Last season, Liverpool fans wanted top four and silverware. They failed on the second count and just barely scraped the first. Heading into Jürgen Klopp’s third season at the club, what are your minimum expectations in order to count the coming season as a success? And what's the highest reasonable goal you think this side can achieve—and what will have to go right for them to get there?
If Liverpool reach a cup final, win it. Defining success would be winning a trophy and ensuring that the club competes in the Champions League next season. Defining progress would be securing another Champions League campaign. It really shouldn't be more complicated than that for a club of this stature.
I don’t necessarily need Top Four and silverware. I’m fine with one or the other. Like I said in the previous instalment of this series, I’m really only afraid that we might come up short in both. Squad depth is a real concern for me, as is our midfield. I think we’ll probably okay, but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that 2017-18 will be a disaster. So pretty much, I’m fine with something roughly comparable to last season, and I’m also okay if we swap league position for a deeper run in the Champions League. I just… I just want something, you know? Something to hang my hopes on. Something to keep my heart yearning into April and May.
League position is tough to predict based on own performances, because there are so many factors out of the team’s control—just ask Arsenal. I would like to see another improvement in points gained, however, and, after adding 16 points to their total between Klopp’s first and second season, I would like to see another eight this year, putting us at 2.2 points per game, for an 84 point total. Whether that puts us in first, second or third isn’t up to us, but that kind of boost is what I’m looking for in the league. A failure to improve points earned and/or secure top four would be extremely disappointing.
In the Champions League—assuming we get past Hoffenheim—I want to see the knockout rounds. This side looks built for the continental game and should do well there, but it’s impossible to predict what happens after the group stage. I’m not in a rush for silverware, though. I just want to see steady, deliberate improvement year after year. With that, trophies will come along eventually.
Silverware. Period. I don’t care if it’s the League Cup, the FA Cup, whatever. I think we have the skills and the talent and strength to finally get something. I want something to show for all the hard work we’ve been putting in, I don’t want to feel that disappointment of losing out on something that was literally within our grasp. We deserve some silverware for our efforts—and it’s gotta be better than the PL Asia trophy.
The team as it stands now—with Can and Coutinho, with Mohamed Salah, but without another defender or more strength in the midfield—could challenge for top four. They could probably make it through the group stages of the CL and put on a decent domestic cup run. They might win one of them as well. If we can get one or two key players in before the transfer window closes, and if our current key players can keep themselves relatively injury-free, I can see them putting in a title run and giving a good go in Europe. Top four is the bare minimum that needs to happen this season. Right now I think this team can achieve that. But sitting on over 100m and not getting in the personnel needed to go beyond the bare minimum would be a real disappointment.
I think a repeat finish within the top four is very much within reach, provided that Liverpool can avoid another patch of craptastic luck (which they probably won’t). I don’t think I’m being overly pessimistic, as I actually feel quite good about our best XI and even the backups in a few positions. The problem is, as currently constituted, the squad is a bit of a glass cannon, and I fear we won’t be able to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous. If the business folks can pull that rabbit out of the hat and secure even just two more quality additions, I’d feel much better about betting on third place or second place.
The highest reasonable goal? The Champions League and the Premier League. The title. The trophy. All of it. Or at least one or the other. With the right signings over the next month, one of the big ones is possible even if it’s not probable. And it’s difficult to imagine both even in the absolute best case scenario. But with the right signings over the next month, one is possible. We know that this is a side that on their day can beat absolutely anyone. We saw that last season. Now we need to see the right players brought in to avoid the Christmas collapse we’ve gotten in Klopp’s first two seasons in charge. Do that, and golden skies are possible, even if Liverpool won’t be favourites.
The minimum expectation, on the other hand, has to be top four and silverware—even if it’s just the League Cup. Having that as the minimum expectation probably still counts on the club getting in the central midfielder and centre half they desperately need before August 31st, though. And that’s where it could all go wrong. That’s where it already is looking a little like it is going wrong. Top four and silverware is the minimum—should be the minimum. But if the club don’t improve their depth, it’s difficult to see a way to them managing it given how fierce the competition for the top four is going to be.
Solidifying our spot in the Champions League is a must to be considered a successful season. If we do that through the league, or through either Europa League or Champions League victories, the result is all the same. We need to be seen as a Champions League side, and we can’t do that with an occasional appearance in Europe’s top competition.
As for our highest possible ambitions? I believe that literally anything is possible for this club, given the right circumstances. Cup competitions are all about the luck of the draw. Last year, Manchester United faced Southampton in the League Cup final, and Ajax in the Europa League final; compare this with Liverpool opponents the year before—Manchester City and Sevilla, respectively—and it’s easy to see why Liverpool came home empty-handed. Of course, you have to beat the team in front of you, but all other things being equal, it’s easier to beat a weak or inexperienced side. As for the Premier League, we need really good luck with injuries, and with Adam Lallana out for 2-3 months, that ship is already close to sailing. One or two more key injuries could very easily derail this campaign. But it could also all come together. A similar start to last season, plus a little luck with injuries (and minus Chelsea winning literally every game for 3 months), and we could be off to the races.