Why Liverpool are this Season’s Darkhorses
Posted by Aaron C-Reid | Published on August 18, 2016
Saturday signalled the start of another pulsating Premier League campaign. Instantaneously we were reminded of how unpredictable the English top flight really is after relegation tipped Hull dispatched last season’s champions, Leicester. This wasn’t the only surprise of the weekend as a scintillating Liverpool side smashed 4 past an abstracted Arsenal team at the Emirates. After the Red’s impressive display in North London, many have tipped them for a prodigious season under much-accomplished manager, Jürgen Klopp. But why do so many envision the Merseyside club impressing this term?
Big Game Record
While Liverpool may have finished 8th last season they impressed immensely in big games throughout the year. Only losing 1 out of 8 games against the top 4, as well as picking up 4 points against neighbours, Everton. Klopp’s pressing system paid dividends against the other elite clubs, beating Manchester City home and away, scoring 7 goals in the process.
While Klopp’s men may have struggled at times against the so-called “lesser teams” they have nothing to worry about against the other big guns. Sunday’s 18-minute demolition of Arsenal showed how lethal they are in attack, with Firmino, Mane and Coutinho combining well to create chances from nothing. The dynamic trio effortlessly exposed gaps in Arsenal’s disconcerted defence dexterously. After making an example of the Gunners on their own patch, Liverpool’s top 4 rivals will know to expect a tough challenge when facing the Reds.
When in charge of Borussia Dortmund, Klopp was known for his shrewd transfer business, finding hidden gems on a budget and developing them into outstanding talents. Examples of this are his signings of Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels for €4.5 million and €4 million respectively. Under his management, Klopp helped them flourish and become world class players. This is hugely contrasting to what the German’s predecessors had done at Liverpool, making eyebrow-raising signings such as the £32 million purchase of Christian Benteke and the £35 million signing of Andy Carroll.
Since Klopp has taken over from Brendan Rodgers he has dove into the Bundesliga to find bargains, capturing Joel Matip (free), Loris Karius (£4.7 million) and Ragnar Klavan (4.2 million.) With Liverpool’s back 5 needing reinforcements these all appear to be great buys for the Red’s. Karius will be a huge upgrade on Simon Mignolet, who has endured an indifferent spell in Merseyside. As well as this both Klavan and Matip will fight it out with Sakho and Lovren for a starting spot in the heart of Liverpool’s defence. Another signing that appears to have gone under the radar is the acquisition of Sadio Mane from Southampton. After enjoying an impressive campaign with the Saints’ last season, bagging 11 goals and 6 assists, Mane was signed for £32 million. The Senegalese international was a revelation in pre-season and was electric at the Emirates on Sunday, dominating Nacho Monreal, a player held in very high esteem in North London. Although it is early doors Mane appears to have been another exciting procurement for the Merseyside club.
Strength in depth
After adding 7 first team players to their squad, as well as Danny Ings and Joe Gomez returning from injury Liverpool now have a very capable squad with cover in every position. After conceding a sizeable sum of 50 goals in the previous campaign, the Reds have enhanced their defensive options with the aforementioned signings of Klavan and Matip, two centre backs held in very high regard in the German top flight. They now have 4 recognised top class centre-backs in Lovren, Sakho, Matip and Klavan. As well as this they have in many people’s opinion the best right back in the league, in Nathaniel Clyne. However, Liverpool fans do concede the need for a new left-back after Alberto Moreno’s somewhat disappointing time in Merseyside. With a leaky defence their main downfall in previous seasons, they should be slightly more confident in their back 4 this time around.
They have also bolstered their midfield options with the purchases of Dutch midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum, and previously acknowledged, Sadio Mane. Both of whom have Premier League experience and will add even more flair to the Red’s already innovative midfield. With the likes of Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Mane and Wijnaldum all vying for a few spots Klopp has plenty of options at his disposal. Since the arrival of the German on Merseyside, Emre Can has flourished in the Red’s midfield, as his versatility and slick passing has brought him into the forefront of Klopp’s plans. With James Milner having an impressive end to last season, Jordan Henderson coming back from injury and Marko Grujic coming in the Reds are all set in the middle of the park.
Another area where Liverpool have numerous options in is their attack. Even though Klopp prefers to play a one striker formation, whether it be 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, he has 5 first team strikers in his possession. Daniel Sturridge has had a poor injury record since moving to Merseyside but he still has a very impressive scoring record, scoring 43 in 55 Premier League starts for the Reds. Sturridge is Klopp’s favoured forward when fit but with the likes of Origi, Benteke, Ings and Balotelli all as backups the Reds certainly have plenty of goals in them.
Klopp was appointed in October of last year and enjoyed a positive first term at the helm, guiding Liverpool to two cup finals as well as an 8th place finish. Now he has assembled his own team to fit his famous “gegenpressing” playstyle he will feel well equipped for his first full season in the English game. While the Reds may have tinkered with their team they got their deals done early. This will benefit them immensely as their squad is settled for the coming season. This contrasts hugely to their top 4 rivals as Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have all appointed new managers. Guardiola, Conte and Mourinho all have similar jobs reshaping their squads and playstyles, which will work to Liverpool’s advantage.
While both Arsenal and Tottenham have settled squads and don’t have new managers it can also be argued that neither has strengthened enough to take them to the next level. Sunday showed Arsenal’s glaring holes in both defence and in attack as the Gunners cry out for a central defender and striker. Similarly, Spurs have a strong starting XI although they are short in terms of squad depth if injuries aren’t kind to them. These problems combined with the fixture congestion that Spurs, City, United and Arsenal face with being in Europe will benefit Liverpool massively as their best title challenge in recent years was when they had no European football to play in the 2013/14 season. Compared to the other big boys Liverpool are in great stead for the upcoming campaign and I can see them relishing the task of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.