Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool enjoyed successful season thanks to attacking trio, but need to be more consistent to progress
When Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool, he wanted four years for a trophy. While the time period might test the patience of fans, it has to be noted that the manager is not faltering at his job.
"Please give us time to do the work. When I sit here in four years I think we may have one title." These were the words of Jurgen Klopp in his first press conference as the manager of Liverpool Football Club. The just-concluded season was Klopp's second full year in charge of the Merseyside club. In two and half seasons of Klopp's reign at Liverpool, the club has qualified for the Champions League twice while making it to the final last season following their Europa League and League Cup finals appearances in Klopp's first season in charge. Above all, the team has been playing eye-pleasing, free-flowing football under Klopp thanks to attacking wonder boys – Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
So it's fair to say that under Klopp, the club has shown consistency, and this means a lot considering they have done it in the highly competitive English Premier League. But let's keep the consistency of the team on one side. Klopp's Liverpool have their problems and these are related to consistency of his players. While the lack of squad depth and a non-existent Plan B are issues Klopp needs to address, a lack of consistency from players is a major area of concern for Liverpool and this was visible throughout the season.
By the time summer transfer window was closed, Klopp had bolstered his attack by bringing players like Salah, Dominic Solanke and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but he had done little to improve Liverpool's shaky defence. Yes, Klopp signed Andrew Robertson, but the left-back took some time to become a regular starter for his club. Similarly, right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold started performing in the latter half of the season. Both players were influential in Liverpool's run to the final of the Champions League. The problem for Liverpool lies at the heart of the defence. The three players – Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan – were prone to committing errors, as they displayed in the previous season.
Liverpool tried to sign Southampton's Virgil van Dijk at the start of the season, but the deal fell through. Klopp and the management's failure to go for another player in place of Van Dijk had serious repercussions as the defenders were guilty of making glaring errors. Take the example of Lovren, who committed not one but two silly mistakes in the defence in a match against top-four rivals Tottenham where they suffered a humiliating 4-1 defeat. It's not just blatant mistakes, the centre-backs were not getting the basics right with their positioning as well. This was visible in the very first match against Watford where Liverpool conceded a late set-piece goal to draw the match 3-3.
Klopp tried to fix the issue with the record-signing of Van Dijk in the January transfer window. The big Dutchman was quick to settle down and showed his class in crucial matches, especially in Europe. That being said, Liverpool need improvement in defence. Matip and Klavan are at best second-choice and one of them is likely to leave next season. Lovren, on the other hand, has to do more to warrant a place in a club like Liverpool. Against Real Madrid in Kiev, Lovren showed why Klopp trusts him so much to do the job at the back. On his day, Lovren can be as good as anybody, but inconsistency plagues him and he needs to find a cure. The ideal way for Klopp would be to find another centre-back in the summer and make Lovren work his way into the team. The management might not permit a big transfer like Van Dijk so Klopp has to find cheaper options. It's going to be a tough task but Klopp has done a brilliant with Robertson so there's no reason why he can't do it again with a centre-back.
The bigger headache for Klopp is when he takes a decision on goalkeepers next season. Liverpool started with Simon Mignolet but then replaced him with Loris Karius midway through the season. Both goalkeepers had their own set of problems and just when Karius had started to prove his worth, he did a..let's call it a Rob Green. Karius committed not one but two blunders on the biggest night of his career against a club of Real Madrid's pedigree in the final of the Champions League. Not only did his game end in tears, but Karius now faces questions over his future at the club. Klopp is not the kind of manager who'll go berserk on his players. But here, he's under pressure to fix the goalkeeping problem. Going back to Mignolet will be a backward step, and Karius needs to prove himself all over again. There are already rumours about the club being interested in signing Stoke City's Jack Butland, who might not be a bad option.
The thing with Butland is that he won't come cheap and Liverpool need to realise that they need to invest big if they want to fix their goalkeeping issues. A club like Liverpool, which has ambitions to win titles should have a world-class goalkeeper. When Karius came to Liverpool, his development wasn't complete. And the way Klopp prefers his team to play, it puts a lot of responsibility on the gloveman. An experienced player with proven capabilities is the need of the hour for Liverpool.
Liverpool were somewhat rattled by the departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January, but on the field, they didn't miss him much. Unlike Brendon Rodgers' team, Klopp's Liverpool plays to a system. Therefore, even if a key player departs, it won't impact the team. Summer signing Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up to take the responsibility in the midfield and did a phenomenal job in his first season with the club. The midfielder suffered a terrible knee injury in April which ended his season and World Cup hopes, but he's the one suited for Klopp's philosophy. The likes of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum have done enough for their team this season while Adam Lallana did not play much due to injury. Emre Can might not play another match for Liverpool but in Naby Keita, Liverpool have an able replacement if not an upgrade.
Liverpool's heartbeat though is the front three. Special accolades for Salah, who took the club, the Premier League and the footballing world by storm with his scintillating display in his debut season with Liverpool. Scoring 40 plus goals with a record-breaking 32 in Premier League, Salah not only proved he's world class, but also one of the best to be playing the game of football. His exploits have led to him being compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but that's a bit of a stretch. What Salah will do next is what will define him as a player. He has the ability to be world's best player, all he has to do is to continue in the same vein in the upcoming seasons. The spotlight was on Salah for most of the season, but Mane and Firmino also deserve a lot of credit for their crucial goals in the Premier League and in the Champions League. They might not be flashy on the field but they play a huge role in making Klopp's system work with their relentless running. What would be an excellent addition to the front three is Lyon's Nabil Fekir.
When Klopp came to Liverpool, he wanted four years for a trophy. While the time period might test the patience of fans, it has to be noted that the manager is not faltering at his job. The likes of Manchester City and Manchester United have the financial might that affords them the luxury of spending big. With Klopp's way, Liverpool are challenging the big clubs of Europe without spending a fortune on players. But he should know that the club needs changes in order to defeat inconsistency.
The 58-year-old Scot surpassed expectations in his second spell at the Hammers securing them a place in next season's Europa League with 65 points, their highest Premier League tally.
Buendia, 24, won Championship player of the year this season, scoring 15 goals and providing 16 assists, as Norwich romped straight back to the Premier League.
Asian Champions League: AFC confirm revised group, schedule after Australian clubs pull out of tournament
Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar placed in the top six in the A-League regular season to qualify for the domestic playoffs, which start 11 June and are scheduled to conclude on 26 June, clashing with the Champions League preliminary and playoff stages, and prompting their withdrawal from the tournament on Friday.