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Why overlooked Liverpool may be best placed to win the title

Liverpool
(Image credit: Getty)

In hindsight Liverpool were having a full-blown existential crisis last season. No Premier League title win in history had been as emotionally draining as theirs, had caused such an outpour of relief and joy across the city. No wonder once the title was sealed Jurgen Klopp’s players were left wondering: what now?

They had achieved everything they ever wanted and, just like that, focus evaporated. Nothing left but hangover dread and a sense of pointlessness hollowing them out right at the time football, lost in the middle of a pandemic, was beginning to feel a little meaningless to us all. Liverpool drifted about in empty stadiums with nothing left to do, stuck in the comedown of all comedowns.

Not many anticipate Liverpool winning the league this season. That is partly because our modern obsession with transfers, our attraction to shiny new things, blinds us to the value of continuity, but also because just as we could barely conceive of such a fall we struggle to get our heads around a similarly dramatic revival.

And yet it is precisely because of the speed and uniqueness of Liverpool’s demise that - with all the variables reversed, all the old advantages restored - they can come roaring back.

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This is an emotionally-charged team, built on psychology and momentum more than any other in Premier League history. A collapse was always going to be sudden and devastating. Another surge, as shocking and brilliant as the one witnessed between 2018 and 2020, would be in keeping with Klopp’s time at Anfield.

The first and most significant change is the end of Liverpool’s defensive injury crisis. Klopp’s fine-tuned tactical system requires very particular players for the cogs to turn together, and so the loss of his centre-backs - and the knock-on loss of Fabinho from central midfield - was enormous. Since the Brazilian’s return to his best position towards the end of last season, Liverpool have won 11 and drawn three of 14 Premier League games.

Fabinho’s defensive screening (and the security of elite centre-backs) is obviously vital to ensuring Liverpool’s high defensive line does not leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks. But more importantly, his unique ability to play assertive forward passes after winning the ball gives Liverpool that surging momentum; those relentless waves of pressure.

In 2019/20, Fabinho was integral to creating the sustained periods of attack that would grind opponents into submission, reflected in the fact 14 of their wins that year were by a single goal. It is a technical and tactical blueprint - surging overlapping runs from the full-backs; a furiously direct front three - that Klopp created specifically because it takes advantage of the idiosyncrasies of Anfield.

No team will feel the benefit of the return to full-capacity stadiums like Liverpool. Anfield is a special place, and the energy of the crowd baying for blood is crucial to the hard pressing and attacking verticality. With Van Dijk and Fabinho back to provide a solid base, Liverpool can anticipate a renewed sense of confidence, safety, and dominance on home soil.

We are already seeing the fans’ impact, not least in the sudden upturn in form from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Mane in particular is a man reborn, enjoying the atmosphere and, as with the rest of the team, rediscovering meaning in football again. 

That sense of collective purpose is absolutely essential - and it should be very easy to find this year. Klopp need only remind his players that winning the Premier League this season will feel even more special than 2019/20. Back then they lifted the trophy with Coldplay reverberating around an empty stadium. This time, they can win it with the fans and for the fans.

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Liverpool have flown under the radar this season, the assumption being that Ibrahima Konate isn’t enough to rebuild a team that dropped from 99 to 69 points last year. But what so many have missed is that Liverpool don’t need to rebuild anything. They just needed a jolt of energy and the return of their best players. A full Anfield and a refreshed, fully fit squad leaves Liverpool in precisely the same position - technically, tactically, and psychologically - as on the eve of the 2019/20 season.

The only difference is this time they have Diogo Jota and Konate to provide greater variety at both ends of the pitch - and this time they are a wiser, more hardened team; stronger for experiencing the ecstatic high of a Premier League win and the existential low of what happened next.

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