Liverpool fans have seen it all before.
In the twenty-six year history of the Premier League the Reds have yet to win the title, but on numerous occasions they have threatened to end their barren run, only to fall agonisingly short.
Roy Evans’ side were five points clear on New Year’s Day in 1997, only to fall away and eventually finish 4th. Gerard Houllier came closer in 2002, finishing second behind a peak-Wenger era Arsenal.
In 2009, Rafa Benitez’s side pushed Manchester United close amassing eighty-six points but would finish as runners-up. And then most agonisingly, with three games to go in the 2013-14 campaign, Brendan Rodgers looked certain to secure Liverpool’s first league crown since 1990. From there, it quite literally slipped away.
Following each near-miss, there was optimism about the following season and the sense that Liverpool were getting closer to the holy grail. But on each occasion, the following season brought colossal disappointment. Each of Liverpool’s three 2nd place finishes in the Premier League were followed by finishes outside of the top four (5th in 2003, 7th in 2010 and 6th in 2015).
You could therefore forgive a Liverpool fan for, despite the arrival of the effervescent Jurgen Klopp, feeling like their historic club were now destined to be eternal bridesmaids of the English game. Klopp has without doubt reinvigorated the squad and the German’s swashbuckling, gegenpressing style brought Champions League football back to Anfield after a two-year absence. He’s also reached three cup finals in his first two full seasons, including a thrilling run to last year’s Champions League final.
But for all of the attacking flair that Klopp’s Liverpool undoubtedly possess, manifesting in the most entertaining brand of football outside of the Etihad, if not in all of England, Klopp has yet to convert a cup final into a trophy and perhaps more damningly, has yet to sustain a serious title challenge, with back-to-back fourth place finishes.
With pre-season fixtures underway and summer transfer activity now in full swing, speculation and expectation ahead of next season has returned. But can Liverpool continue to build on promising foundations and challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City juggernauts? Or will Klopp’s tenure ultimately prove to be another false dawn on the red half of Merseyside?
In the past week, The Reds have completed a record-breaking deal for Brazil international Alisson Becker – their fourth major signing of the summer – in addition to adding Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri for just £13 million (this at a time when there are reports of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish being valued at as much as £40m).
Alisson’s fee is being reported as £67 million, a world record fee for a goalkeeper, but expenditure that is a necessary evil given Liverpool’s trials and tribulations between the sticks with Simon Mignolet and the much maligned Loris Karius. The 25-year-old shot-stopper excelled for Roma last season in Serie A and the Champions League, and beat Manchester City’s Ederson to the Brazil number one shirt at the World Cup.
As evidenced by the relative market value of his contemporaries and still just twenty-six, Shaqiri is a snip for Liverpool and a proven Premier League operator. With the departure of Emre Can and the news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely miss the entirety of next season following the cruciate and medial ligament damage sustained to his right knee, Liverpool required further depth in their midfield ranks.
While Shaqiri might ultimately prove to be more of a utility player in the squad rather than a regular feature in the starting eleven, Klopp’s two other summer signings look to have strengthened what the Reds possess in the middle of the park.
The arrivals of Fabinho from Monaco and Red Bull Leipzig’s coveted Naby Keita represent an improvement in midfield personnel, with the former able to provide commanding defensive generalship and give free reign for the latter to maraud as he does best. It’s possible that club captain Jordan Henderson could be displaced from a starting position if Fabinho can hit the ground running in the Premier League.
Keita, who actually signed for Liverpool 12 months ago for a £52.75m fee on the basis he would move this summer, is a 23-year-old wonder able to turn defence into attack in an instant and thus perfect for Klopp’s full throttle, high-press brand of football. The Guinean is a serial ball winner and possesses incredible close control as well as being effective in the final third.
Across the past two seasons, Keita has scored or assisted twenty-six goals in the Bundesliga, a solid return for a player whose primary assignment at Leipzig was to win possession for more attacking players.
Certainly from a recruitment standpoint, Liverpool have done well to address the areas that needed strengthening so early in the summer but may still require more depth at centre-back, where an injury to Virgil Van Dijk or Dejan Lovren would leave them worryingly short of cover.
There’s also a valid argument that an out-and-out striker would be a wise investment. The attacking triumvirate of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah may have bagged a phenomenal 91 goals between them last term, but with Mané and Salah deployed out wide, only Bobby Firmino registers as a centre forward.
This Liverpool side aren’t short of goals, but unless injury plagued Daniel Sturridge can somehow remain fit, which at this stage of his career is a big ask, it’s another area of the pitch where Liverpool are perhaps too thin to really challenge at the top of the table. It’s been suggested that Danny Ings – who has made just 14 appearances in three seasons at Anfield and only six starts – is likely to leave the club this summer.
What club – excluding City – doesn’t have room for improvement however? Overall, this is a much stronger Liverpool squad than the one that started last season and although they eventually finished fourth, popular opinion suggested that last year they were the second best team in the league, even if the final table didn’t reflect it.
In addition to this summer’s transfers, the young revelations from last term are one year older, wiser and more battle-hardened. Full backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were first-team standouts, Robertson in his first season after an £8m move from Hull – bargain – and Alexander-Arnold coming through the academy at Kirkby.
Other young talents such as 20-year-old Joe Gomez and 18-year-old Ben Woodburn still have time breakthrough also. Coupled with the shrewd business that FSG have conducted in the transfer market, it all bodes well for Liverpool going forward, maybe over the next five years, even if next season happens to be fruitless in terms of silverware.
Liverpool may not win the league next season, and they certainly won’t start as the betting favourites. Perhaps they won’t win the league at all in any of the coming years. But this is as young, talented and strong a squad as Liverpool have possessed in the Premier League era. For that reason, they should be challenging for titles for the next few seasons at least
Before a ball is kicked in August, that’s as good a position to be in as any side can hope for.
Written by Jack Sumner
Follow Jack on Twitter @Jack_Sumner_
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