What Constitutes Success For Liverpool Next Season?

What Constitutes Success For Liverpool Next Season?
Aug 9, 2017

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With the Premier League campaign commencing in just three days, now would be the ideal time to assess the Reds’ chances ahead of the 2017/18 season.

Last season’s 4th placed finish ensured Jürgen Klopp’s side would be returning to the Champions League for the first time since the 2014/15 season – which was seen as the preliminary target before the start of the 2016/17 season. It would be accurate to class this as a success to an extent, but what the club cannot afford is to become the modern day Arsenal and publish books about the season rather than building on it.

Whilst a return to the Champions League has failed to guarantee attraction of marquee signings so far for Liverpool, it could prove to be vital yet to Klopp’s long-term plans at the club for years to come. No doubt the exclusion from both European competitions played a part.

The consensus was that the 50-year-old could have been forgiven somewhat for failing to win two major cup finals in his first 9 months at the club, having inherited an average side from his predecessor Brendan Rodgers, without a full pre-season under his belt. Therefore, it was easy to see why expectations were so high domestically ahead of the 2016/17 season.

Disappointingly though, Liverpool failed to lift a single piece of silverware – thus increasing the wait for a trophy to five years. The Merseysiders were knocked out to Wolves in the FA Cup 4th round and reached the EFL Cup semi-finals before a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Southampton. This saw the German receive his fair share of criticism, with many factors contributing to an underwhelming domestic campaign.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s rivals such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all lifted silverware last season respectively, which has understandably frustrated some supporters – FSG ‘out’ or not.

With the Premier League’s kick off beckoning, this has got some Liverpool fans asking: what does success mean for the club next season?

Last season, one of the factors contributing to Liverpool’s failure to win silverware was a lack of squad depth defensively or a Plan B going forward without their star man, Sadio Mané. The £35 million man added a direct, pacey threat out wide, which the Reds lacked in his absence. Klopp’s refusal to sign another winger in January proved pivotal, as did his stubbornness at left-back.  It wasn’t difficult to see their struggles without Mané – with Liverpool only averaging 1.0 goals per game and a 30% win rate without him in all competitions.

However, Klopp appears to have rectified these areas of weakness, by signing Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson from Roma and Hull respectively. This will add more of an end product and a threat from wide positions. And, with Robertson’s counterpart in Alberto Moreno surprisingly impressing in pre season, that can only add to the depth in the side.

Despite these new acquisitions, Klopp’s side still need another CM who can offer energy, creativity and tempo consistently in the absence of Adam Lallana – as well as a commanding CB who is capable of being a leader at the back. There is no doubting Liverpool have arguably the weakest depth out of the top 6 at the moment, and it is difficult to envisage them as title contenders or European challengers until they can strengthen their defence and midfield. £50 million has been spent this summer so far, far from the supposed £200m transfer war-chest that was implied prior to the transfer window.

Finally, the manager will also need to settle on a formation for domestic games and league games. The 4-3-3 proved ineffectual without Mané and too one dimensional out wide at times – the 4-4-2 diamond proved to be effective in integrating the likes of Coutinho deeper. It will also give Klopp more options at centre-forward in this system. The problem hasn’t been all down to Mané necessarily, as this was showcased in Liverpool’s strong end to the season.

So, bearing in mind Liverpool’s squad depth, what can the Anfield side expect to achieve realistically in 2017/18?

A win against Hoffenheim over both legs in the qualifiers of the Champions League would guarantee qualification for the group stages in Europe’s premier competition. So much has been made from fans about the importance of restoring the long lost “Anfield nights” – but this all hinges on Liverpool’s transfer activity.

With still 22 days of the transfer window remaining, it is difficult to see what can be achieved next season with the Reds still battling it out with other clubs for marquee signings. It’s a question of whether Van Dijk’s desire to join the club will be rebuffed or not by Southampton, with Naby Keïta out of the frame for this window. I do think that he will join, as the club will eventually break their resolve over his desire to join the club – but a title bid is still too far a stretch.

Top 4 will be pivotal for the coming season, as it could prove to shape Jürgen Klopp’s long term development plans at the clubs – both in the transfer window and off the pitch. Failure to qualify will provoke an Anfield inquest. It would be especially frustrating to see Liverpool not build on a promising season in 2016/17 and rest on their laurels this summer. Domestic success should be definitely targeted, as the club have struggled to lift any trophies of this kind in the last decade.

The Champions League will provide Klopp & Liverpool with an interesting but arduous challenge. Expect a few exciting nights, but not a success this time around. Elimination at the first hurdle could have implications on expectations for years to come, which won’t bode well for the club in general. For me, realistically Liverpool really should be aiming for a top 4 finish, another trip to Wembley and at least advancing past the group stages.

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