6 things Jurgen Klopp will put right this summer to make Liverpool title challengers
With five games of the 2016/17 season remaining, Liverpool have already amassed more points than their tally in six of the last seven seasons.
With Champions League qualification via a top-four finish a very real possibility, progress has certainly been made in Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge at Anfield. And with 69 goals scored so far – more than any other side in the Premier League and six more than the Reds managed last season – Klopp has returned to the attacking, entertaining football that Liverpool fans crave.
With no European football on offer at Anfield this season, Klopp sought a smaller squad that he could then work closely with, using the extra time between games on the training pitch to good effect. Indeed, at the turn of the year a title challenge even looked quite possible - until a terrible run of form in January saw that hope exchanged for a top-four fight.
So what must Klopp do this summer, regardless of where the Reds finish this season, in order to make Liverpool real title challengers in 2017/18?
1. Find a back-up for Mane
One of the major issues for Liverpool during their January slump was the failure to have a player replicate the effectiveness of Sadio Mane in the final third. While the Africa Cup of Nations won’t be an issue in 2017/18, Liverpool still need a player with similar attributes to the Senegal forward, especially with European commitments one way or another.
Adding options in the attacking third and thus reducing the reliance on star trio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho will be key for Klopp - especially as Daniel Sturridge’s future is very much up in the air.
A pacy attacker who can contribute goals and make runs in behind, capable of playing either centrally or on the right, would be ideal.
2. Establish a reliable centre-back pair
All successful sides are built upon a solid and reliable centre-back duo. Few, if any, teams have ever won trophies without a centre-back pairing who play 90% of their games.
Constant chopping and changing at the back has given Liverpool a defensive inconsistency
One of Liverpool’s issues this season has been that Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren have started together in just 14 of 33 matches so far. Such constant chopping and changing at the back has given Liverpool a defensive inconsistency that has continued to undermine their attacking quality.
A new left-sided centre-back is required to partner Matip. Virgil van Dijk is reportedly Klopp’s priority target there and you wouldn’t see many Kopites complain if he became the latest player to swap Southampton for Anfield. Qualifying for the Champions League will be essential if the Reds are to acquire the Dutchman.
3. Sign a left-back
One of the more controversial moves Klopp made last summer was not to sign a left-back and instead convert vice-captain and one of the club’s highest-earners, James Milner, to play the role.
While the versatile Yorkshireman has done well on the whole, he’s far from the long-term solution aged 31.
Having a naturally left-footed player who can overlap and cross from the left side would give Liverpool far more balance, as opposed to Milner’s understandable but predictable cutting inside onto his right foot (which can slow down attacks and congest the central area).