It’s been a strange summer at Anfield, featuring tapping-up apologies (Virgil van Dijk), failed transfer pursuits (Naby Keita), only one first XI signing (Mohamed Salah), and Jurgen Klopp talking up the potential of Alberto Moreno at left-back and James Milner in central midfield.
Of course, Klopp’s insistence that he's happy with his centre-back options is likely to be just that - words. The hope among Liverpool’s fanbase is that Van Dijk will eventually arrive, although the concern is that even if the Dutchman does sign, he’ll miss the start of the campaign and won't be fully fit until late September at the earliest.
Being drawn against the highest-ranked team possible (Hoffenheim) in Champions League qualifying hasn’t helped stem the panic among supporters, while talk of Philippe Coutinho joining Barcelona has some fans nearing Defcon 1.
But such worries mask what has been a positive summer from Klopp’s perspective, with eight games producing some strong performances from the Reds’ talented youth ranks, and the manager feeling like many individuals have progressed in their development.
It all kicks off for Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime at Watford - scene of last season’s goal of the year when Emre Can produced that stunning overhead kick. The first Champions League play-off leg is just three days later, so an intense start awaits. Yet pre-season wouldn’t be pre-season without some bold predictions, so here’s five things we're saying will happen at Anfield in 2017/18...
1. Roberto Firmino to hit 20 goals
The last time a Liverpool player scored 20 goals in a season was three years ago, in the 2013/14 campaign where Luis Suarez (31) and Daniel Sturridge (21) managed an incredible 52 league goals between them.
Since then, the Reds’ top scorers across all competitions have contributed just 13 (Steven Gerrard in ‘14/15, Sturridge in ‘15/16) and 14 goals (Coutinho in ‘16/17) respectively. Last season they were shared around Klopp’s attackers, with Sadio Mane hitting 13, Firmino 12 and Divock Origi 11, to add to Coutinho’s tally. Goals weren’t an issue, but there was no prolific centre-forward.
Yet this season could see Firmino - Liverpool’s new No.9 after Salah adopted the No.11 shirt on his arrival - hit the 20-goal mark. The Brazilian has dispatched two excellent penalties in pre-season, against Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.
With the strong possibility of Milner’s role being reduced, Firmino may well become the regular spot-kick taker. The former scored seven penalties last season. Add those to the 13 Firmino netted and you have the 20-goal striker some fans craved.
2. Progress from the Champions League group stage
“It’s probably easier to go through to the next round from the group stage of the Champions League than it is to qualify in the first place,” said Klopp in February.
He’s right. Having seen off Manchester United and Arsenal to achieve a top-four finish in the Premier League, there’s now a difficult qualifying play-off to navigate. But should they successfully get past the Bundesliga side, Liverpool will be seeded third in their group and fancy their chances of progressing.
The Reds’ free-flowing attacking play can hurt any team. Pre-season it may have been, but the way they dismantled Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena could be a sign of things to come in Europe.
Depending on who the second-ranked team is in a potential Champions League group, Liverpool should be confident of progressing to the knockout stages.
3. Injuries will continue to be an issue
Klopp added another physio to his backroom team this summer, which is probably needed given the number of injuries suffered last season.
With a small squad, injuries to key players derailed the Reds’ 2016/17 campaign. The worry is that the same could happen this season, with the squad not much bigger and more European football commitments likely.
Already ruled out at the start of the season are Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring) and Adam Lallana (thigh strain), while Daniel Sturridge also picked up an injury that meant he missed the Reds' last two games.
Captain Jordan Henderson hasn’t completed more than 30 league games across his last two seasons, while Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip all had frequent niggling issues last season. The physical demands Klopp places on his players means that youngsters like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn surely won’t be ready to play more than one game per week.
If Klopp can add at least two more signings before the window closes, that will help cover for the inevitable winter injury crisis.
4. Liverpool to concede over 40 league goals - again
The last time Liverpool conceded 40 goals or fewer in a league campaign was 2011/12, under Kenny Dalglish’s stewardship - a season where the Reds finished eighth and Dalglish lost his job. Since then, Liverpool have twice conceded 50 goals in a season, and last term’s 42 against was the best record in their last seven seasons.
But generally, the league winners concede 40 or fewer. Only twice in the last 20 years has a team shipped more than a goal a game (1999/00 and 2012/13) and won the title. So it’s clear where Liverpool must improve if they're to challenge at the top.
Securing Van Dijk would help in this respect, as an upgrade on Lovren is required. Last season the centre-back partnership changed far too often because of frequent injuries for Lovren and Matip, and the Reds must prioritise establishing a consistent defensive base for the first time since Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia marshalled the backline.
Competition for places in goal means Simon Mignolet will be kept on his toes by Loris Karius and Danny Ward, the Belgian having hugely improved at the end of last season. That form must continue if Liverpool are to finish below 40 - but even then it's a big ask.
5. Jekyll and Hyde October results
Liverpool play newly promoted Newcastle and Huddersfield in October, either side of games against top-four rivals Manchester United and Tottenham.
These kinds of fixture runs have presented the Reds some major problems in recent years; they've often beaten the top teams but struggled to get wins against relegation contenders. Last season, Klopp’s side had the best record against their fellow top-seven sides - indeed, they went unbeaten in these fixtures - but they also fell to defeat against Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea and Hull.
October, then, will be an interesting month as Klopp faces Liverpool icon Rafa Benitez and best friend David Wagner – managers of newly promoted sides who could cause a few teams problems this season.
Add in potential Champions League games before or after those two games, and Klopp will need to fully use his squad. Which means further strengthing in numbers is essential.
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