In the Premier League era, few clubs have experienced as many false dawns as Liverpool. Top players have come and gone, including some of the finest footballers in Europe – Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez, to name but three. Yet none of them have been able to inspire the Reds to Premier League glory.
Under current manager Jürgen Klopp, who replaced Brendan Rodgers in 2015, Liverpool have finished in fourth place in the last two seasons – respectable showings, but nothing like the Reds’ thrilling (though ultimately failed) title bid under Rodgers in 2014.
Until now, Reds fans have been willing to cut Klopp plenty of slack – partly because he comes across as very likeable and charismatic, but also because the fans are aware that it takes time to build a winning team.
The stunning goalscoring exploits of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and especially Mohamed Salah, and the Reds’ scintillating run to last season’s UEFA Champions League final, have also earned the manager plenty of goodwill.
However, there is only so long that a manager can say that his side are a work in progress and need time to develop. As Klopp prepares for his third full season at Anfield, he will likely be acutely aware of this.
There are essentially three areas where Liverpool need to improve dramatically if they are to challenge for the Premier League title:
Firstly, they need to tighten up at the back. Secondly, they need to be more effective when faced with stubbornly defensive opponents. Both of these weaknesses were brutally exposed by Manchester United last season.
Thirdly, the Reds need to stop dropping points against lesser teams – a problem which was made glaringly evident by Stoke City and West Brom towards the end of last season.
In all fairness, Liverpool have done as much as could reasonably be expected to make their defence more watertight, at least in terms of spending. They have broken two transfer records in a single year, making Virgil van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender and Alisson Becker the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Midfielder Fabinho is another potentially excellent defensive signing.
As for the problem of breaking down defensive sides, the Reds’ acquisition of dynamic midfielder Naby Keita – and their pursuit of France winger Nabil Fekir – are definitely steps in the right direction. This would also help to make Liverpool more ruthless against lesser opponents, who tend to employ defensive tactics when they face Klopp’s side.
All in all, this means that Liverpool now have outstanding players in every area of the pitch, although there are still doubts about their strength in depth – especially in terms of cover for their lethal front three of Mané, Firmino and Salah.
It also remains to be seen whether full backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold can emulate last season’s exploits, while Dejan Lovren’s recent claim to be one of the world’s best defenders sits uneasily with some of his past performances for the Reds.
However, it is no exaggeration to say that Liverpool now have arguably their strongest squad in the entire Premier League era. Even when they challenged for the title in 2014, the Reds’ frailties at the back were all too evident – not least in the disastrous 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace towards the end of the season. At least on paper, these frailties have now been addressed.
Of course, this may not be enough to prevail against Pep Guardiola’s City and the other usual suspects – United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal, especially with Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery promising to bring new impetus to the Blues and the Gunners respectively.
Nevertheless, with the players he now has at his disposal, Klopp’s side can reasonably be expected to make at least a compelling bid for Premier League glory.
For the last three years, his team have played some of the most exciting attacking football in England, but so far they have nothing to show for it. If they can only deliver more of the same in the 2018/19 season, Klopp may ultimately go down as just another of Liverpool’s growing number of ‘nearly men’.