OPINION: Can Liverpool Win The League Next Season?
February 27, 2018
Let’s face facts; it would take something extraordinary for Manchester City not to win the Premier League this season.
Pep Guardiola’s men are currently 13 points clear of second place Manchester United with a game in hand, while there are just 10 games remaining in the run-in. The Citizens have also just prevailing in the League Cup final, providing them with added confidence and momentum as the season reaches a less than dramatic conclusion.
With this in mind, thoughts are turning to next season and the contenders who will be striving to close the gap on the runaway City juggernaut. Arguably, Liverpool have emerged as the most likely challengers to City in the near-term, but can they really improve further and win the league next year?
An Enigmatic Team – The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Reds
Interestingly, the identification of Liverpool as genuine title challengers will divide opinion among many. After all, the side continue to operate on the very edge of a precipice, often brilliant but also capable of surrendering the advantage and losing to far less talented opposition.
From the perspective of detractors, Liverpool lack the defensive organisation and strength in depth to sustain a viable title challenge. This has been evident throughout the season, and most spectacularly during a 3-3 Champions League draw with Sevilla during the autumn. This game encapsulated the Reds in microcosm, as they blazed into a 3-0, first half lead amid a flurry of relentless attacks before being overwhelmed in the second half by their hungry and more direct opposition.
While Klopp may have moved to mitigate his defensive issues by signing Saints’ defender Virgil Van Dyke for a club record £75 million, such vulnerability has continued to undermine the club’s quest for honours. Since the whirlwind appointment of Klopp in November 2015, Liverpool have failed to win a single piece of silverware and could only confirm their place in the top four with a win on the final day of the season last term.
With the Champions League representing the only viable trophy on offer for the Reds this time around, this trend is only likely to continue for another year at least.
Still, those who watch Liverpool regularly will know that the club has been far more consistent during that last four months. During this time, they’ve moved from ninth to third in the league, while putting one foot in the quarter finals of the Champions League with a superb, 5-0 win at Porto in the first leg of the second round. Klopp’s men are also unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions, as they look to build momentum during the final three months of the season.
Of course, this improvement has much to do with the fact that Klopp has moved to resolve some of the issues that have blighted his side. Van Dyke has instantly bought leadership and physical presence to the Reds’ backline, for example, while the prolific Mohammed Salah has add a new dimension to an already sparkling attack. Even allowing for the high profile departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, the link-up play and interaction between Salah, Sadio Mane and the much-improved Roberto Firmino has been a joy to behold this season.
Former Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has also provided thrust, energy and depth in midfield, and there’s no doubt that Liverpool are inching closer to building something special at Anfield.
Can the Reds Mount a Title Challenge in 2018/19?
There are still significant areas of improvement for Liverpool to focus on, with a new goalkeeper arguably required if the club is to compete aggressively over the course of a 38-game season.
Similarly, a skilled holding midfielder should be a top priority for Klopp, as while RB Leipzig star Naby Keita is poised to join in the summer he is more of a dynamic, box-to-box performer in the mould of players such as N’Golo Kante.
These additions could have a seismic affect on the Reds’ squad, however, helping to make the difficult leap from great entertainers to genuine, title contenders. This is certainly true if they can hold on to their incredibly talented attackers, who form a potent forward line that has the capacity to blow away most sides.
Remember, the Reds showed their potential by scoring four past a previously unbeaten Manchester City in January. Given this, and with a few thoughtful additions in the summer, they could well be best-placed to challenge Guardiola’s City next season.