After a summer in which nearly all of the Premier League’s top sides seem to have strengthened both their managers and squads, most fans seem very optimistic about their teams’ chances this year. However, the reality is that, whilst several of these changes may prove worthwhile, there will undoubtedly be some teams who don’t find instant success this season.
However, the quality of managers being brought into the league will mean Jürgen Klopp and his much changed Liverpool team will have their work cut out to challenge at the top end of the league this season, although, as I will explain, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the forthcoming campaign.
The last time Liverpool entered a Premier League campaign without the considerable burden of at least half a dozen of extra matches in European competition, was the 2013/14 season, which proved to be one of the best in recent years. Brendan Rodgers oversaw a team of high energy, fast starts, and of course Luis Suarez, who finished second in the league, with just several late ‘slip-ups’ preventing Liverpool from clinching the title.
However, unlike 3 years ago, Liverpool have invested more wisely in the transfer market, bring in some experienced players, namely the Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan and 39 year old goalkeeper Alex Manninger, to ensure that Klopp’s team, if they do find themselves in a similar position to the 2013/14 season, are able to rely on these players to avoid a similar fate. The addition of the 24 year old Cameroon centre-back Joel Matip should also provide Liverpool with the thing that cost them so dearly 3 years ago: a strong, organised defence.
Despite scoring more than 100 goals that year, the Reds conceded 50, and it was this leaky defence that ultimately cost them the title. Hopefully, Klopp and this year’s squad can take confidence from the 2013/14 season, and accompanied by the obvious bonuses that come with less fixtures – less need for squad rotation, more time to prepare for league matches, and fitter and less fatigued players – Liverpool will be able to replicate at least some of the successes that saw Brendan Rodgers’ team come so close to Premier League glory.
For the first time since taking over the reins at Liverpool last October, Klopp has had a full pre-season with his squad. This will have a huge impact on the way the Reds line up this season, as Klopp will be able to decide which players can, and those that cannot cope with his high intensity, ‘gegenpressing’ style and therefore make the necessary changes to his squad.
Klopp will also have been helped in his preparations by the experience he gained from his time at Anfield so far, and he will now feel as if he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team, as well as the players he can afford to let go. This could have contributed partly to the departures of midfielders Joe Allen and Jordan Ibe, as well as the recent arrival of the pacey Senegal midfielder Sadio Mané, who, judging by his time at Southampton, is a perfect fit for Klopp’s style.
The final reason as to why I am optimistic for this season is that Jürgen Klopp has brought seven new players into the squad, giving Liverpool the squad depth that they often lacked in parts of last season. In particular, the additions of Marko Grujic and Georginio Wijnaldum highlight Klopp’s intentions make his squad more adaptable to different situations. Both players are midfielders, but they possess clearly different qualities to one and other.
Grujic is a tall, strong and muscular central midfielder who has been added by Klopp to provide some extra physicality to the team, which was clearly missing in some games last season. In particular, the away game against Watford, in which the Reds lost 3-0, the Hornets dominated the game by sheer power and physical strength.
By deploying Grujic in the midfield against teams who rely on their physicality, Klopp will hope that the Serbian can help prevent a repeat of that match this season. On the other hand, Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum relies much less on his physical capabilities, and more on his technical ability and skill. Much the opposite of Grujic, the Dutchman will likely be handed a start against the smaller, less powerful teams, like Arsenal. There are many other examples of where Klopp can change his squad to suit the opposition, such as the addition of Mane, who will rival both Firmino and Lallana for a place in the starting eleven.
Last season, Liverpool simply did not have the squad depth to be able to change their line-ups to suit on the team they were facing, so it will surely be a huge bonus this season to be able to do this.