Splashing over £200 million on star signings in 2018, Liverpool look as good as they have under Jürgen Klopp, with many suggesting that this is the year in which they mount a serious title challenge.
With many Premier League teams rising to the top and adding key figures, the 2018/19 season has prospects of a blockbuster campaign with many teams vying for the top spots. However, given the Reds’ competitiveness for a second-place finish last season, as well as their progression to the Champions League final, slight improvements made this summer could send them to their first ever modern era domestic title.
Given the figures spent by the Merseyside club in 2018, it is very likely that most of their transfer business is over. This means that we can look at their squad as it stands and analyze the areas of the pitch where they may fall short in a title bid, as well as those which could push them over the line.
Liverpool spent a world record £56 million on goalkeeper Alisson, arguably the most impressive in last year’s Champions League- his club, AS Roma, reached the semifinals. One would hope that this solves their long-standing goalkeeping problems given Loris Karius’ mishaps in the Champions League final and Simon Mignolet’s struggles since joining the club.
It remains unclear as to whether the goalkeeping coach or the players who have been signed are the problem, and if it is the former, Alisson’s signing will be a massive problem. However, given that they had the confidence to spend a jaw-dropping amount on the Brazilian, this signing is highly likely to solve their problems and give Karius or Mignolet a chance to rediscover their best outside the spotlight.
Nathaniel Clyne missed most of last season with a long-term injury and allowed the young Trent Alexander-Arnold to establish himself as Liverpool’s starting right-back. Starring in the role, Alexander-Arnold looks set to continue there for the Reds.
Clyne may be better off seeking new pastures, as Liverpool are blessed with new-signing Fabinho and former Charlton defender Joe Gomez, both of whom are able to play at right-back. However, Klopp may also opt to give him more playing time in exchange for the chance to win trophies at a big club, because he will not be able to move to a better side. There were doubts surrounding his abilities as a top-level fullback before his injury, but if those can be solved, he would add significant depth to the side.
Andrew Robertson cemented his place as one of the best fullbacks in England during his debut campaign at Anfield last season, playing left-back. Alberto Moreno also showed improvements in 2017/18 after being heavily criticized for the majority of his Liverpool career.
James Milner spent most of the 2016/17 campaign at left-back before Robertson’s signing allowed him to become the utility player he is known to be. He will likely split his time between left-back and central midfield, but he is also capable of playing right-back at a push.
Perhaps Liverpool’s weakest area of the pitch, the only standout player at centre-back is Virgil van Dijk, who joined for £75 million in January. The Dutchman is an incredible, towering defender with ridiculous distribution of the ball, but the biggest question is who will partner him at the back.
Joël Matip had an excellent first campaign after joining for free in 2015/16 but he struggled with injuries in his second season. Dejan Lovren represented Liverpool in the Champions League final and Croatia at the World Cup final, which he was not reluctant to point out, but he left wanting in both matches, as he has on many occasions for Liverpool.
Should Matip stay fit, he and van Dijk would be an extremely technical and formidable partnership, and it is worth testing them at the highest level this season. The aforementioned Joe Gomez, who will likely spend a lot of his time at right-back, will hope he finally gets a shot here, his preferred position. Ragnar Klavan is an experienced, if unspectacular, squad filler.
New signings Fabinho and Naby Keïta, signed for a combined £94 million, provide youth, world class upside and frightening defensive steel to a midfield that needed reinforcements. Both are guaranteed starters and should light up the Premier League if given time to settle into new pastures.
Joining them when fit should be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who impressed thoroughly after his signing from Arsenal was criticized by many. He brings a unique set of attributes to the middle of the park having started his career as a winger.
Jordan Henderson has proved his credentials at Liverpool by showing his consistency in the middle of the park over the last two campaigns. Criticized far too much for his performance in England’s World Cup encounter with Croatia, he will be an important leader for a very young Liverpool side.
Joining him is Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana, who have showed their attacking abilities from the centre of the park on multiple occasions, as well as Milner, who will be the undertaker of tactical roles in the midfield.
Should Fabinho and Keïta find their best form, this position will be a hit for Liverpool and could win them their first major trophy in many years. However, should they struggle to bed in, they may be left short of the best sides in the country with Henderson and Milner the only true alternatives after Emre Can’s departure.
Keeping last season’s sensational attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané fit and firing is the key to any prospective trophies at Anfield. In case one loses fitness or form, Xherdan Shaqiri has been signed for a bargain fee to add another player with x-factor and Premier League experience.
It is up to Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke, among a cast of youngsters, to fill the rest of Liverpool’s attacking options. Half of them will not be at the club once the season starts but at least two of them must find form in order for Klopp’s men to maintain form on all fronts. Oxlade- Chamberlain can also shift out wide but then the starting midfield unit looks slightly short.
The notion that this is the best Liverpool side in years is undoubtedly correct. Jürgen Klopp has consistently produced a brand of attacking football which throttles big teams, there are genuine quality players in the side, and the deep Champions League run of last season left the players with a concrete example of their capabilities.
Overall, if they fall short, it will be due to a lack of requisite quality at centre-back, a rough acclimatisation period for Fabinho or Keïta, or the inability to replicate a member of either the front three or midfield three after a key injury or suspension.
Supporters of the club should be ambitious and content heading into the new season, though; it is not a great surprise that many have made them title favourites in England, and for the first time in years, it is out of the realms of possibility that these predictions could come to life.
Follow me on Twitter @aaronm830