Liverpool fans seem to have faith that the club is on the right track, but where do they most need to improve—either on the field or off it—over the next few months to ensure that next season is a success? And just what would success entail in terms of trophies and league placement in Jürgen Klopp’s first full season in charge?
I like games that end up easy metaphors for Liverpool’s season, and as many have pointed out, the Europa League final was definitely one of those. The disaster that was the second half made it glaringly obvious that though Liverpool have had come a long way from last August, there was still a ton of work to do. I’d say confidence, belief, and experience in learning how to see out a match you’re leading are going to be paramount given the number of points dropped and a trophy lost to failing to do that this season. A lot was said about the amazing comeback against Dortmund being the kickstarter to how things will be in the Klopp era, but it might be even more spectacular to just not find ourselves in positions where we need to stage a dramatic comebacks.
I’d like top four and another cup final next year, but am bad at predicting these things and always happy to adjust my expectations based on reality. With fewer matches and no European competition, things should be easier and thus expectations should be higher, but weird things can and do happen. That we reached two cup finals this season is a huge bonus, but certainly ahead of schedule. For me, and I’m probably in the minority here, I don’t necessarily expect silverware for Klopp’s first full season in charge either, simply because it will be his first season with his transfers figuring out a full league campaign in England. But 2017/18? Bring it.
And, like, maybe, whatever else happens, we can improve on set pieces. I’m just saying. This is our year. Maybe.
Depth and consistency are my watchwords for the coming season. No European football, but there is still a lot to compete for on various fronts. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I feel that injuries and weird stuff like l’affaire Sakho will always happen, just hopefully not to the same degree, so the making sure there’s a place for some solid, confidence-inspiring deputies in the squad will be a necessity.
The whole “snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory” thing Liverpool has going on, though, is something I believe to be very correctable. And if I had to pick one manager in the sport to correct that kind of an issue, it would be Klopp.
Liverpool need to secure all the players that have been targeted as quickly as possible. Getting any new signings ready and involved in Klopp’s plans for pre-season is key. He’s said he will have to tailor plans for players on international duty in the summer and those who will be available for the entirety of pre-season, and so it’s best to get the key pieces in first, whoever they are, before getting the squad acquainted with each other as well as working on fitness, dietary, and tactical demands.
Hopefully that kind of swift preparation will end the ills of giving away leads, losing players to injuries of all sorts, and generally wasting any momentum built up by dropping oh so silly points when Mourinho, Guardiola, Ranieri, Wenger, Conte, Pochettino, Koeman, and Bilić will all be expecting to push on next season. Liverpool should challenge for fourth, but if Klopp is to be around for another five or six years, his first 18 months will shape the next 60, and so Liverpool just need to be much better than this year. I think we will be, even if I'm not quite sure where that will leave us in May 2017.
I think, without Europe, it’s more a case of tweaks than major overhauls that are in order to set up a successful 2016-17. Daniel Sturridge testing out his fitness over a full season backed up by Divock Origi and Danny Ings? Without Europe that seems viable. Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, and a midfielder to be named later along with some youths and whichever senior squad player survives? That’s not a bad look. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren? While I’d love a miraculous ruling in the Mamadou Sakho case, that’s not half bad. Improve in goal with Loris Karius and make one splashy move and I think this is a team well positioned for success against a more limited schedule.
As for what that success looks like, I think pretty much every Liverpool fan on the planet is going to have just about the same minimum: a top four finish that secures Champions League football and a piece of silverware. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the League Cup or FA Cup—or something rather more special and unexpected—and it doesn’t matter if it’s a guaranteed Champions League group stage place or a playoff place. But top four and silverware. That’s the goal. And I think with Klopp in charge, the solid foundation that’s already in place, and a few good signings that it’s a goal that’s well within reach.
Klopp needs to sort out Liverpool’s injury and fitness issues first, and he’s already made some moves behind the scenes intended to address that. Having secured a quality goalkeeper, there’s also the need to bring in another left back as a priority. From there, I think, like Noel, that the foundation is already in place for Liverpool to excel next season, particularly without European football.
It’s too early after the last season has ended to really commit to saying which trophies the team would need to win for it to be a success. I can’t honestly say. But I think a place in the top four is always the goal—and with such a shake up of the managers in the teams above and around us, we may just have a chance. These two cup finals this season have made me hungry for trophies, though, so it would be fantastic if Liverpool could scoop up one of the domestic cups.
Fitness issues absolutely killed us this year. Having no European competition, while sad, will certainly allow us to remain fresher out there, particularly with Klopp’s high-intensity playing style. Also, having new fitness and nutrition personnel should help, as is already evidenced by the surprisingly quick recoveries of Emre Can, Divock Origi, and Jordan Henderson. As Elizabeth and Kevin alluded to, this whole “dropping points” business needs to stop, but having a team that can press and counter-press throughout the game should help on that front.
With no Europe and Klopp having just got done with the longest pre-season ever, I see no reason why this team shouldn’t secure a coveted top four spot next season. Silverware is always an unpredictable affair—one bad draw or lackluster performance or poor penalty shoot-out can spell the end of a cup campaign—and as exciting as a title challenge would be, that seems like an unreasonable expectation right now. That said, I absolutely would not be surprised to see Klopp & Co. on top of an open air bus next season, holding a parade with one or more shiny objects in tow.