Jurgen Klopp issued a warning to Liverpool players. Klopp, the ever-charming, serial hugger, kind-hearted bespectacled man and forever optimist, is not usually a purveyor of warnings. But just before the start of the new season, in the pre-match press conference ahead of their Community Shield match against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, Klopp said his players will have to endure increased scrutiny in the coming few months.
The German manager is right. After winning the Champions League title for the sixth time last season and recording 97 points in the last edition of Premier League, it's futile to argue against the spotlight given to the club. Things are expected out of this team once again. More goals, more saves, more defensive solidity and most-importantly winning more than one title.
Is it possible? Theoretically, anything and everything is possible. The catch, however, is in the details.
Liverpool FC of 2019-20
The difference between this season's team and the side that pushed City till the last day in the Premier League title race is negligible. The same-set of players who played a pivotal role last time around are still with the team. The likes of Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Mo' Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have showed no signs of leaving the club anytime soon. Non-performers like Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno have left the club. Upcoming talents like Harry Wilson and Ryan Kent have comeback to their mothership after completing successful loan spells. The lack of substantial transfer activity from the club in the pre-season have caused some sort of disturbance among the pundits and certain section of fanbase. But that shouldn't be a major concern.
One of the significant shifts from the earlier teams is that Klopp's Liverpool cannot be considered as an easy-selling club. Sure, Philippe Coutinho left for greener pastures in Barcelona in a world-record transfer. But the allure of making a name in Liverpool and then jump on the next big opportunity win trophies is definitely on the wane. The Van Dijks and Alissons of the world, the best in the business, have chosen Liverpool not merely as stepping stone. No doubt, the price at which Liverpool were prepared to bring them in certainly played a role. But that's not the only thing. The common objective of the manager and the players was to win trophies, which they did thanks to their Champions League exploits.
The important players are sticking with the team. The depth of the squad is also looking impressive. James Milner, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joe Gomez and Adam Lallana have the experience and proved quite a few times that they have the ability to make impact. Overall, skipper Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Joel Matip and Fabinho have been solid. This season, Naby Keita might find a footing in the Premier League. He didn't have a great first season owing to adaptability issues and injury concerns. He was showing positive signs as the season was coming to a close, but failed to do much after sustaining yet another injury.
Keita has the potential. He has the creative ability to break the defences. He can be the answer to the Coutinho question. If Keita stays fit, gains some confidence and gives his best, Liverpool will improve drastically and that's a frightening prospect.
How to make the season memorable?
The straight forward answer to the question is by winning their first Premier League title. That's the ultimate objective, but as the team found out last time, it's is easier said than done. Even after accumulating 97 points. The number of goals Liverpool's fab three scored in the last two season has played a big role in their transformation. Salah, Mane and Firmino score the bulk of the goals and there's no reason why it can't happen this season. Having signed a new long-term contract with the club, Klopp would expect Origi to be more involved. With Sturridge gone, Origi is the only backup option available for Klopp, unless the club signs somebody before the transfer window closes.
Klopp doesn't like to change his front three unless there's some injury. For the last two seasons, the three forwards have been doing most of the attacking work. Apart from Origi, there's the option of Rhian Brewster as well. While Brewster might have the talent, there's lack of experience of playing big matches.
Klopp has to figure out a way to reduce the workload of his attackers. A lot depends on how the team starts the season. Manchester City, easily the favourites to win the title, don't lose many matches. They start great and maintain the momentum. Liverpool did exactly that in the previous season, and that's why they could give competition to City till the end.
This time around, Klopp has his task cutout. Both Salah and Firmino returned late due to international commitments. Mane is yet to join the squad because of Senegal's run in the Africa Cup of Nations and will miss the Community Shield tie as well as the league opener against Norwich on 9 August. If Klopp can find a way of getting those early points by winning the matches where his first choice front three are missing, then Liverpool would've avoided an early damage to their campaign.
However. the fact remains that Premier League runs for months and a team can definitely overcome a bad start. Start is crucial, but it won't be the only reason for winning the league.
The next step
It's obvious for Liverpool that the next step for the team is to win trophies. The club's growth under Klopp has been tremendous, but failure to add any trophy after the sixth European crown will be a setback for the team. The fans will be gunning for the elusive Premier League title. They will also demand to win competitions like FA Cup and League Cup.
Klopp and his players will be under pressure. To be fair, this is the nothing new for the team. They were under relentless pressure last season and to their credit, they didn't let it affect their performance and came out with really impressive results. They have to follow last year's blueprint to win the matches, only this time, they have to even more relentless in their approach. The pursuit for the trophies has to be intensified, and if they end up with multiple titles by next year, this team would've reached its zenith.
Updated Date: Aug 08, 2019 13:06:54 IST