There’s been a greater sense of optimism throughout the pre-season campaign under Jurgen Klopp.
The German boss has brought with him excitement and prospect since arriving at Anfield in October 2015 and this year’s pre-season campaign demonstrated a number of contrasts from the Reds’ last preparation period under Brendan Rodgers.
Following a disappointing 2014-15 season, Rodgers was under pressure to perform at the start of last season and the summer was filled with displeasure and doubts from Liverpool supporters, who weren’t fully confident in the Northern Irishman.
However, after demonstrating progression, ambition and passion, Klopp has brought a sense of optimism to Liverpool and this year’s pre-season has shown this.
Pedigree of new signings
There was a high level of anticipation from Reds’ fans to see the club’s new signings in the summer of 2015 after a disappointing season but the impact of Rodgers’ signings the year previous was so disappointing that there was a strong sense of apprehension too.
Just a year after Rodgers led Liverpool on a title-chase and one of their most impressive Premier League seasons, the squad seemed to stagnate and lose interest as the pain of losing the title seemed to spread through the club.
The arrival of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino sparked excitement amongst fans as Rodgers splashed over £60m for the pair expecting to add attacking prowess. There were also arrivals for Burnley’s star man, Danny Ings, and Manchester City’s title-winner, James Milner who joined on a free.
Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez were brought in to strengthen defensive options and Adam Bogdan joined from Bolton as an understudy to Simon Mignolet. Rodgers spent over £80m in an attempt to refresh the Liverpool squad but after seeing so many of the new signings flop the season before, Liverpool fans were anxious to see whether it’d pay off the second time round.
As well as a high level of apprehension on whether Rodgers’ big-money signings would pay off, Liverpool had to wave goodbye to their talisman Steven Gerrard and one of the stars of their 2013-14 campaign Raheem Sterling.
Liverpool’s former boss had chosen to dive into the market for proven Premier League players but the impact of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli had been so poor throughout 2014-15 that fans felt a sense of frustration and craved for more ambitious transfer business. Firmino was the type of European spark most fans were eager to see and the Brazilian was by far the most popular acquisition.
In contrast, Klopp’s transfer business this season has looked shrewd and ambitious and he’s looked to improve the starting XI with youth, creativity and consistency. The German looked close to home for inspiration and the purchases of Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Loris Karius from the Bundesliga all look set to be good buys. Matip brings consistency to a weak defence and Klavan brings experience and leadership to partner the youth of Karius. Grujic has added further strength to the Liverpool midfield too and has impressed during the pre-season campaign.
However, like Rodgers, Klopp has opted for Premier League talent and the transfer of Sadio Mane from Southampton will be one to keep an eye on, as will the acquisition of former Newcastle United midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum.
Every fan loves to see a new signing score on their opening appearance and it’s often seen during pre-season. Liverpool fans have had goals to cheer on in the last two pre-seasons but will the stars of this year’s campaign continue their fine form?
Marko Grujic scored in his opening 45 minutes of the 2016-17 campaign in Liverpool’s 5-0 victory against Fleetwood Town and followed it up with another goal against Huddersfield Town.
The former Red Star Belgrade midfielder has looked exciting so far and his box-to-box performances give supporters something to get excited about.
However, last year, it was Christian Benteke who lit up the pre-season campaign with a superb debut goal for Liverpool as he fired a thunderous overhead volley against Swindon Town.
Benteke’s opener was the first glimpse of the talents his £32m price-tag suggested but the season which followed was one of disappointment, struggle and frustration for the former Aston Villa talisman.
It’s hard to see how Grujic could produce a similarly disappointing season under Klopp after demonstrating such maturity throughout the pre-season campaign but only time will tell.
The Liverpool squad is by no means a complete package but Klopp has worked hard to improve all areas of the starting XI and he seems to have achieved more satisfaction from Liverpool fans than Rodgers did.
After a hugely disappointing defensive performance throughout the 2014-15 season, most fans expected to see Rodgers bring in some centre-back coverage and competition for Simon Mignolet’s goal-keeping position. However, the Northern Irishman addressed neither and opted to replace Mignolet’s understudy instead, bringing in Adam Bogdan in replace of Brad Jones.
There were no new additions at centre-back too but Joe Gomez’s arrival from Charlton Athletic looked like a good prospect for the future, though he was relatively unknown. The youngster was used primarily as a full-back which went some way to addressing the weakness at left-back but fans were disappointed money wasn’t spent to improve central defence.
Clyne’s addition at right-back was a great signing and was the perfect solution to Liverpool’s weak flanks, although there was little cover alongside him and Rodgers allowed Javier Manquillo to leave early after an uninspiring loan spell.
James Milner added experience to the Liverpool midfield though Rodgers’ failure to secure a defensive midfielder was criticised by many. Klopp has endured a similar response too, though the acquisitions of Georginio Wijnaldum and Marko Grujic suggests he has plans to experiment and could look to develop their roles for the future alongside Emre Can.
Unlike Rodgers, Klopp has addressed Liverpool’s weak centre-back options and has brought in Matip and Klavan who look like strong additions to the Reds’ back line. He’s also brought in two new keepers to challenge Mignolet and has looked to bring in further goal-scoring ability through Sadio Mane.
The German boss is yet to address the left-back position though and Liverpool still look weak in the full-back roles, with only Clyne standing out as a solid performer. Klopp has admitted the Reds are in search of a left-sided defender but failure to buy one may prove to be a huge limitation for Liverpool ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. Although Klopp seems to be able to acknowledge Liverpool’s weaknesses and is in agreement with most supporters, there are still areas that need addressing and he hasn’t been fully successful in doing so.
The pre-season campaign is by no means a strong indication of what’s to come during the Premier League season but it gives a strong demonstration of the type of football the team will play and what kind of mind-set the manager hopes to impose.
Klopp’s Liverpool side have shown strong attacking intent and have looked to play a high-pressing game which relies on the pace and work-rate of the attackers and midfield. Throughout the pre-season campaign, the Liverpool players have looked lively and creative and there is a sense of excitement surrounding the attacking intent of Klopp’s side.
However, there’s also been a noticeable lack of defensive cover in midfield and the need for a clinical goal-scorer still looks apparent despite Klopp investing over £20m on Sadio Mane.
Nonetheless, a 5-0 thrashing of Fleetwood Town and a 2-0 victory over AC Milan were stand out performances as the Reds completed a reasonably pleasing pre-season campaign. There were disappointments against AS Roma and Chelsea who fielded strong opposition but there have been lots of positive signs from Klopp’s red squad.
Rodgers’ pre-season campaign got off to a strong start too with victories over Thai All-Stars and Brisbane Roar but there were early signs of a similarly weak Liverpool defence and they conceded a weak goal against the Australian side. Another three victories and a draw rounded off the campaign but the Reds’ opposition were of a weaker calibre than Liverpool’s suitors this year.
Overall, there were signs of brilliance from Benteke and assurance from Gomez at full-back but Firmino did little to showcase his creativity and there were clear defensive weaknesses in Rodgers’ squad. Klopp seems to have put together a more commanding squad but whether the new signings will settle to life in the Premier League is yet to be seen.