Liverpool's A-grade summer means they have no excuse not to challenge for title

Alex Rea 6/08/2018
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The Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid closed one memorable chapter for Liverpool.

But instead of closing the book, the ink remains wet.

Jurgen Klopp is ready to pen a new narrative and the club’s summer has actually been defined by their use of fresh ink with key members of the squad and essential additions signing on the dotted line.

Naturally, the theme of pre-season has been one of optimism and the performances have only worked to swell that feeling.

Could this be actually be their year? To best gain a barometer of what to expect from the Reds this season, we examine how the summer has unfolded for Klopp and his side.

RESULTS

W 5-0 Napoli

W 4-1 Man United

W 2-1 Man City

L 3-1 Borussia Dortmund

W 2-0 Blackburn Rovers

D 0-0 Bury

W 3-2 Tranmere Rovers

W 7-0 Chester FC

Excuses from the big six for failing to challenge this season will be formed around World Cup 2018 exertions.

Liverpool, however, have no such mitigating circumstance. Indeed, the core of the side has remained intact with only Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson requiring extended breaks after their efforts in Russia.

Klopp, who values hours on the training pitch like a currency, has crucially even been able to work with his new recruits for most of the summer.

Fabinho and Naby Keita were there from July 2, while Xherdan Shaqiri joined for the back end of the United States Tour. Alisson even managed minutes against Napoli, and so as expected the Reds have looked strong.

The first four fixtures were glorified training sessions against much-weaker opposition but in the US, aside from the second-half blip against Borussia Dortmund, they’ve looked sharp and slick.

Liverpool cut United and Napoli apart on the counter and the high tempo-high press style has remained at the forefront. Granted, Napoli are much earlier in their prep but the manner in which the Reds ripped through the Italians has indicated what may lay ahead.

TRANSFER BUSINESS

Chester FC v Liverpool - Pre-Season Friendly

Key ins: Naby Keita – Leipzig, £52.75m; Fabinho – Monaco, £43.7m; Xherdan Shaqiri – Stoke, £13.5m; Alisson Becker – Roma, £67m

Key outs: Emre Can – Juventus, free; Jon Flanagan – Rangers, free; Danny Ward – Leicester, £12.5m; Ben Woodburn – Sheffield United, loan

Locked and loaded with the target marked, Liverpool are more expensively equipped than the Expendables and Klopp requires a box-office hit to avoid a flop this season.

The German has tried his best to blanket the expectations but having spent close to £200m over the summer, the big investment simply has to yield a vast payoff.

Liverpool overachieved in reaching the Europa League final in 2016 and did so again to meet Madrid in May, but they will fall well short of expectations if a chasm like the 25-point gap to league champions City appears in 2018/19.

Their weakest points last season have become areas of strength. In midfield, Keita has already shown in pre-season he has the capacity to be one of the finest all-action players around.

Fabinho solves a long-standing issue in the No6 slot, while offering tactical flexibility. Shaqiri has been impressive in a free role against United and Napoli, so could be set to operate as a No10 or in support to the widemen.

Then there is Alisson. The most expensive goalkeeper in the world provided a statement beyond the numbers and if the Brazilian fulfills his potential, it’s hard to find fault in this Liverpool squad. The question now is whether the cracks will appear when the pressure is on.

TWO GOOD

OPTIONS IN RESERVE

Teams win games, squads win trophies. Liverpool’s validity as title challengers will be assessed by the strength of the collective rather than the individual, and a grinning Klopp can smile wider after the performances of some reserve players in pre-season.

Daniel Sturridge is the standout. The 28-year-old has clawed his way back into the picture having looked destined to leave thanks to a series of impressive displays. Crucially, he appears physically fit and mentally more at peace.

His link up with Keita and Shaqiri hallmarked Liverpool’s preparations and he could be of service in the spearhead, out wide or even in a deeper role this season.

Add Sturridge’s reemergence to exhibited qualities of enterprise, class and coolness from Alberto Moreno, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum respectively and the Reds bench appears strong.

PRIMED AND PREPPED

The race can’t be won in 2018, but Liverpool have put themselves in a great spot to make a flying start to the campaign.

The schedule has been designed to ensure the Red machine arrives for the opening day against West Ham with the engine running and revving.

They have progressively upped the gears throughout pre-season and Klopp will have taken note of City’s head start last season. The champions only dropped points twice, two draws, until defeat against Liverpool in January and the impact of the World Cup will be far more damaging for rivals City, Tottenham and Man United.

West Ham, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Leicester City are Liverpool’s fixtures before the first international break and so they have the platform to lay down an early marker.

TWO BAD

INABILITY TO SIGN A NO10

FBL-WC-2018-FRA-ARRIVAL

Liverpool supporters have been spoiled this summer, so you find it difficult to forgive those who crticise the club’s transfer business.

However, replacing Philippe Coutinho for the No10 slot was considered a necessity and the fact Klopp was so close to bringing in Lyon’s Nabil Fekir for the position, points to its significance.

Liverpool score goals but they are far from evenly spread with only the departed Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino scoring more than five league goals last season. In the 2016/17 campaign, twice as many broke the mark.

Shaqiri could step up, Keita may even operate closer to the front three but Liverpool need another creative and dynamic outlet in the attacking third this season and it remains to be seen whether that role has been filled.

DEFENCE IS STILL CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Record deals for a defender and goalkeeper would make you believe Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies have been resolved.

Yet there were some excruciating moments in pre-season, particularly against Dortmund, when they have looked fallible.

Virgil Van Dijk is of course a tower of strength and perhaps with Loris Karius finally dislodged those issues will disappear. The German was in wretched form throughout the summer and looks set to leave, so Alisson’s arrival does calm things down considerably.

But you can’t help but wonder if Klopp will pay for his trust in Lovren and to an extent Joe Gomez.

Van Dijk needs stability alongside him and Lovren has good games, but also bad, while Gomez’s injury history is a worry.

Granted, this is being incredibly picky but don’t be surprised if we’re talking about Liverpool’s defence this season.

VERDICT: A

06 08 Pre-season report card Liverpool

Liverpool have been given a fresh lick of paint, have had all key components functioning together and then on the pitch have shifted through the gears.

As far as pre-season preparations go, with the context of this one being on the back of a World Cup, it’s hard to imagine how this could have gone any better for Klopp.

The hard work hasn’t started yet, though.

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Watch manager Jurgen Klopp heap praise on new goalkeeper Alisson after his Liverpool debut

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has quipped that he hopes new signing Alisson is “as good a goalie” as he is a footballer after his impressive debut.

The Brazil No1 kept a clean sheet as the Reds beat Napoli 5-0 in Dublin on Saturday.

“Yeah, he’s quite a good footballer,” said Klopp. “Hopefully, he’s as good a goalie.”

Watch his answer below.

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Alisson makes smooth start to Liverpool career as Reds hammer Napoli 5-0 in Dublin

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Alisson kept a clean sheet for Liverpool in his first match

Alisson Becker made a smooth start to his Liverpool career with a clean sheet in a 5-0 pre-season friendly win over Napoli in Dublin.

The £65million Brazil goalkeeper played the full 90 minutes with no mishaps, as James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno were all on target for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Everton were beaten 3-2 by Valencia at Goodison Park in their last pre-season game.

Cenk Tosun and Michael Keane were on the scoresheet for the Toffees after Rodrigo Moreno twice put the Spanish side ahead, with Daniel Wass’ 75th-minute goal clinching victory for the visitors.

Arsenal beat Lazio 2-0 in Stockholm with goals from Reiss Nelson and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while a young Tottenham side went down 4-1 against Girona after Lucas Moura had opened the scoring for Spurs.

Newcastle suffered a 1-0 defeat to Augsburg thanks to Michael Gregoritsch’s second-half header while Bournemouth beat Marseille 5-2. Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson, Joshua King (two) and Adam Smith scored for the Cherries.

In Saturday’s other pre-season friendlies involving Premier League clubs, Wolves beat Villarreal 2-1, Crystal Palace claimed a 4-1 win over Toulouse, Cardiff were beaten 2-1 by Real Betis and Southampton lost 3-0 to Borussia Monchengladbach.

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