Can Liverpool Make The Top 4?

Can Liverpool Make The Top 4?
Jul 31, 2016

Champions League Liverpool

2016/17 is going to be an interesting season for Liverpool. Following on from a season that saw manager Jurgen Klopp arrive, the Reds reach 2 finals and a much better style of play develop, Liverpool now have a platform on which they can build. But, is it enough to just gradually get better? To just edge closer to the teams above them? Or is it vital that they qualify for the Champions League next season? The upcoming campaign will be the 6th time in 7 years that the 5-time European Cup/Champions League winners will not have been in Europe’s elite club competition, which clearly isn’t good enough for a club the size as Liverpool. So the question is, can Liverpool make it back into the top 4 next season? Here are 3 reasons why they can, and 3 reasons why they can’t:

Why they can:

1- No Europe

It may seem odd to start a piece on why Liverpool can qualify for Europe by pointing out they aren’t in it this season, but this will be a big factor in Liverpool’s Premier League campaign. The last time the Reds had no European football to deal with, in 2013/14, they finished second in the league and comfortably qualified for the Champions League. The main reason for that was the fact they had very few distractions. Apart from the FA Cup and League Cup, two competitions they were knocked out of in the early stages, Liverpool were able to just concentrate on the league. They had a week to recover and to rest between games, which gave them plenty of time to prepare properly and get themselves into the best possible mental and physical state to go into games, even the ones against the so called ‘lesser’ opposition which have been the games Liverpool have messed up in during the Premier League era.

Fewer games also means fresher players and a reduced chance of injuries. In the latter part of last season Liverpool were playing on a weekend and in midweek for what seemed like months on end, and some players struggled to cope with the 63 games that the Reds played in total. For example, Philippe Coutinho was visibly tired by the time the Europa League final came around and that massively effected his performances and the threat the team offers. That won’t be the case next season, or shouldn’t be anyway. Of course there will be players who lose form or pick up a knock here and there, that’s just a part of football, but it will occur much less frequently. Injuries won’t be caused by the body being overworked and players won’t be as tired from the amount of football, which may lead to better performances for longer periods of the season from both players and the team collectively and will hopefully mean that the first choice XI will be able to play more often, giving the Reds the best chance of achieving a top 4 spot and potentially even more.

 

2- Jurgen Klopp

Despite only finishing 8th last season, Klopp had already got the team playing in a style that resembled ‘his style’. Performance levels picked up very soon after his arrival but it was consistency that the side struggled with, partly because it took the players a while to get to grips with the new system, partly because some players didn’t fit tin with the way Klopp wants football to be played and partly because of injuries. Even so, the German guided the Reds to two cup finals in his first 7 months in charge, and although both finals were lost, it showed he can take a team and give them the confidence to challenge the top teams and be successful.

Over the summer, Klopp has built a squad which is now his. He recently said ‘’there can be now excuses (for failure) next season, this is my squad now’’ which shows he’s happy with what he has available to him and he believes he has the tools to create a winning side. The signings haven’t been huge, especially when you compare it to what Manchester United have done during the transfer window, but they are players he has chosen and brought into the club for a particular reason. Liverpool fans will just have to trust him that the signings were made because they will make a big difference, and after what he did with limited funds over a 7-year spell at a Borussia Dortmund who had just avoided relegation not long before his arrival, there’s absolutely no reason why fans shouldn’t have every ounce of faith in him to create a similar type of story at Liverpool. Yes, there may be other big name, experienced managers in the league and there may be teams that have better players but another thing Klopp showed at BVB was that he was comfortable being the underdog and going to toe-to-toe with the ‘better’ teams, as he showed when his old side beat Bayern Munich to the league title a few times during his time there, so it won’t bother him if Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs etc. are tipped to finish above the Reds. Taking all of this into consideration, and after the promising signs his side showed last season, just imagine what he could do with the squad he has built next year…

 

3- Squad Depth

For years now, Liverpool have not had a big enough squad or a squad filled with enough quality to compete in the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and whatever other competitions they may have been in. They have had a good full strength starting XI, but beyond that their options have been reasonably weak. Any injuries or suspensions have caused them problems. Even just one player missing would mean the standard dropped considerably and the system would have to be changed or altered. To be successful, teams can’t put up with that.

But this year, the Reds have a lot more quality in their ranks. Loris Karius has been brought in which eases the worries over the Goalkeeper position, or it will do when the German is back from injury in October. The centre backs have also been upgraded. The unreliable Martin Skrtel has gone along with an ageing Kolo Toure with Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan coming in from the Bundesliga to provide healthy competition to Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho. Marko Grujic is now an extra option in midfield. The Serbian has put in a few impressive performances in pre-season and scored 2 goals in his first 2 games, which is promising from the powerful 20-year old even against lower league opposition. He’s a player who can be either make an impact coming off the bench or challenge Jordan Henderson and James Milner etc. for a starting role. The attack, though, is the strongest area the Reds have. The likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi were already at Anfield and have now been joined by Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. There are currently 9 ‘senior’ players who are available in the forward positions, all of whom are very capable of doing solid job for the team. The rotation that can happen with the squad is very promising and if they can all stay fit, the team will be filled with players who are able to hold their own at the top level and play the system Klopp wants.

 

Why they can’t:

1- The Premier League has improved

Liverpool aren’t the only team to have strengthened over during the summer. Manchester United now have Jose Mourinho as their manager and have seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly come through to Old Trafford. Manchester City have Pep Guardiola as their new boss and he has brought in Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito amongst others. Chelsea are another side with a new manager in Antonio Conte and have signed one of last year’s Premier League stars N’Golo Kante and one of the brightest young players in football Michy Batshuayi. The list of where other teams have bolstered their ranks could go on and on.

This all means that the league will be harder than it ever has been before. England’s top flight has an unbelievable set of managers who all know their way to a trophy and many world class players who are capable of setting the league alight. As confident as Liverpool and their fans are feeling as they go into the season, many of the other teams will be feeling exactly the same and will fancy their chances of qualifying for the Champions League. In addition to the teams listed before, there is also Arsenal, Tottenham and even Leicester now who will also be looking to secure top level European football again. That’s 7 teams (including Liverpool) who have a realistic chance of making the top 4 and then you have to consider any teams who may surprise us over the course of the season and throw their names into the hat. With so many teams looking strong it will be harder than ever to finish in a Champions League spot, and Liverpool are going to have to pull off something pretty special in order to make the jump from 8th to 4th or above and force their way past some of the favourites to qualify in just one season.

 

2- Fullbacks

When I was going through Liverpool’s squad depth earlier on in the article, you’ll notice two positions I left out were left back and right back. That was intentional. Now it probably seems a bit harsh that I’m highlighting the fullbacks as a reason Liverpool can’t achieve something, but this a huge problem for them. Well, not so much right back as Nathaniel Clyne has that nailed down and was arguably one of the best players at Anfield last season, but left back and the backup for both areas area’s will cause concern.

Left back Alberto Moreno received a lot of criticism last year as he wasn’t doing his job. His positional sense was very poor, his decision making is at times infuriating, he made too many errors and was the cause of several goals that Liverpool conceded last season. Many calls were made for him to be replaced, but he hasn’t been so we could be in for another season of a defensive set up made more vulnerable by the Spaniard if his game doesn’t dramatically change. The height of him and Clyne is also an issue. It’s good that both of them can attack and have some speed to their game, but they’re both under 6 foot which makes it more difficult to deal with balls into the box from corners and crosses. They are both easily outjumped and has been an area the opposition have targeted, sometimes to good effect. This is a problem easily fixed with the signing of a top quality fullback, but it looks as though there won’t be one coming. In fact, talk this week has suggested that Klopp is prepared to use James Milner as a full back at times next year after reported target Jonas Hector ruled himself out of a move away from FC Koln. If that were to happen, the back-ups to Clyne and Moreno would be Jon Flanagan, Connor Randall, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Milner and maybe Joe Gomez, but he is currently injured and naturally a centre back. No matter which way you look at it, they are poor options to have. One signing could help to solve this problem but it looks as though Klopp will stick with what he has and hope that the problem fixes itself.

 

3- Lack of experience

If you look at the Liverpool squad, something quite obvious strikes you straight away. It’s very young. There are only 3 players who are 30 and above, those being Alex Manninger (39), Ragnar Klavan (30) and James Milner (30). None of those players are likely to be starters once Liverpool have all of their players fit, so the first XI will be young and reasonably inexperienced. Even the players who are in their mid/late twenties have either none or very little experience of qualifying for and playing in the Champions League.

That’s not to say the players who will play can’t qualify just because of their age, if they are good enough they will qualify, but it makes it that little bit more difficult. They will be competing against teams and players who know their way to the Champions League like the back of their hand, and those players also know exactly what it takes to ensure their sides get there. Unless Liverpool do find themselves in a position like the one 2 years ago when the league title was their main focus and Champions League qualification was a given, they may just be edged out if it comes down to the final few games in the battle for the fourth and final spot. Other sides will know how to manage their way through games and pick up the points they need as they have old heads who have been there and done it, whereas Liverpool’s inexperience may mean the players approach those types of games in the wrong way and with the wrong attitude and then lose or draw them, causing them to drop points at a crucial point of the season. This is all just if’s and maybe’s now, but we’ve seen this happen before and it was those kind of mistakes and naivety in the games against Chelsea and Crystal Palace in 13/14 that saw Liverpool miss out on the title. Under a better manager and with a better squad, you’d hope this would be taken out of the squad, but you can never rule out a team crumbling when in high pressure situations.

It’s going to be a big season at Anfield. The club cannot be and will not want to be out of Europe for too long and after a busy transfer window which has seen £67 million spent, the fans will be demanding that they do better than they have over the past two years in the league and make it back to where they believe they belong.

Do you agree with the 6 reasons given as to why Liverpool will or won’t make it into the top 4? Could you think of any other factors that may be significant in the outcome of their season? If so then leave your thoughts in the comments!

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