2016/17 Season Recap
A quick way to summarise Liverpool’s campaign during the 2016/17 season would be adequate. Although Jurgen Klopp expected to challenge for the title, the board’s minimum expectations were realised by securing Champions League football.
The pressure of obtaining this in a competitive league caused the German coach to use his back-up players in the FA Cup, resulting in a shock exit to Championship side Wolves, and allowed the Anfield side to miss out on the EFL Cup final, by losing both legs of the semi-final to Southampton in woeful fashion.
Often the side were involved in fixtures which saw them retain much of the ball -on average the Reds had 58.3% of the possession- and fail to use it decisively.
Defeats to Burnley, Hull, Leicester and Swansea highlight their inconsistent nature, while wins against Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur allowed glimpses of what the side could potentially achieve.
Where to start with Liverpool regarding their transfer activity?
After capturing Mohamed Salah from Roma for £36.9m, they have set their sights on RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita all summer long, and it has seen the club looking desperate, and has also shown how far behind they are in terms of ‘big club status.’ Had Manchester United or Chelsea been chasing the Guinea international, the deal would probably have already been completed without a forced apology.
Their other transfer saga has been Southampton central defender Virgil van Dijk, to shore up a defence that was often caught short last season. The Dutch international defender has expressed his desire to move away from the Saints, and although his signing looks some way off, Liverpool will expect to capture their man during this transfer window.
Mohamed Salah, RW (Roma, £36.9m)
Andrew Robertson, LB (Hull City, £10m)
There have been some shrewd transfers by Liverpool this time around and, apart from Salah, Hull’s Andrew Robertson has also been snapped up in a £10m deal, which should provide the club with some stability at left back.
Dominic Solanke, ST (Chelsea, £3m)
Dominic Solanke, a player released by Chelsea, is another intriguing transfer. Although the 20-year-old Englishman isn’t expected to start many games, the capture of the Golden Boot at England’s U20 World Cup gives a huge indicator he has bags of potential.
It is the potential of players leaving which has caused Liverpool the most sleepless nights though. Every day the papers and internet are full with the prospective transfer of their number ten Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona, and also a shock Emre Can move to Juventus.
Both these players are highly regarded by Liverpool’s fans. After seeing Fernando Torres, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez leave the club after making their names in the side, it would feel like another kick in the teeth, and again shows their small club status in regards these super-clubs of Juve and Barca.
Lucas Leiva, DM/CM (Lazio, £5m)
The only notable departure so far though has been Lucas Leiva, who ended his ten-year stay at the club to join Lazio for £5m. A player that was well-liked at Anfield, it would appear that the departure of the Brazilian international was a personal one, due to him wanting more game time ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
Most important players: Salah & Mane
If Coutinho is to leave, it could fall to Roberto Firmino to drop back and fill the void of his international colleague’s departure, and he has already shown he can slot into the number ten role during his time at the club.
However, the capture of Salah shows that Klopp is aiming to make his side a lot more direct, and this tactic will play into his other notable capture during his time at the Liverpool, Sadio Mane.
Sadio Mane has been a revelation since joining, and if the German coach is set to alter his tactic of retaining possession, which caused his side headaches when facing defensively minded sides who simply sat behind the ball, his use of the pair on the wings could be crucial to their fortunes this season and it could be a big year for Sadio Mane.
One to watch: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been hailed a future star for the club and at international level.
The right back broke through last season and, although Nathaniel Clyne will be seen as first choice, the youngster will get his chance this year with the side playing in the Champions League as well as domestic excursions. This could force Klopp to give him some much-needed developmental game time.
Clyne looks to be struggling to be ready for the season, so he may get his chance early on, and if he can persuade his manger in the few games he may get, there is no reason why he can’t feature prominently in the club’s push for silverware.
Biggest weakness: Defence
The summer-long attempt to sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton gives us a clue to where Klopp believes the side need to strengthen the most. The side will want to play three or four at the back, depending on the opposition and on which formation is deemed the most effective against different opposition.
If Klopp wants to play three at the back, the capture of another centre-back is vital, as the club only have Lovern, Matip, and Sakho as recognised central defenders, which could prove costly if no reinforcements can be arranged and injury or fatigue hits.
Should Liverpool retain Coutinho, Jurgen Klopp will have pulled off a major coup for his side and the pace of Mane and Salah will complement Emre Can and Coutinho’s ability.
If he is to leave, Liverpool will drop Roberto Firmino back, and bring in a recognised striker to start up top, giving his wingers a target to hit.
If Klopp is to use three at the back, it will allow one of his other summer captures, Andrew Robertson, to do what he does best. However, it involves Klopp bringing Sakho back from exile.
A rampaging left-wing back paired with Clyne on the other side, Liverpool have some serious pace on the wings with the duo playing just behind Mane and Salah. Wing play could be crucial to the club’s potential for success this season.
First five fixtures
Liverpool will kick off the 2017/18 season with a trip to take on Watford at Vicarage Road on August 12th. The fixture should provide three points at the start of the campaign, but under new manager Marco Silva, who impressed during his short reign at Hull last season, the Hornets will give the Reds a stern test, but one they should overcome easily enough.
Crystal Palace (H)
Their first home game is against Crystal Palace, who are also under new manager Frank De Boer, following the departure of Sam Allardyce at the end of last season. A game the Reds should win comfortably enough, although Palace are a strong side on their day and with Christian Benteke always a danger. If Liverpool can keep their former charge quiet, then three points should be easily attainable.
Their next game is against potential rival title challengers Arsenal, who Liverpool beat 3-1 last season. Although the north London club have moved to ensure that manager Arsene Wenger’s contract isn’t a distraction this time around, a trip to Anfield should prove to be a tough test for the Gunners.
Manchester City (A)
Manchester City are next up for Liverpool. Away at the Etihad could prove to be the sternest test of the whole campaign, so getting them early in the season is possibly a good thing for the side. Pep Guardiola has made a whole raft of changes to his team, and playing them before they find their feet could help Liverpool, but it is a difficult game in prospect for them.
Burnley at home rounds off their opening five fixtures, and this could be their easiest game of the season. Although Burnley impressed last campaign, they looked weak at the back and the departure of Michael Keane to Everton will not ease their suffering this season – yet they do possess a fine keeper in Tom Heaton. This ‘should’ be a walk in the park for Liverpool, though this is exactly the packed defence-type they struggled to break down last year.
Liverpool fans are nothing if optimistic. It has been ‘their year’ ever since the Premier League started, and although the league is tougher than ever with excessive amounts of money available for clubs to strengthen with, Liverpool have had a superb pre-season.
If they can capture one or two more signings, they may be a force to be reckoned with.
European competition looks difficult, and may prove the downfall of the side league-wise, but the club’s supporters would forgive Jurgen Klopp if he fails in Europe as long as they keep in the fight for the title as long as they can.
RealSport verdict: 5th
Liverpool have a frightening attack to rival the best of them in the Premier League, but their defence will once again prove their undoing unless Klopp strengthens it during what remains of the transfer window.
The added workload of Champions League football, too, will put a strain on their squad and it will interest to see how Klopp adapts to these rigours.
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