Liverpool: Underdogs no more?
As Liverpool fans know all too well, a season can promise so much, yet end with absolutely nothing in terms of trophies and awards.
That was the case for Liverpool last time out, and despite getting a top four finish – something that’s become a must for the club under Jurgen Klopp given the level he’s brought them back to – and getting to the final of the Champions League, the Reds finished the season without a trophy.
The players, unless you count the individual awards won by Mo Salah and their Champions League runners up medals, also ended the season without anything, and it was a huge disappointment despite the clear progress made.
Liverpool seriously impressed in 2017/2018
Liverpool were not the ‘other side’ in the Champions League final – they were not there to make up numbers. They fully deserved to be there, and in some people’s eyes, they were favourites.
However, luck, Sergio Ramos and fate intervened, and it wasn’t to be for the club.
It was a let down almost, after hopes had been raised so high – and despite the forward line being the best in the world – or at the very least, one of the best, the areas in which the side were lacking was clear for even Stevie Wonder to see.
Liverpool sign the most expensive goalkeeper of all time!
Loris Karius has certainly suffered – abhorrently at times.
And while the debate over his concussion in the final will go on and on (though what kind of debate there can really be, after a literal medical establishment confirmed he had suffered with one following Ramos – yep, him again – clattering into him, remains to be seen) but even before that, there were questions over his performance.
Loris Karius did improve in the second half of the season, of that there is no doubt, but the issues lingered and he still wasn’t someone who would win you games on their own, like, say, an Alisson Becker or a David De Gea.
The mental collapse following Kiev was almost inevitable given how he was treated, and the ‘fans’ booing him during pre-season did not help.
Karius may have claimed he didn’t know the club were keen on Alisson, but everyone else knew, and Jurgen Klopp’s delight at securing the former Roma stopper – no matter what the cost – was clear and understandable.
Even bringing in Alisson alone solved a huge issue with the starting XI.
It’s become increasingly clear that Klopp has targeted issues in the side almost area by area – up front and goals, pace on the wings, a solid centre half, a midfielder they were desperate for, a goalkeeper.
Liverpool splash the cash
He’s asked for money from FSG, and the American owners have certainly obliged – in spades this summer.
Klopp and Liverpool fans aren’t denying they’ve spent money – in fact, the fans couldn’t care less what age old quotes their rivals bring up to try and make themselves feel a bit better about the spending. In fact, they probably love it.
They know, looking at their squad now, it’s far stronger in key areas than it was 12 months ago.
The arrival of Virgil van Dijk last January gave the defence a huge bolstering, and one it dearly needed.
Now, Naby Keita has come in, alongside Alisson, and the duo will make a huge difference to the spine of the side.
Liverpool’s super strong spine
No team or manager has won league titles without a spine in their team – it’s something Jose Mourinho was notorious for demanding, and something he clearly doesn’t have at Man United.
Klopp hasn’t had one, not really – until now.
He has a world class goalkeeper, a strong centre back, a midfield general, a world class creative winger and the guy who tops it all off, Bobby Firmino.
Yes, some of them were there last season and they failed to win a trophy, but the issues weren’t with them scoring goals – and everyone knows it.
Even just watching the Napoli friendly, in which Alisson made his debut, the class and quality of both the Brazilian – who played the ball out from the back so well he made Manuel Neuer look like a goalie who positively hoofed the ball into row Z as a trademark, and the calmness on the ball from Keita was clear from the off.
Alisson, Keita & Fabinho
Alisson’s attributes and worth were clear from the minute he signed on the dotted line, and like Alexis Sanchez, he may be able to play a musical instrument and showcase it on social media – in this case a guitar, but that probably won’t be the highlight of his first six months at his new club.
Keita meanwhile will become a fan favourite in no time. The way he uses the ball, and drives the team forward, looking forward and pushing things on when the time is right is something that Klopp and the fans will appreciate no end.
Likewise Fabinho, who has a wife that will give James Milner a run for his money on Twitter and a clear appetite for success and a rapport with the fans already. Each will bring a huge amount to the side and of course there’s Daniel Sturridge’s 1902954th return from injury.
Daniel Sturridge: A class apart
Sturridge is a world class player when fit – in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find many strikers in the Premier League who could rival him – but being fit has always been the trouble for the former Chelsea player.
It’s that which has caused him so many issues, yet this summer Sturridge has been talking about how he knows now that playing 90 minutes isn’t as important as what he can do for the team when given the chance over a season – and a key goal each game or so in a 20 minute spell on the pitch could be worth more.
He finally seems to understand that, and the limitations his body does have – and if he does, what an option for Klopp that will be.
Of course, waxing lyrical is all well and good – but Klopp and the fans know the time for being the runners up or the nearly-rans is over.
They’ve got the players in they wanted, spent the money and made sure the problem areas in the side are fixed.
They’ve kept the world class forwards they’ve got, the heart in James Milner looks like going on for some time yet – and Reds fans will love that just as much.
And Liverpool have a manager who knows the Premier League inside and out by now.
No more excuses for Liverpool
All of that means they have to deliver this season – excuses aren’t good enough anymore, and while managers like Jose Mourinho get questioned if they go a season without a trophy, Klopp has enjoyed a run of what many would call less scrutiny in that area than some of his colleagues.
That time is over.
The media, pundits, owners and their rivals are well aware of the expectations Liverpool fans have this season – and the ones that Klopp should have given his squad and ability as a manager – meaning success is a must.
Fail this season, and questions really will be asked – as they should, and the answers won’t make for comfortable reading for the German, who once joked he was being called a ‘funny, charismatic, loser’ – the very last thing he wants to be.