A Detailed Look Ahead to Liverpool’s New Season – Can the Reds Challenge?

Liverpool are about to enter their second full season with the world-renowned and fiercely ambitious Jürgen Klopp at the helm. The German won two consecutive Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund between 2010 and 2012 but has failed to pick up any trophies at Anfield to date. However, Reds fans will be encouraged by the fact that before overthrowing the dominance of Bayern Munich and claiming those two German top-flight trophies, Klopp had led the Black and Yellows to sixth and fifth-place league finishes. There is a feeling that Klopp’s methods are finally clicking at Anfield now, and after a reasonable fourth-place finish last season, Liverpool will now be hoping for an onslaught on the Premier League title.

Last season, Liverpool were adversely affected by the losses of Sadio Mane to Senegal for the Africa Cup of Nations and Philippe Coutinho’s absence around the turn of the year through the ankle injury sustained in the 2-0 defeat of Sunderland in late November 2016. All being well, the dangerous attackers will be available throughout the whole campaign this time, but the addition of £36.9 million signing Mohamed Salah gives Klopp another option in attack. It remains to be seen what Klopp’s preferred formation will be with the former Roma winger now on the books, but there is no doubt that the 25-year-old is the sort of versatile attacker that the Liverpool boss is looking for in his free-flowing, ferocious force in front of goal.

How Could the Attack Line Up?

The addition of Salah has led to speculation over what the best way is to utilise the abundance of attacking options that Liverpool now have at their disposal. The Reds arguably had the most ferocious attack in the league last year when Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino were all available for selection to form Klopp’s front three. Instead of having one main source of goals, the spoils were shared between the forward line, with Coutinho and Mane claiming 13 goals apiece, and Firmino scoring 11 goals. Salah bettered the Anfield trio in terms of output in Serie A last season, as he scored 15 goals and assisted 11 at the Stadio Olimpico club.

Salah has excelled in the Italian top-flight over the past two seasons but had previously failed to make a mark in the Premier League at Chelsea between 2013 and 2015. There is no doubt that the Egyptian is the finished product now, though, and he will be expected to slot straight in on the right wing at Anfield. But what would that mean for the other established players? The most likely solution would be for Klopp to move Mane to the left-hand flank and continue with Firmino at the tip of the trident.

With his technical ability and vision, Coutinho could operate at the most advanced position of a midfield three. This is arguably where the Brazilian is most influential and dangerous, as he fired in nearly 50% of his goals from outside the area last season. In fact, only 43 of the 25-year-old’s 106 attempts on goal came from within the box. The player who has generated interest from a number of top clubs including Paris Saint-Germain is also highly influential from the number 10 position. He created 65 chances last season, which equated to a chance every 34.5 minutes.

Coutinho was the front runner to win the PFA Player of the Year award last season prior to his injury. The former Inter Milan player is at odds of around 20/1 to claim the accolade this time out, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba, and Harry Kane ahead of the Liverpool star in the bookies’ estimations. But if Coutinho can stay free from injury a punt on him could prove to be fruitful. 

If all these skilled attackers are fit and available from the start of the campaign, they could easily fire Liverpool to the top of the league before fixtures across other competitions begin to pile up. The Reds have a favourable start, with a trip to Watford on the opening day followed by the visit of Crystal Palace a week later. This will give the players a chance to click before taking on Arsenal and Manchester City in the two weeks that follow. When the Champions League gets underway in September, though, Klopp may be forced into rotating his attack slightly, and the four-star attackers may not line up alongside one another as frequently.

Time to Say Goodbye to Sturridge?

After the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona in July 2014 for £64.98 million, it seemed that Daniel Sturridge was going to be the key man from then on. The English striker had an excellent season in 2013-14 alongside the Uruguayan and ended the campaign as the second-highest scorer on 21 goals. In the three seasons since that stunning title challenge, however, the injury-prone attacker has only managed to notch 18 goals in the league.

Part of Brendan Rodgers’ downfall had been trying to build the team around Sturridge despite the fact that the England international was absent for the majority of games. Klopp quickly realised that the uncertainty around the 27-year-old’s fitness meant that his team needed to be constructed around players that would be available, rather than constantly waiting for Sturridge to return to action. Now that Klopp has managed to create a system in which an out-and-out striker like the Englishman is not necessarily needed, it is clear that the man who has never quite managed to match his potential is surplus to requirements on Merseyside.

Although Liverpool fans will always be grateful for the memories of that oh-so-close campaign when Sturridge peaked, it may be better for both parties to part company now. Liverpool have proved that they can thrive without Sturridge, but there are plenty of other teams that would most certainly benefit from having a player in the side with such a keen eye for goal. West Ham have shown an interest and were reported to have been lining up a £25 million bid for the forward earlier in the summer. Slaven Bilic will be hugely frustrated by the lack of activity in the transfer window at the London Stadium, and also well aware of the club’s desperate need for a number 9. It would not be surprising to see the Irons or another club go back in for the player. If someone does come in for Sturridge, Liverpool fans should wish him the best of luck and realise that a switch is for the best.

Defensive Problems Need Addressing

There is no doubt that it was Liverpool’s weak defence which prevented them from mounting a serious title challenge last season. They let in an astonishing 42 goals, and the only team in the top seven that conceded more was Arsenal, with 44. Fans will have been encouraged by the Reds’ interest in Virgil van Dijk earlier in the transfer window, which indicated that the club was serious about adding a proven Premier League stalwart defender to their ranks. Liverpool were accused of tapping up the player, though, and now seem to have missed out on his signature. Arsenal are the latest side to be associated with the Southampton centre-half.

Joel Matip was a solid acquisition last summer, and in his 29 appearances, he managed to keep nine clean sheets and only concede 25 goals. He won 88.7% of his tackles and 61.2% of his aerial duels, highlighting just how effective he is for the Reds. But he needs another world-class rock at the back to form a strong partnership alongside. Liverpool fans will be looking across to the blue side of town with a hint of jealousy, after Everton boss Ronald Koeman managed to seal the signature of former Burnley man Michael Keane early in the transfer window. Keane was exceptional for the Clarets last term and won 71.8% of tackles for the newly-promoted side. The England international was signed for a price that could rise to £30 million, but when he pairs up with Ashley Williams in Koeman’s side he could prove to be well worth the outlay.

According to The Express, Liverpool have also had a £36 million bid rejected for the Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, as the Italian giants are reluctant to allow one of their key team members to move on. Again, the fact that a bid has been made is promising, and it seems as though it is a case of when rather than if in terms of Liverpool getting more defensive cover. Other possibilities for Klopp include Ben Gibson of Middlesbrough and Matthias Ginter of Borussia Dortmund. Klopp is rumoured to be a huge admirer of the German international and could use his ties to the Bundesliga club to secure a deal.

Ginter made 26 Bundesliga appearances last season with an average rating of 6.80. He only made 1.5 interceptions and 1.3 tackles per game, however, and Gibson could prove to be the better fit of the two at Liverpool. The Middlesbrough man has Premier League experience and was one of the few strong components of the relegated side.

Should Liverpool be Worrying about the Competition?

Liverpool have by no means stood still in the transfer market, but they may feel slightly concerned about some of the business which is occurring around them. Manchester United have already secured the services of Romelu Lukaku, who is one of the most prolific strikers in the league. The Belgian scored 25 goals and assisted six for Everton last season, and with better service, he could be about to take his game to the next level.

Arsenal also brought in a formidable striker in Alexandre Lacazette, who bagged 28 goals for fourth-placed Lyon. He scored a goal every 86 minute, which was just slightly behind Edinson Cavani, who scored every 85 minutes. Lacazette is just the sort of forward that Arsenal fans have been crying out for, and if the Gunners can keep hold of Alexis Sanchez to play alongside the Frenchman then Arsene Wenger’s side could be firm contenders for the league title. Wenger is also looking to tighten his defence and has entered the race to sign Van Dijk. The north London side were weak at the back the last term and need to fix this if they are to challenge.

Manchester City have snapped up Kyle Walker from Tottenham Hotspur for £50 million, and are also looking to sign Monaco left-back Benjamin Mendy. The full-backs were arguably City’s weakest positions last season and Pep Guardiola is quickly addressing that fact. If the Citizens manage to bring Sanchez to the Etihad Stadium next term they could be a force to be reckoned with and their attack could rival that of Liverpool.

Chelsea are in desperate need of a new striker after Antonio Conte made it clear that Diego Costa wasn’t in his plans for the Blues’ title defence. The Italian’s side may struggle to juggle their new Champions League commitments with defending their league crown, but easily have enough quality to better the campaign of 2015-16.

Spurs have been a formidable force in the top flight ever since Mauricio Pochettino took over at the helm, but some are expecting them to suffer after moving to Wembley from White Hart Lane. The Lilywhites have only won one of their last eight fixtures at the national stadium and could struggle with the transition. They do, however, possess the most lethal striker in the league in Harry Kane, who scored a hugely impressive 29 goals last time out.

Liverpool don’t necessarily need to be worried about the business that other clubs are doing, as long as they acquire the players that Klopp has identified to improve the team. The Reds certainly have an attack capable of winning the league, but without defensive reinforcements, they will be exposed. They do, however, look the strongest they have been under the management of Klopp and could have an excellent season.

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