Can Liverpool challenge Man City next season?
Pep Guardiola masterminded arguably the greatest campaign in the Premier League era as Manchester City stormed to their third top-flight crown in six years, finishing a record-breaking 19 points clear of their arch-rivals Manchester United.
After an underwhelming first season under the former Barcelona boss in which they finished trophyless, City also added the League Cup to their historic domestic performance in which they broke eleven Premier League records, including becoming the first ever Premier League side to accumulate a century of points.
At one stage, it looked ominous that City would go through the entire campaign unbeaten. It wasn’t until their visit to Anfield in January that the Sky Blues tasted defeat, losing out in a seven-goal thriller. Jurgen Kopp’s men also scuppered City’s aspirations on the European stage as their relentless forages forward and aggressive style of pressing tore apart City’s star-studded squad in a counter-attacking masterclass as they blitzed through their quarter-final 5-1 on aggregate.
In Mo Salah, Liverpool unearthed a real gem - unquestionably the standout signing of last year. Despite their Champions League dream being shot down in flames at the final hurdle, it is clear that significant strides have been made since Klopp signed a deal to take the helm at the Reds three years ago.
It has already been much discussed if Liverpool can challenge City next season at the top of the tree, but there are still some key issues to be resolved - in particular, improving strength in depth, constructing a concrete, reliable core and recruiting a world-class goalkeeper.
As soon as Salah’s Champions League final was curtailed through injury, it only served to highlight Klopp’s lack of options to turn to on the bench. On the other hand, Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had the luxury of calling on a £85 million player in Gareth Bale to turn the game on its head with a moment of genius.
It took just two days after their loss in Kiev for the charismatic German to bolster his midfield options by splashing out £43.7m on Monaco’s Fabinho - at an imposing 6ft2in, the Brazilian will add a physical presence and strong winning mentality in the middle of the park. With the arrival of the all-action box-to-box Naby Keita also imminent, Klopp has given his squad greater flexibility and options ahead of next year, rather than being forced to stick with his trusted 4-3-3 formation to accommodate the triple threat assault of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
There is no doubt that going forward, Liverpool have the capability to destroy any team in world football. Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir is another creative talent being pursued by the Anfield club, but it is at the other end of the pitch where question marks still cause grave concerns.
The Reds need to sign Roma goalkeeper Alisson at all costs - just like they did when they forked out a transfer fee of £75m for Virgil Van Dijk - a world record outlay for a defender. The Dutchman’s calming influence has improved the back four remarkably and his positive impact has far outweighed the transfer fee which at the time appeared excessive.
With the guarantee of Champions League football next season and their dynamic style of play, Liverpool have both the allure and funds from their Champions League run and the exorbitant sale of Coutinho in January to become serious challengers for a first title since 1990.