Part Five: Defining Success
Football is unpredictable. Sometimes your club gets their highest ever point total but the winners still get more. Sometimes your team’s best player breaks his collarbone in a cup final. But trying to put that unpredictability aside, what for you is the bare minimum for Liverpool to achieve this season for 2018-19 to be considered a success?
In a recent interview with The Anfield Wrap, Jürgen Klopp talked about that fantastic run to the Champions League final last season, and about how everyone in and around the club was overwhelmed with positivity and excitement. And put simply, watching Klopp’s teams at their best has been pure joy, excitement, and fun. Kloppo’s sides have often been denied winning things through a combination of bad luck and having to overcome always being the underdog. But would any of us want anyone else leading this great club?
So I guess I’m going against the grain with expectations of “bare minimums,” avoiding the standard metric of “something silvery” or “challenge for the title” (as nice as those things would be). Rather, I want to feel the same way I felt after 3-0 to Manchester City or 5-2 to Roma last year. I want to be made to dream, yet again. I want to watch breathtaking, heart-attack-inducing football. I want to watch domestic and European giants come to Anfield walking tall with their bravado and swagger, only leave with their tails between their legs and nothing to show for it. If we can replicate enough of those feelings this year, I’m confident we can make this season truly memorable.
I feel like at this point, given the last few seasons and the way that this team is shaping up, top four is a bare minimum expectation and I won’t be satisfied with anything less than a strong title challenge. They don’t necessarily have to win it (though that would be nice), but I expect a good fight.
I also think we’re all starting to look at our watches a bit when it comes to the amount of time it’s been since Liverpool’s last trophy. I think bringing one back to Anfield would be a huge success. Obviously the Champions League is the goal, but I’d accept any of them while, again, the bare minimum for Europe would be getting out of the group. After that, it’s so unpredictable that it’s hard to make assumptions, though another deep run would be fantastic.
I think despite all the losses, last season could be considered a success. We did better than anyone, even the club themselves, expected us to. Losing a Champions League final is nothing to scoff at. And knowing that our rivals haven’t strengthened in the way we have this summer is only a boost. So it’s hard to say that unless we win something this year, it’ll be considered a failure. I don’t honestly think that. I think that if we continue to progress in the way that we have, it’ll still be a success.
I’d really like that success to be cemented by a trophy, though, and not an abstract concept like points totals and wins and losses.
As I said in part four, if we don’t win a trophy this season, it would be a disappointing season. We have to be aiming to win the Premier League this season. In my mind, that is not up for debate. We need to be going out guns blazing week in, week out. We have the depth in our squad to ensure that player burnout is not a factor and so we can spread minutes around very well this season. No one remembers who finished second—except us because we’ve gotten so damn close, twice. So for me, we must win the Premier League and get to the UCL semis at a minimum. Anything else would be amazing but I’ll be keeping my wish simple. We are going to win the league.
I think a top 3 finish and getting out of the group stages in the CL are the bare minimum. There are others out there that will be able to points progressions and I’m not against the idea that an improvement there might be a better measure of year-to-year progress. That being said, a point total that’s a 5-10 point improvement from last season—one that would see us challenge in the league most years—is reasonable. Especially with the moves we’ve made.
Of course, injuries, while inevitable in the abstract are unpredictable in relation to specifics and individuals. And being that we’re a team that will likely look to give significant minutes to players like Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, it could be a bit of a struggle. Especially with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the year. Ox’s presence and quality (or, conversely, an in-coming transfer of similar quality and role) could actually be how close we are and the difference between being a title winning team on paper or just a title challenger. For now, I’d accept getting to a place that’s knocking on the door as a positive sign of Liverpool’s steady growth.
Second place in the league is the bare minimum, third place if I settle down a little bit and don’t get too emotional. Really, the really real goal for Liverpool this season has to be proving that they are truly “on the up” or “actually back” or “ready to compete with the best” or all the other robust platitudes we use. They have to be able to break down packed defences. They have to be clinical goal-scorers. They have to keep clean sheets. They have to continue and improve on their stellar record at Anfield. There may be times when it looks like Liverpool will lose to Fulham at home or in a cup match against Bolton Wanderers. And then they have to not do that.
Jürgen Klopp has proven himself an excellent manager. Look at the second half of last season and Liverpool’s unbelievable adventure to the Champions League final. Now he’s been backed by FSG with money for players and has strengthened the squad significantly over the summer. Plateaus in form are likely over the course of the season but the depth available to Klopp in this squad should expected to counteract any dips in individual productivity. At a minimum, Liverpool should be racing out of the gate on opening day with the mindset of champions and continue apace, well-prepared and committed through the unpredictability of a football season.
Honestly, I’ll be disappointed with anything that isn’t a legitimate title challenge come the end of it all. I do think we’re good enough to actually win it this time around, which I don’t think I’ve ever really felt before. And while good enough to win it doesn’t mean the same as think we should win it, it does mean that I think top four discussions should be out the window when it comes to judging whether 2018-19 is a failure or a success. We should be making a push for the top spot such that, come next April and May, nobody’s even given a thought to the top four maths for some time.
The dream, of course, is then to actually win it—because this year, with this team, why not us?—but failing that, an honest to goodness challenge and maybe something shiny to cheer about along the way, that’s the minimum.