Five questions Jurgen Klopp must answer if Liverpool are to win the Premier League title

Alex Broun 21/07/2018
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Will this be the season of the Reds?

Twenty-eight years.

Two decades plus another eight.

That’s how long it has been since Liverpool last won England’s top division.

In fact, it was so long ago the last time Liverpool did lift the title it was still called the First Division – the Premier League didn’t even exist.

To put that in perspective, during that period arch rivals Manchester United have won a grand total of 13 titles.

Liverpool went close with second place finishes in 1990-91 under Kenny Dalglish, 2001-02 under Gerard Houllier, 2008-09 under Rafa Benitez and the painful 2013-14 campaign under Brendan Rodgers, still raw for Reds fans, where Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip saw the title slip away for another year – or more.

Jurgen Klopp has been at the Reds for two and a half seasons but the best he has managed is fourth place in 2016-17 and again last season.

The German has gone big in the transfer market, bringing marquee signings in the shape of the impressive Naby Keita (signed in June 2017 but only just arrived), Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and a much needed goalkeeper, Alisson.

As Alex Rea pointed out in his insightful comment recently, Liverpool are running out of excuses for not winning the league.

But if the Reds are to break their long long drought, here are five questions Jurgen Klopp must answer.

1. What is the mid-field formation?

Even though Klopp has stunned many with his signings in this transfer window, many Reds fans are still gnashing their teeth over the one that got away – Nabil Fekir.

The Lyon captain was supposedly so close to signing that Liverpool had already recorded the promotional video to announce his arrival.

Fekir had been earmarked to play the attacking midfield role vacated by Philippe Coutinho, supplying the dangerous front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

But without Fekir, who now slots into that role? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have fitted but he has now been ruled out for the season with injury.

Adam Lallana is a possibility but is still working his way back from his own injury woes.

Ben Woodburn is perhaps still too young.

Or he could try to re-jig Jordan Henderson, pushing him further forward, or even Daniel Sturridge, pushing him further back.

There is no doubt Klopp has some impressive midfielders at his disposal – Keita, Fabinho, Henderson, James Milner, Lallana, Woodborn (if Klopp decides he is indeed a midfielder), Gini Wijnaldum and even youngster Curtis Jones, who has been outstanding in pre-season games.

But just how the tall German fits them together will play a large part in whether Liverpool are to make a sustained title challenge.

2. Will the leaky defence finally hold?

With the purchase of Brazil No1 Alisson, and the bedding in of centre half Virgil van Dijk, the Reds now finally have the basis of a sturdy defence.

The very impressive Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson slot into the full-back roles – and the self-nominated ‘best defender in the world’ Dejan Lovren partners the big Dutchman in the centre.

But despite his high opinion of himself, as all Reds fans know too well, Lovren is prone to shocking errors.

When Lovren is good he is very very good, but when he is bad he commits howlers.

Van Dijk’s presence seems to have given him some confidence and composure at the back end of last season – and Lovren’s World Cup exploits were impressive – but can the passionate Croat hold it together over an entire campaign?

A few brain explosions in a couple of key matches can be enough to cruel yet another seasom. The jury is out on this one.

3. Does the squad have enough depth?

The Premier League campaign runs over an astonishing 10 months and to be serious title contenders you need to have not just one but two first class XIs.

With the strain of fighting on four fronts, at least at the beginning of the season, you need quality back-up in every position.

Klopp has certainly built some depth – and his squad is light years away from even Brendon Rodgers’ tenure – but is it enough?

A look at a possible First and Second XIs raises some doubts.

Liverpool possible First XI: Alisson; Robertson, Lovren, Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold; Fabinho, Keita, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Salah.

Possible Second XI: Karius; Moreno, Matip, Gomez, Clyne; Lallana, Milner, Wijnaldum; Sturridge, Solanke, Shaqiri.

The First XI is impressive but there are not too many Premier League teams who wouldn’t mind a crack at that reserve side.

A few injuries to key players and the Reds cupboard starts to look decidedly bare.

4. Can Salah be a second season wonder?

No one needs to be reminded of Mohamed Salah’s record breaking efforts in 2017-18. But defences will be so much better prepared for the Egyptian’s threat this season.

And as was seen in the Champions League final, an experienced defender may be able to nullify the Salah threat in the most brutally professional manner.

Salah’s shoulder is sure to be tested from the very first match against West Ham on August 12 – as it will be every week until May next year.

The Premier League is littered with one-season wonders and Klopp will have a real challenge to make sure Salah’s name is not added to that list.

Tactically Klopp can assist the Pharaoh King by mixing up his positioning, using him in a different way to last season, perhaps playing more centrally.

This could be key as Salah will be a marked man going into August and if the opposition know where to find him and are prepared, it could spell the Reds downfall.

5. Can they be more efficient against smaller sides?

Liverpool, as we have seen on those European nights, are a big-match team.

With a packed house, in full voice and the stakes high – the Reds are very hard to beat.

But it is the middle of a sleepy Sunday afternoon that is often Liverpool’s undoing.

Time and time again teams came to Anfield last year determined to ‘park the bus’ and time and time again they took home a point on their bus home with them.

Even with the fab four of Salah, Mane, Firmino, Coutinho/Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Reds still could not break teams down – the game often slowing to such an extent that they put themselves and their usually raucous fans to sleep.

If the Reds are to stand any chance of going the distance in 2018/19 – they must become more ruthless against these low-lying clubs and find a way to if not shift the bus, then go around it.

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Liverpool's Naby Keita believes side has enough quality to challenge Man City for Premier League title

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Keita is confident about Liverpool's title challenge this season..

Naby Keita has spoken of his “huge desire to win” as he begins life as Liverpool’s first number eight since Steven Gerrard – a player he used to pretend to be as a child.

Keita formally completed his move to the Merseyside outfit from RB Leipzig on July 1 after a deal was agreed between the clubs in August last year.

Liverpool last month announced he had been given the number former captain Gerrard wore with such distinction at the club before moving to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2015, and which had not been allocated to anyone since.

It was also revealed Gerrard had made a surprise presentation to Keita of a number eight shirt at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground last August.

It was quite a moment for the 23-year-old Guinea midfielder, who has joined a club “loved” by his father, Sekou, and as a boy in Conakry would play football wearing a replica Reds shirt, wanting to be like Gerrard.

Speaking this week, Keita said: “He (his father) has spoken to me loads since I signed for Liverpool about how much he loved them. As a kid we used to play wearing a Liverpool shirt in the streets. He had that love of Liverpool then.

“Because I’m a midfielder and Gerrard was always the boss of the side, it couldn’t be anyone else other than Steven Gerrard – that’s who you’d be when you were playing, wanting to be like him.”

Keita will don Gerrard's iconic number eight jersey.

Keita will don Gerrard’s iconic number eight jersey.

Keita says eight was always “special” for him as it was the number his father, who played at “a decent amateur level” in Guinea, wore – it was also that worn by ex-Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, the player he describes as his “overall favourite”.

He added of the presentation by Gerrard, who left his job with Liverpool’s academy this summer to manage Rangers: “It was a big shock. Steven said, ‘Everyone’s going to be here for you, to help you develop’.

“I’m aware it’s a big number here and I’m very excited to wear it. But it’s also something I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself with.”

While expressing his admiration for the skill of Iniesta, Keita – also a big fan of another former Barcelona man, Deco – has stressed his belief that “as a midfielder you need to have that aggression as part of your game”.

And he said when asked to describe himself as a player: “I’m someone who has this real winning mentality. I have a huge desire to win.

“That’s why I’m aggressive in a positive sense on the field.”

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season, 25 points behind champions Manchester City.

Asked if he felt his new club have the quality of squad to compete with City this season, Keita said: “I know we have enough quality.

“It’s all about having the mindset and desire to want it and fight for it enough. I think that goes as long way, having that desire and belief.”

Keita was sent off four times last season, and having been reminded of that, he said it was “something I need to be aware about” before adding: “Part of my game is winning the ball back and that’s all I was trying to do.”

And he said when asked about the physicality of the Premier League: “I don’t think that physical aspect is going to have a negative effect on me at all.

“I’ve watched a lot of English football and I’m getting used to this kind of physical aspect. Through the process of the pre-season friendlies, hopefully I’ll be up to speed with it. Winning the ball back is something I like.”

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Jurgen Klopp's revamped Liverpool look to go again and get over nearly season

David Cooper 20/07/2018
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Naby Keita is part of a new-look Liverpool midfield.

Last season was so nearly the one Liverpool fans had been waiting for.

A glorious but unexpected run to the Champions League final on their return to the competition ended in defeat to Real Madrid, and highlighted why Jurgen Klopp’s side were not capable of sustaining a title challenge.

They were one of only two teams to beat runaway Premier League winners Manchester City, and achieved the feat twice when pitted against them in a European quarter-final.

But they still finished 25 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s team because of inconsistencies, mainly due to a lack of quality and depth within the squad.

Over the summer Klopp has moved swiftly to address that issue by significantly strengthening the spine of the team.

The expected capture of Alisson for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper is a major upgrade on Loris Karius, whose two mistakes cost the Reds in the Champions League final, and Simon Mignolet, and should go a long way to solving a problem which has been an issue for several years.

Virgil van Dijk, the world’s most expensive defender, visibly improved the team in the five months since joining in January from Southampton and his influence will grow further.

In midfield, Klopp, who expects the knee injury sustained by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in April to rule him out for the entire season, has doubled up with the acquisitions of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig and Fabinho from Monaco.

“Naby comes from Leipzig, knows the football philosophy, it’s a very similar one,” Klopp said.

“Monaco played a completely different style, so Fabinho probably needs more time to adapt to that.

“If you want to be part of our squad you need to be good, and these two boys are.”

Keita will provide the energy and drive lost in Oxlade-Chamberlain’s absence, while his fellow new arrival adds a defensive screen – something Liverpool have not had since the days of Javier Mascherano.

If Adam Lallana can stay fit after a number of niggles last season then he will do the same, while another new signing – Switzerland winger Xherdan Shaqiri – offers an option out wide to cover for Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane.

Should Klopp get anywhere near a full campaign out of the injury-plagued Daniel Sturridge, who has looked sharp in pre-season, it would make the side even more potent than they were in the previous campaign and negate the need to strengthen a forward line which scored 90 goals between them.

Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes Klopp has finally assembled a squad which should be able to challenge City on a more consistent basis.

“I think Liverpool are very close, I think they are knocking on the door,” he told Press Association Sport.

“They have a terrific manager leading the charge and they have started making improvements and, as a fan and an ex-player, it is great to see.”

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