It’s been a difficult summer for Liverpool with their top stars returning late, no new signings to speak of and a poor pre-season record, but is there enough for Jurgen Klopp to be worried about the coming season?
After an amazing campaign last season with a record Premier League points haul and a sixth Champions League title to celebrate – it’s been back down to earth with a bump over the summer with a string of bad results.
The Reds have so far beaten only Tranmere and Bradford City in a below-par pre-season schedule, and a bad defeat by Napoli led to some fans voicing their concerns about the coming campaign, and the lack of transfer activity certainly hasn’t helped.
It’s only pre-season, and Klopp has been keen to point out that results are not concerning him as he looks for fitness above performances, but there’s no doubt that he has a few headaches to consider ahead of what is a crucial season.
Such achievements last season will be tough to replicate this time around, and anything other than winning the Premier League will be seen as a disappointment, so has Klopp taken a massive gamble by not bringing in new players, this season of all seasons?
Front three feel the strain
In Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool have possibly the most dynamic three-pronged attack in Europe having fired the Reds to back-to-back Champions League finals, but they must be close to running on empty after a marathon spell of constant action.
The three forwards haven’t had a decent break for two years, having played until the final game of the 2017/18 season in Kiev, then playing in the World Cup in Russia, before another enthralling season with Liverpool going right until that June 1 night in Madrid.
All three then played in international tournaments at the Copa America and African Cup of Nations, with Mane and Firmino (along with Alisson Becker) reaching their finals. That’s a lot of football to take in and means all three will return having little or virtually no pre-season.
At best you’re talking about a slow start to the season, at worst you’re thinking that one or more of their star players could pick up injuries. When you think that Divock Origi and the inexperienced Rhian Brewster are their man replacements – that could spell trouble.
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This is not a new problem, Liverpool knew as soon as they lifted the trophy in Madrid that they’d have to go and play in the Club World Cup, which will entail a trip to Qatar in December – inconvenient to say the least.
While that ticks the FIFA box, UEFA have helpfully arranged for the European Super Cup to be held in Istanbul, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea fans, who already had to schlep all the way to Azerbaijan to watch them beat Arsenal, have to trek to Turkey for the privilege.
Throw in the Community Shield to open the new season and Liverpool have both a busy start and a jam-packed Christmas schedule to deal with – and that’s all with relatively the same squad as they had last year.
Maybe the likes of Salah, Firmino or Mane will skip one or two of these games to keep them fresh for domestic matters.
Liverpool's December fixtures
- Dec 4 - Everton (H)
- Dec 7 - Bournemouth (A)
- Dec 14 - Watford (H)
- Dec 18 - CWC Semi-Final (A)
- Dec 21 - CWC Final/3rd (A)
- Dec 26 - Leicester City (A)
- Dec 28 - Wolves (H)
Not building on success
There’s an argument among some critics that Liverpool are missing a trick if they don’t try and bring another big-name player to Anfield on the back of their Champions League success in Madrid.
Liverpool must be one of the most attractive clubs to sign for in Europe right now – as they have the draw of playing for a manager like Klopp, in front of a magnificent crowd at Anfield for the European champions who also have the Ballon d’Or favourite in their ranks.
What better time to add another world-class player to try and catch Man City? City themselves have broken their transfer record this summer for Rodri, surely Liverpool should have followed suit by perhaps adding another centre back, or a play-making midfielder of forward, which is a well-known gap in their squad?
Like ever, though, these questions will only be fully answered in May.
VAN DIJK CAN'T BE CAUGHT
The case for optimism
A ball has yet to be kicked in the new season, so it’s worth noting that Klopp has done virtually everything right so far in his Liverpool tenure, and he’s earned the right to do things his way. He’d also have answers for all the problems that are piling up for him.
Form: If pre-season means little for most managers, for Klopp it means even less, he’s all about fitness and we’ll only really know what shape his side’s in when they run out against Man City in Sunday’s Community Shield.
Missing men: Salah, Mane and Firmino haven’t been present in pre-season so far, so you cannot judge a team really without their three top stars. They’ve also been pretty durable during their careers so far and Premier League teams these days will be monitoring every fibre of their being to try and head off possible injury worries.
Returning stars: There are a number of new signings and returning injured players who could and should make a difference this season – Naby Keita being a prime example - with Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the other two big ones. If Klopp can get full seasons out of those three then Liverpool are in business.
Team spirit: Was huge for the Reds last season, and a dressing room is a difficult environment to get right, it’s a habitat that’s easily upset by the introduction of a big-name signing. It’s also hard to think of many players who’d walk into Liverpool’s starting XI, and top players are not the types to sign up just for a spot on the bench.
Matthijs De Ligt would’ve been an obvious one to partner his international team-mate Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, but his agent always had a plan for him, and his wage demands would’ve meant him actually earning more than Van Dijk…
Klopp, therefore, is not one to panic, he has his problems, what premier League manager doesn't, and while they look a way behind Man City right now he's confident they can hit the ground running.
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