5 things we've learned about Liverpool in 2018/19
Reds can compete at home and abroad
Plenty of pundits questioned whether Jurgen Klopp’s side could compete in both the Premier League and Champions League. Well, 97 points and a second consecutive final in Europe’s top competition show that they most certainly can.
Klopp got the absolute best from his squad, eking out everything they had. Every single player contributed to Liverpool’s season.
Gini Wijnaldum might have been a contender for the Reds’ player of the year in any other season, but instead found himself perhaps sixth or seventh ‘best’. You could argue for any of Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mané or Mohamed Salah as the Reds’ top performer.
More peripheral players such as Joel Matip, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri played their parts too. Even backup goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, despite making just two appearances in domestic cup competitions, was an important part of the squad behind the scenes and acted as a perfect professional despite wanting to leave last summer.
Klopp continues to develop players
If you were to name every player who had their best season for Liverpool in 2018/19, you’d probably name close to the whole squad. Hardly anyone performed worse than their previous seasons.
Klopp is much more than a motivator: he’s a coach who develops himself and his players. When the German lost his ‘brain’ in the coaching team, Zejko Buvac, there were some who questioned what this would mean for Klopp – but his first ever season in management without his confidant produced the best ever points total in Liverpool’s 126-year history. The German has been aided by the charismatic influence of Pepijn Lijnders behind the scenes, but he’s also shown a more ruthless side and been more decisive during matches.
We again saw new signings slowly being integrated, with Fabinho and (to some extent) Naby Keita showing exactly why they were identified as long-term signings for Liverpool, and not just to be thrown in from day one. This followed on from similar treatment of Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain last season.
Quick fixes are not what Klopp deals in, and Liverpool will only continue to reap the rewards of such an approach going forward.
It’s the draws that cost you
One plus one is two, three plus zero is three. Simple maths shows that two draws are more costly than a win and a defeat, and no football club in modern football history knows this more than Liverpool. Klopp’s side now have the unwanted record of being the only side ever to lose just one game in a season but not win the title, following in the footsteps of Rafa Benitez’s class of 2009, who lost just twice but were made to pay for 11 draws.
In the (sarcastic) words of Klopp, only “very smart people” would highlight draws as being costly for Liverpool in their record-breaking season. “It’s all bullshit,” said the boss. “People and idiots bring something like this up.”
However, four draws in six league games – against Leicester, West Ham, Man United and Everton – are what ultimately proved decisive in the title race. The momentum shifted from Merseyside to Manchester, with City’s players saying that Liverpool’s failure to move seven points clear gave them a massive boost and belief that they could retain their crown.
After the draw at Everton in early March – incredibly, the last time Liverpool dropped points in the league – Klopp was asked about a perceived lack of attacking subs but took umbrage to the suggestion by saying: "I'm really disappointed about your question. We don't play PlayStation.” It was a fair point, but perhaps Klopp believed it wasn't possible for City to go on and win 14 games in a row to close the season. Alas, they did.
Additions are still needed
There was a claim this week from a high-profile journalist that Klopp will sign a maximum of two players this summer and his budget will be very low. There are massive holes in such a claim, though.
Firstly, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno will leave upon the expiry of their contracts, while Mignolet won't fancy another season as a benchwarmer. Nor might Dejan Lovren. And Liverpool would be wise to move on sick note Adam Lallana while he retains any value whatsoever. That’s five players heading out of what is already a small squad. Then there are the funds that will be raised from the sales of Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Ings, plus potentially, Marko Grujic, Ryan Kent and Harry Wilson.
Klopp will have significant cash available, if he feels a player is part of the club's long-term project. And there will be plenty of high-quality players eager to join his exciting squad; it will not be a tough sell and Klopp has great options available to him.
Signings are needed, despite Liverpool’s squad being full of players who are just reaching or not yet at their prime – in contrast to Manchester City’s squad.
It’s highly unlikely that the front three of Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino can go almost the entire season without an injury between them again, and Klopp shelved Xherdan Shaqiri from his rotation options in attack once he abandoned the 4-2-3-1 shape in winter.
More depth in attack is absolutely crucial if Liverpool are to continue competing with City. The Reds must not rest on their laurels. Even in their most dominant times under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley they would sign at least one player who was ‘first-team ready’ every summer, in order to ensure that the squad did not become stale.
Similarly, cover at full-back is required. Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold must be rested and rotated more effectively than they were this season. Having Joe Gomez as backup for both full-back and key centre-back is not a solution.
Liverpool did not ‘bottle it’
For 83 seconds on the final day, Liverpool were leading against Wolves and Manchester City were behind at Brighton. Several people were on their feet in the Reds’ hospitality section in the Main Stand, including owner John Henry and one former player. The hope around Anfield had skyrocketed, before quickly crashing upon hearing about City’s two quick-fire goals.
Despite the trollish narrative that they ‘bottled it’ Liverpool did not. Winning your last 10 league games, losing just once all season, winning 30 games and collecting more points than every single club in English football history bar City is not bottling anything – especially when you add in wins over Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Liverpool were always outsiders in the title race, up against a City squad that cost £380 million more to assemble. But Klopp’s side produced exhilarating, mature football to stay the pace with a team who last season set more records than the Beatles sold.
While opposing fans have taken some joy in Liverpool’s lack of a title, perhaps they should consider the alternative had Klopp’s side not stayed the pace with City: a one-horse race once again, for a team under investigation for Financial Fair Play irregularities. Those same fans no doubt call Ligue 1 a ‘farmers' league’. All of a sudden their team would be competing in one.
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