5 things we think will happen to Liverpool in 2017/18
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.
Talk of Philippe Coutinho joining Barcelona has some fans nearing Defcon 1
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.
With the strong possibility of Milner’s role being reduced, Firmino may well become the regular spot-kick taker
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.