There hasn’t been a more eagerly awaited season for Liverpool fans since the year after we won the European Cup, I don’t think.
After years of boardroom battles, inept managers and a brief bit of silverware under Kenny, the optimism for this year has been higher than most in recent years. Klopp and FSG seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet and after a mixed campaign showing glimpses of brilliance last time out, Reds fans are dreaming that it’s going to be our year (again).
It is clear that an injury crisis coupled with a heavy fixture schedule decimated Liverpool’s league and FA cup campaign last time out. Around December-February time, the side were reliant on an under-performing Christian Benteke in the league and the kids in the cup. With a full Klopp pre-season under their belts, one would hope the injury list isn’t as high this time out, and the lack of European football decreases our fixture list by 17 games from last season.
So what is success for Liverpool in the league this year? Last year saw the Reds finish 8th, 6 points from the coveted Champions League spot and 21 points behind winners Leicester City. It is no secret that towards the end of 2015/16 Jurgen Klopp prioritised our Europa League campaign over the league in a gamble that nearly paid off.
A home draw to Newcastle when 2 up and a defeat to Southampton when 2 up both following Europa League fixtures on the Thursday night emphasise that fatigue sat in and points were dropped as a result.
You could also look at two points dropped to WBA 3 days before the Europa League final as another league game that was directly hindered by Europa League football. Had we won those three fixtures we would have comfortably made top 4 last time out, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility to think that the newly strengthened Reds can make those points up this time out.
The problem facing LFC this year is that their rivals for the league and Champions League places have mostly all improved. Arsenal and Spurs haven’t done much to their squads, whereas Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have all recruited big name managers and big name players to improve their standings on last time out. With Mourinho and Guardiola having blank cheques to spend, it becomes hard to envisage LFC winning the title at this point in Klopp’s tenure.
. A more likely goal will be for the Reds to pip the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Leicester to that 4th spot. There’s no doubting that it’s a massive task, however the lack of European football can benefit the Reds. Whilst Spurs, Arsenal, Leicester, United and City are playing away in Europe, the Reds will be on the training field with Klopp, preparing for the next game. This time is crucial, a message Klopp was clear to convey after the Europa League final heartbreak:
We are responsible for not being in the national tournament next year so now we have to use the time. We have to use it. It’s not about the size of the squad or how many players we have, it’s about using the time for training, to get better and use this experience from tonight. I promise everybody, we will use it. We will use it.
If the Reds can use this time to avoid some of the sloppy post-European Football hangover results mentioned above, they have a real chance of getting into the Champions League. A big challenge for that 4th place has to be the aim this year. Whilst Liverpool is all about big European nights, the lack of them could help us this year.
What is success for Liverpool in the cups? Last year’s cup campaigns were promising for the Reds, but not without heartbreak. In the league cup, highlights included a hammering of Southampton, getting to the final on penalties and the little magician’s lifeline at Wembley. Sadly, it was not enough. A heart-breaking defeat to Manchester City in the League Cup final denied Klopp a chance to win his first trophy as Liverpool manager.
There was no shame in the final loss, with City boasting the better side and the Reds having a back 4 containing Moreno, Lucas and Kolo Toure. Klopp’s team did well to get to the final amidst an injury crisis and the final just proved one game too far. In the FA Cup, a young Reds were denied a chance to enter the last 16 by a gut-wrenching last minute of extra time winner by Angelo Ogbonna.
A young Reds side did themselves no harm on the night, with a strong West Ham side just pipping them. Again the highlight of the tournament was the little magician’s world class free-kick against West Ham, announcing his return from injury in style. In terms of success for this season, Liverpool FC exists to win trophies and this has to be the aim.
Last year’s final loss was tough to take but believe me, the feeling was 100x better leaving Wembley that afternoon than after the Villa semi-final the previous season. It was obvious we have improved and another improvement this time out could see us collect silverware. Realistically, another trip to Wembley has to be the aim this year.
Written by Jack Mitchell (@JackMitchell_5)