likes and lives by.
Liverpool, alongside Manchester City, were arguably the most entertaining team in the division last time out. Salah emerged as the best buy in recent times, and his partnership with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino was electric, the trio unmoved by the departure of talisman Philippe Coutinho.
Defensively, there were still question marks over their capabilities, however. Unable to keep the door shut at the back until the turn of the year, van Dijk’s long-awaited move provided the security that an otherwise shaky back four needed.
Perhaps all the movement and improvement didn’t happen quickly enough for the Anfield faithful, but the 2017/18 season will mark the start of the revolution.
A summer delight
After the agonising defeat in Europe’s showpiece at the end of the season, fans were just hoping, praying that that wouldn’t be as good as it got. So attractive and absorbing was the football Liverpool were playing last campaign that many had forgotten the deal bringing RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita to England had already been done.
Sealing the deal for Keita a year in advance has turned out to be an incredible moment of foresight from Klopp. Intentional or not, it’s almost as though the German knew where he’d be short.
The Guinean will add bite, power and drive to an area that Liverpool could have desperately done with at times last season. Jordan Henderson had a standout campaign, but aside from the on-fire trio up front, there wasn’t much of an alternative through the centre of the park.
Keita’s arrival will allow Firmino to hold a more advanced position, instead of having to drop back as a false-nine as he regularly had to do to link midfield and attack. This adds a brand new dimension.
REUTERS/Ed SykesNo team wins a league title without a high-quality goalkeeper. One area of urgency that Liverpool needed to address was the one between the sticks.
Loris Karius’ Champions League disaster will live long in the memory for all involved. A deal for Roma’s Alisson Becker may well have been all-but-done for some time, but another mistake from Karius in a pre-season game with Tranmere Rovers will certainly have sped the process up either way.
Another concern last time out was the lack of options beyond the illustrious front three. Salah’s early departure from the Champions League final highlighted it more so than at any other point when Adam Lallana was sent on despite a recent return from injury.
To address it, Klopp has recruited Xherdan Shaqiri from relegated Stoke City. While Shaqiri may not start many games, the added depth is something Liverpool needed in a scenario not too dissimilar from Manchester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.
Three areas that needed attention before the new season, have now been checked.
This season's prospects
The gaps in the squad have been filled well. Aside from perhaps the desire, as opposed to need, for another centre half to partner van Dijk, Liverpool’s transfer dealings may now be all over. The Reds will enter the 2018/19 season in a stronger position than they were this time last year, and they and the fans have a very positive platform from last season to continue to build on.
Manchester City will likely still be the team to beat throughout the season, though Klopp’s side have been kryptonite for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Defensively, Liverpool turned a corner from January onwards, and if they can keep up the level of form at both ends of the pitch, having been bolstered with new arrivals, then a Premier League title can’t be far away.