Season Preview: Glass Half Full v Glass Overflowing
First up, JB...
That we’ve progressed under Klopp is undeniable. But the optimism – even arrogance in some quarters – of the summer makes you wonder what planet lots of Reds have been living on for the last twenty-odd years. Why can’t we win the Title? Because “We are Liverpool”, as the song goes: we’re bound to mess it up somewhere.
Oh, and also because we finished TWENTY-FIVE points behind City last season. Oh, and six behind United, who are finished, according to most. How has that prediction worked out for you in the past?
Last season, our record against the top five teams in the division was pathetic: out of a possible 30 points, we took TEN. Out of a possible 15 away from Anfield, we took ONE. That’s an area where we are going to have to do markedly better this season. If you lose away to City, Spurs, Chelsea and United – direct opponents – it’s bound to prove fatal to any Title bid. Dropping points at home to the likes of Burnley, Everton, West Brom and Stoke tends not to help either. NINE points from a possible 18 against the relegated teams (Albion, Stoke and Swansea) tells its own story.
The money we’ve spent should go some way to solving some of our away-day calamities (City and Spurs both come to mind). Those type of displays should become a rarer sight given the “steel” that’s been added in the last year. Alisson-Virgil-Keita-Bobby as a spine looks pretty decent on paper. But they’re going to have to land on their feet or the season will be over before it starts. Do you trust this new improved version to do better than 19 points out of a possible 48 against the Top Five and the Bottom Three? I can’t say I do.
However, all the signs are that these players and the manager are deserving of some faith. We have – in general terms – progressed under Klopp. In terms of the way we play, for one. It would be disingenuous to not lavish praise on some of our football, notably in Europe. Defensively, we’re better. From 1.33 goals a game conceded in his first season, we progressed to 1.10 a game in 2016-2017 and to 1 last season.
The hope is that Alisson will finally win us points. We haven’t been able to say that for years; decades, perhaps. When was the last time we would say a keeper was worth X number of points a season to us? Often, it’s been the opposite: they’ve cost us points and more recently trophies. The plus/minus on that front will go a long way to dictating our season.
I’ve said it before: Salah, Bobby and Sadio (and maybe even Daniel now!) can’t be expected to go to the well week after week. They need to know that ONE will be enough sometimes. Again, this is an area in which we’ve progressed immensely.
In 2016-2017 we kept 11 clean sheets, last season we were up to 18. We’re going to need to produce those numbers this season to sustain a Title challenge and all the while be as prolific up front as we were last season. 80-100 goals is the norm for Champions. Anything less than 90 points will not be enough to win it. Klopp’s average of 1.87 points a game since he’s been here amount to 71 points a season…
So, do we approach the season more in hope than expectation? Hope, because if you don’t have that, then what else is there? The hope is to improve on last season’s total of 75 points. The hope is to win some silverware – it’s been a while.
For the more positive-minded among you, expecting great things? Well, Mo is still here! Virgil will be even better. Andy will start at left-back, unlike against Watford last season. The middle of the park looks more solid, although Chamberlain will be missed. Alisson’s statistics are top-notch, in that he saves shots, apparently. Which, for £65 million, is reassuring.
I still don’t trust this bunch to do it over a full season. I do, however, fancy us every year in The European Cup. We should always qualify from the group stages and when we do, we can beat anyone over two legs given the Anfield factor. That probably remains our best hope for the season ahead.
We’ll know in a couple of months whether the expectations of the summer were realistic. Hope for the best. Expect top four.
And now Paul's turn...
At 47 years of age, I've anticipated a lot of new seasons as a Red. Some turned out brilliantly, some were mediocre and one or two were a disgrace. However, I am struggling to remember feelings of excitement at the outset of a new campaign like those I'm experiencing right now.
I was lucky enough to grow up as a Red stood on The Kop in the 1980s, but despite those being incredible times to be a Liverpool supporter, I honestly don't think I ever felt as excited about the possibilities of a new season back then as I do now.
On the face of it, that seems a ridiculous thing to say. We were dominant at home and - in the first half of the decade at least - in Europe, playing some of the best football ever played and enjoying a time when the game and its culture was certainly simpler and, arguably, purer. Certainly nothing since Kenny last delivered the title has come close to that time.
Even in 2005, as European Champions again, we had our chips pissed on by the club's appalling handling of Steven Gerrard at a time when abject club leadership was about to be replaced by owners who almost killed us completely. However, this season feels like something special.
So why, in the context of the first champions to spend - literally - billions in the acquisition of a 100 point title win, should any Red feel so excited?
Firstly, look at the football and, yes, entertainment. No-one - not even City - plays the game in such an exhilarating, lightening quick, attack at all costs manner. Under Klopp we have absolutely smashed teams, both lowly and stellar, putting 3, 4, 5 and more past good and great sides alike.
After years of rocking up to Anfield not knowing what to expect, it now feels great to know you are almost certainly going to watch a victory with plenty of goals, to boot. Of course many fans would rightly point to the fact that great football is winning football and that includes keeping it tight defensively. However, we were doing exactly that from pretty much the minute Virgil arrived. Obviously we're all well aware of the goal-keeping debacle of the CL final. However, look at the response: a world record signing brought in to rectify the problem.
And that brings me to my next cause for excitement: our recruitment. No way have we got so many signings so utterly right since the last title. In twelve months we've broken our transfer record six times. Six! In twelve months! And two of those were world records!
Some of the mealy-mouthed comment about this summer's business from many of our fans has absolutely blown me away. It's like they've completely blanked the last thirty years from their minds. Or else their sense of entitlement in an oil-inflated world has left them utterly adrift from reality and multiple record deals are suddenly no big deal.
It's not just the ambition of the deals that is so impressive though, or their success rate either. And it's not even the fact that we keep signing players coveted by virtually every side in the world. No, the thing that I love about our transfers under Klopp - and especially this summer- is how each one of them seems to so perfectly address a specific need in the squad.
You don't need me to spell it out for you, so I won't. But these four players are exactly what we needed. "What if they fall short?", I hear the oh-so-sensible ones cry. Well answer me this. How many players have done that under Klopp? Arguably none, but if you don't count taking a five million pound keeper to the CL final as a success of sorts, I'll give you Karius (And you can have him. Please.)
So we've made some good signings. So what? Well the "so what" is that they'll give us the potential to play Kloppball at its peak for an entire campaign, riding the vagaries of injury and exhaustion to deliver that 100MPH stuff from Sunday through to May. But beyond that, going back to my previous point, the potential is there to improve.
If Klopp's ultimate aim is to keep teams pinned back in their own defensive third then he needs to ensure that exposure to the lightening quick counter is minimised. The answer to that is real pace right across the back line and a keeper who is great with his feet and will sweep up behind them like a genuine libero.
And if you're worried about midfield protection, what better than a genuine specialist to help out? And if you struggle to unlock parked bus defences, how about getting a player in Naby Keita (POTY, by the way; deffo) who has literally everything including the through ball, dribble or shot to do just that? Need more cover for your Fab Three? Go and get a PL-ready player who's just entering his peak years and can give you options in numerous positions. For absolute peanuts.
But it's not just all that either. It's Scouse kids in a world class squad. It's the world and her husband predicting us as genuine challengers. It's Mourinho and Spurs fans seeing their arses with our transfer business. It's that pre-season that was so utterly goal-laden. It's Daniel Sturridge reminding us of his world class talent. It's the camaraderie. It's Klopp's infectious enthusiasm. It's Anfield bouncing. And, yes, it's a real title challenge in the post.
Anyone could drive a coach and horses through some of the above if they really wanted to. But why would you want to? This time, after I'd thought it was gone for good, anything feels possible. And that's in full acknowledgment of what City are capable of. After all, what's the point of being a Red if you can't anticipate greatness, especially when this time it feels substantial?
So, roll on Sunday, roll on Kloppball and roll on numbers nineteen and six because I'm predicting both. It costs you nothing and it feels great, so why wouldn't you? Come on you Reds!!!