5 reasons why Liverpool really are building a side to challenge for the Premier League title next season
We’ve been here before; Liverpool are on the verge of having a side capable of challenging for the Premier League title – next season. You can hear the “next year’s our year” jokes already. But something this time is very different.
Liverpool are clearly the second-best team in the league this year, even if the table doesn’t reflect that – yet. The Reds’ performance to end Manchester City’s dreams of going the season unbeaten showed exactly why they will be contending for the title next season.
Any other year, Liverpool would be pushing the leaders all the way this season
In fact, if it weren't for City doing historic things in the Premier League, Liverpool would be challenging them for the title this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side have more points at this stage of the season (47 points after 23 games) than they did in 2013/14 when they ended the campaign just two points behind title-winners City.
Only once have the Reds had more points at this stage in the Premier League era; in 2008/09 under Rafa Benitez, when they boasted one point more. Klopp’s side this term have lost just two league games – at Manchester City and Tottenham – and are currently 14 games unbeaten.
City’s form and their record 18 wins in a row have skewed the perception of how others in the league are performing this season. Any other year, Liverpool would be pushing the leaders all the way and receiving more plaudits. But it’s not praise that Liverpool fans crave – it’s ending their long search for a league title. So here’s why next year really could be their year...
1. Jurgen Klopp
It shouldn't be understated how important Klopp’s appointment at Anfield almost two-and-a-half years ago was. The German brought with him pulling power that Liverpool had lacked under previous managers and we’re now seeing that reap rewards: players are turning down moves elsewhere to join Klopp’s side.
Klopp’s patient approach will pay dividends eventually. It was shown by his insistence on acquiring top two targets Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk, even if it meant waiting half a season for one and a full campaign for the other. There’s no place for second best in a long-term vision.
Klopp said upon his arrival in October 2015 that he expected to have achieved one title in four years’ time, and bringing that in 2018/19 would meet his aim. He’s slowly improved Liverpool’s squad and playing style to a point where next season should see them reap the rewards.
2. Stability on and off the pitch
In this era, a long-term vision is rare in football. Most managers last two or three years at a club, but Klopp and Liverpool’s owners know this isn’t a quick-fix project. They are in it for the long haul.
That means Klopp isn’t necessarily seeking immediate solutions and is more happy to wait for the 'right' player. “Right [player] before expensive,” he said last week after Philippe Coutinho’s departure. While fans crave an immediate replacement, Klopp takes a longer view and won’t rush into making expensive mistakes.
The stability off the pitch at Anfield means Klopp has security to improve things on the pitch. Even if it goes wrong in these remaining months of the season and Liverpool finish fifth, the German's job would be safe.
With the owners having improved the stadium and work on the Reds’ new training ground beginning this spring, Liverpool are in a stronger position than they have been for a long time.
3. Naby Keita
Keita’s arrival at Liverpool in the summer will be huge. The £48m Guinean is, on paper at least, the ideal player for Klopp’s midfield: a player who is very comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, who break the lines with passes or dribbling himself, and who has the energy to contribute in both boxes.
Keita isn’t a holding midfielder – far from it; he’s very much box-to-box. He will get forward to provide goals and assists, and cover ground to recover the ball when it’s lost in transitions high up the pitch.
You can see a real plan for Liverpool’s spine taking shape, and Van Dijk, Keita and Roberto Firmino are key to it all. What will be most interesting is who will play alongside Keita in Liverpool’s midfield.