Premier League 2018-19 preview: Liverpool

EPL countdown: Great expectations for Reds and fans

Klopp's prepared his team to not only build fitness but also come flying out of the blocks

The third part of the build-up to the season that starts on Friday

LONDON • There is expectation on Liverpool every summer, as there should be. Questions about that elusive English Premier League title are an annual feature of almost every pre-season for the Reds.

This summer they carry greater weight. Having rebuilt expectation over the course of his three seasons as Liverpool manager, and invested over £170 million (S$301 million) on new talent ahead of the fourth, Jurgen Klopp cannot and does not shy away from the demand that has intensified on him and his players.

"It would be the next step and we need to be ready for that," he said in an interview with The Guardian.

"I cannot give guarantees here but I know about the expectations and that is completely normal.

"First of all we have to play the football that gives us an opportunity to win something. We cannot talk about winning something before we start the season.

"When you have the complete team together you can build on the basis a little bit more. I am confident we can build on last season."

But their belief goes beyond their spending. Last season was a 'nearly there' campaign for Klopp and his men and they know that they are ready to be first across the finish line this time.

Optimism would be rife even without a successful transfer window that has seen Liverpool strengthen in key areas at considerable expense.

The Brazil international Alisson, signed for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper of £65 million, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri have all been bought for more money than Klopp spent in his seven years at Borussia Dortmund.

  • LIVERPOOL'S TRANSFER BALANCE

  • -£172.3m

  • KEY SIGNING: ALISSON

    Goalkeeper (£65 million; S$115 million): The Brazilian (above) improves a problematic position for Liverpool immediately. The 25-year-old may have cost a world-record fee for a goalkeeper, but given his age and talent, it is surely a worthwhile investment for a club with grand ambitions. Crucially, he brings a sense of reassurance to a backline that can be suspect. He kept 17 clean sheets in 37 Serie A appearances for Roma last season and did not make a single error that led to a goal in those games.

  • KEY PLAYERS IN

    • Fabinho, midfielder (Monaco, £43m)

    • Naby Keita, midfielder (RB Leipzig, £52.75m)

    • Xherdan Shaqiri, forward (Stoke City, £13.5m)

  • KEY PLAYERS OUT

    • Danny Ward, goalkeeper (Leicester, £12.5m)

    • Emre Can, midfielder (Juventus, free)

But their belief goes beyond their spending. Last season was a "nearly there" campaign for Klopp and his men and they know that they are ready to be first across the finish line this time.

The Reds made it all the way to the Champions League final - only to lose to Real Madrid - boosted by the fact that Mohamed Salah had a record-breaking debut season of 44 goals in all competitions.

They also strengthened their defence with the £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk, and the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and blossoming of Andy Robertson are also significant factors for the growing optimism at Merseyside.

An unbeaten home league record last season and scoring four or more goals in 14 matches - the most in 121 years - provide more.

However, despite ending Manchester City's unbeaten league sequence and swatting them aside 5-1 on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-finals, the reality - one that cuts into the feel-good factor at Anfield - is that Liverpool finished 25 points behind Pep Guardiola's champions.

They also took one point fewer than in 2016-17, as Klopp navigated a route to Kiev while unable to rotate his midfield due to several injuries.

Liverpool also finished behind Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United despite losing two games fewer than both.

Twelve draws, compared with United's six and Spurs' eight, represent an obvious area for improvement.

Klopp, however, seems to be more prepared this term.

All managers desire a good start to a campaign, but the German's pre-season programme appears designed to not only build fitness for the months ahead but also to ensure his team come flying out of the blocks.

  • KEY GAMES

  • SEPT 15 Tottenham (away)

    SEPT 29 Chelsea (a)

    OCT 6 Man City (home)

    NOV 3 Arsenal (a)

    DEC 1 Everton (h)

    DEC 15 Man Utd (h)

    JAN 1 Man City (a)

    FEB 23 Man Utd (a)

    MARCH 2 Everton (a)

    APRIL 13 Chelsea (h)

He kept the squad's time in the United States to a minimum, arriving in Charlotte the day before the defeat by Dortmund and flying home immediately after the victory over United in Michigan.

The swift departure was so that Liverpool could have an extra day's work at last week's training camp in Evian.

Klopp referenced the impact of the World Cup and the lengthier absentee lists at Tottenham, City and United several times on the tour.

His squad is healthier by comparison and, mindful of how City left their rivals trailing at the start of last season, he is aiming to follow suit against West Ham, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Leicester City before the first international break.

THE GUARDIAN


Talking points

1 CAN SALAH MAINTAIN HIS FORM?

All eyes will be on the Premier League Player of the Season Mohamed Salah, with managers and defenders poring over videos in search of a way to stop the striker, who bagged a record 32 league goals last season.

Despite scoring twice in Russia, the Egyptian star did not look fully fit at the World Cup and Liverpool will need to use him wisely in the early stages of the new campaign to protect their main attacking threat.

2 TIME FOR KLOPP TO DELIVER

Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015 joking that he was "The Normal One", but there has been nothing pedestrian about the attacking football his team have dished out under his reign.

While the German has delivered back-to-back fourth-place finishes and some memorable victories, the bottom line is the trophy cabinet remains unchanged.

The Reds have lost three major finals under Klopp and that has to change this term.

3 KEEPING EVERYONE HAPPY

Emre Can's departure for Juventus meant Liverpool's midfield needed strengthening and in came Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.

All three appear to be astute signings and give Klopp more options in his favoured 4-3-3 formation. But it could also restrict the playing time for stalwarts Jordan Henderson and James Milner, captain and vice-captain respectively, and unsettle the balance Klopp has managed to create within his squad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'Great expectations for Reds and fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe