Season preview: Can Reds challenge City for title?


Liverpool are seen by many as the most likely team to threaten Manchester City as they seek to become the first team to retain the Premier League title in almost a decade. And it’s not hard to see why that is.

Manager Jurgen Klopp has added four quality signings to a squad that has already proved to have the measure of Pep Guardiola’s team by beating them three times in 2018. The 4-3 win at Anfield back in January ended City’s hopes of going the season unbeaten and it was followed up by 3-0 and 2-1 victories for Liverpool in the Champions League quarter finals. City may have ended up 25 points clear of Liverpool after thirty-eight games in the Premier League last season, but they will know the threat posed at Anfield – a place where City are yet to win since they were taken over by Sheikh Mansour.

Klopp already had a team capable of reaching the Champions League final and he has added the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, a box to box midfielder wanted by Bayern Munich and Barcelona, a tireless and technically able deep-lying midfielder and a proven Premier League performer to his ranks as part of a spending spree before preseason had even begun. Brazil international Alisson Becker looks almost certain to solve the goalkeeping problem that has dogged the club since Pepe Reina lost his form and left in 2013. The twenty-five year old could conceivably be the number one at Anfield for the next decade. Guinea international Naby Keita, who had to wait a year to head to Anfield after a deal was struck last Summer, will add energy, creativity, goal threat and determined tackling to Klopp’s options in the centre of the park. Fabinho was quickly signed after it became clear that Emre Can was determined to complete a free transfer switch to Italian champions Juventus, and he will add defensive quality and height to the middle of the pitch. While Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri will offer much needed depth to the attacking options, with Klopp heavily reliant on Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino last season. The former Stoke man can operate in the wide roles or off a striker in the number 10 position. His £13m price tag making him too good a signing to turn down.

City provided a timely reminder of just how big a challenge lies ahead of Liverpool this season, with their 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday showcasing their quality along with the depth Guardiola has at his disposal. A £60m deal to sign Riyad Mahrez is the only business they have done so far this Summer and the former Leicester City man looks like he will be right at home in their squad. City already had a team who had broken a series of records last season and they look far from past their best, so Liverpool will need to be firing from day one of the new season – beginning with a home game against a West Ham side likely to be much changed under new boss, and former City manager, Manuel Pellegrini looks an interesting one to start with. The addition of Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson makes them look a much more technically able side, but Klopp will hope to make the most of the lack of familiarity in their team. It is imperative that Liverpool begin the campaign on the front foot with three points against the Hammers.

The Reds will follow up that game with a trip to Selhurst Park, where bad memories from 2013/14 still linger, to take on several familiar faces in a Monday night kick off on 20th August. Former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, who spent half a season dragging the team into a relegation battle before being sacked, has ex-Reds Mamadou Sakho, Christian Benteke and Martin Kelly in his squad. He could also have Danny Ings to call on, should he win the race to sign the former Burnley striker. Taking the three points back to Anfield from South London may well prove to be tricky, but it’s another game Klopp needs to win to start getting belief growing early in the campaign. He cannot afford to drop too many points in the opening stages and allow City, and potentially others, to build any sort of gap.

Another former Liverpool player, Stoke City midfielder Charlie Adam, has recently claimed that Klopp is “one or two players from the title” as things stand. The Scotland international might well have a point there. Klopp was keen to bring in France international Nabil Fekir from Lyon before the World Cup and would have done had the medical examination not highlighted a potential issue with the twenty-five year old’s knee. The Frenchman would have offered the kind of spark from attacking midfield that was previously provided by Brazilian Philippe Coutinho before he made his £145m move to Barcelona in January. The deal was agonisingly close to going through and it shows that Klopp clearly wanted to bring in another number 10 to cover the loss of Coutinho. It remains to be seen whether the move can be resurrected before the transfer window closes, but the clubs are running out of time to get it sorted if it’s going to happen.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has tried to put pressure on Liverpool before a ball has been kicked with his claims that Klopp has been signing “everything and everyone” this Summer. It’s the same old nonsense from the Portuguese, who is cutting a tired figure as he approaches his third season in charge at Old Trafford. The ex-Chelsea boss has made three signings – just one less than the Reds. He doesn’t tend to say a lot about teams that he doesn’t consider a rival or threat to his and the fact that he has gone after Liverpool goes to show that he, like most, see Klopp’s men as the most likely to challenge City this year. His attempt at mind-games are unlikely to have much impact on Klopp, with the German already laughing off the claims that his spending means that he must win the title or the European Cup. He’s been around long enough to know how Mourinho tries to undermine rivals and won’t be put off by his verbal jousting. And why would he be worried? He has gone about building one of the most exciting groups of players in the history of the club. Alisson, Keita, Shaqiri and Fabinho go into a squad already containing the talents of Salah, Firmino, Mane and the world’s most expensive defender, Virgil Van Dijk. Although Mourinho might well eclipse the £75m Liverpool handed Southampton for the Holland international at Christmas with a deal to sign Leicester City’s Harry Maguire. How many Liverpool fans would want to do a swap? Yeah, not many. Mourinho is worried, like many others will be, by what he is seeing at Anfield and is doing his best to try and put a spanner in the works. All that he has done is highlight how dated his methods are.

An area where question marks remain over Klopp’s squad is up top. He clearly has an attacking trio to rival any other in the game today, but he hasn’t got a lot in reserve should any of them get injured. Shaqiri adds depth, but he is not a regular goalscorer despite being Stoke’s most prolific player with eight goals last season. Klopp has opted to hand Daniel Sturridge a final chance to resurrect his Anfield career, with just a year left on his contract, and will hope that the twenty-eight year old can stay fit to replicate the form he has shown in preseason. If the former Chelsea forward can avoid breaking down with injury again, or at least keep it to a minimum, then he has the quality to add a threat from the bench this season. After the England international, Klopp has the unproven talents of another ex-Chelsea man in Dominic Solanke to call on. The youngster only managed one single goal last season, which was scored in the final league game of the campaign against Brighton at Anfield, and the signs during preseason aren’t particuarly encouraging fans that he will be increasing that tally significantly. He scored a few times in preseason last year though, so perhaps he’s going to do it the other way around this season. Danny Ings looks likely to make a move away, with several Premier League clubs vying to snap him up, and Divock Origi may also make his way through the exit door this week. That leaves the untested and precocious talents of promising teenager Rhian Brewster as the other option available to Klopp. He signed his new contract on the basis that he would be given opportunities this season, once fit, so he will be in and around the squad – just how much is likely to depend on him impressing and the fitness of others.

The options in defence have remained the same as last season, with no new defensive signings made aside from Alisson coming in to take over the gloves from Loris Karius. It is likely to see Simon Mignolet follow Danny Ward out of the club before the end of August. So far, interested clubs have been put off by the reported £12m price tag the club have placed on the Belgian. A loan move may yet materialise, with Turkish club Besiktas keen to do a deal to take him to the SuperLig for the season after selling Fabri to Premier League new boys Fulham last month. It may not be the most appealing option for the former Sunderland stopper, but it has to be better than sitting in the stands at Anfield this season. Though he may yet end up playing second fiddle to Alisson should Bayer Leverkusen firm up their interest in taking Karius back to Germany by making a bid this month. Klopp will have the same options at full-back and centre-back this season with Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez remaining as central options and Andy Robertson, Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold his full-backs. I would personally be concerned should Van Dijk be out injured for any serious length of time. Matip is often injured, Gomez is unproven, Klavan is limited and Lovren looks worse without the Dutchman. Hopefully he can stay fit for the season.

The rejuvenated midfield still has Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana as options, with all four having played in the Champions League final back in May. But Klopp will be unable to call on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, potentially for the duration of the campaign, following his injury against AS Roma in the first leg of the semi-final at Anfield. The former Arsenal and Southampton man will be working hard to regain fitness and his place in the side. Competition will be fierce thanks to the signings made this Summer and that should only serve as further motivation for the England international to get back to action.

It looks set to be a very exciting season for Klopp and his players this year and just how far they can go in the title race will depend on how much improvement the new signings bring and how City fare in their title defence. There is also the wildcard of new Arsenal boss Unai Emery and his much changed side, Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri, the familiar consistency of Spurs, who are yet to make a signing, and Mourinho’s United.

This promises to be another exciting season at Anfield. Let’s hope some silverware is added to the cabinet at the end of it.

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