Though Liverpool ultimately fell at the last hurdle against Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final, a sense of optimism ripples through Merseyside. The Reds stormed their way to Kiev with a mix of tempestuous energy and lightening quick football, but they now find themselves cresting into unchartered territory.
The best midfield in the Premier League
It would appear the days of underwhelming signings – Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Paul Konchesky et al – have been consigned to the past. Within weeks of their defeat to Madrid, the Reds had acquired the services of Monaco’s Fabinho; a deal that, to the bafflement of fans and media alike, materialised out of nothing. Nabby Keita, of course, was always due to arrive and a midfield trio of Keita, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson is a compelling blend of composure, dynamism and steel. It’s led some to suggest that Klopp now boasts the best midfield in the Premier League, and while this may be a premature prediction, it’s not as silly as it sounds.
Jose Mourinho, no doubt, will continue to be plagued by the Paul Pogba problem. Tottenham Hotspur are set to lose Mousa Dembele, with Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama dependable but hardly dominating midfielders. Unai Emery has brought in Uruguayan youngster Lucas Torreira but how he strives to create harmony between the eccentric Granit Xhaka and attacking endeavour of Aaron Ramsey remains to be seen.
The surreptitious purchase of Jorginho, from under the noses of Manchester City, gives Maurizzio Sarri’s Chelsea a claim – with the former Napoli man set to thrive alongside the indefatigable N’Golo Kante. Perhaps the biggest rebuttal arrives in the form of Pep Guardiola’s City side, yet the frenzy of Klopp’s midfield swamped their blue adversaries in the Champions League semi-finals last year. This may seem little more than a whimsical tangent, but Klopp has constructed a midfield trio that has enormously exciting potential; it is certainly no hyperbole to suggest they could be the best in the division.
Signing Alisson is a significant signal of intent
And now onto Alisson, Liverpool’s new £63 million goalkeeper. It is a strange twist of irony that the only man to better the Brazilian’s record in Serie A last season, in terms of clean sheets, is the very same goalkeeper Liverpool have failed to adequately replace since they let him go. Which is, of course, Pepe Reina; who’s 17 clean sheets betters Alisson’s record by one. More so than the purchase of Fabinho and Keita, this signing is a signal of intent.
If anyone had any illusions about whether Klopp could be ruthless enough, here is your answer. It would not have been surprising to see the Liverpool manager, who often cuts a sympathetic and amiable character, to keep his faith in the error-prone German. Ultimately, though, one glaring statistic will have cleared the fog of sentimentality and made Klopp’s mind up: Alisson made zero mistakes last season. Nada, zilch.
You cannot reach a Champions League final and not feel the weight of expectation pressing down for next season – even if you have lost. That pressure will have increased with three statement signings and the question for the Reds now is what they should, realistically, be targeting. Though Klopp’s squad doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny when one looks past a starting eleven, there is still sufficient quality for authentic assaults on all four competitions.
An opportunity to seize this season
The cup formats will suit Liverpool, not only because they have a starting eleven that can now match anyone in the league on any given day – again, not an overstatement – but because the fervor and passion of the Liverpool crowd can be, and often is, a decisive entity and is whipped up to crescendo in knock-out stages.
Yet Liverpool have an opportunity to seize this season. Momentum is a precious thing in football and if Klopp can harness this power, which galvanised Liverpool’s European odyssey, there is no reason why the Reds cannot, at the very least, put up a credible challenge to Manchester City’s crown.
There is a long-standing joke that the only ship never to have docked in Liverpool’s famous harbour is the Premiership (this was a quip before it changed to the Premier League, for anyone anal enough to care). For the first time in a decade, Liverpool head into a fresh season with a bubbling sense of anticipation about what they could achieve in the league. Brendan Rodgers’ side came oh-so-close, but their title challenge was a surprise.
If Klopp were to navigate his side to a Premier League trophy it would come as no great shock. Riding a wave of boundless optimism is rarely simple, but in Klopp, Liverpool have someone accustomed to the choppy and unpredictable waters of a league crown, with his Borussia Dortmund side usurping the regal Bayern Munich. For Liverpool, the moment is now.