It is that time of the year again. With the regularity of hordes of wildebeest migrating across East Africa, as the start of the league season approaches, a question passes across the minds of Liverpool fans – “Will this be the season?” Even at the start of 2010-11 season, with Roy Hodgson at the helm, at least a few Reds would have wondered if their team will be successful that season. In the eight seasons since then, the question continues to be asked, only with varying intensity and with varying definitions of success. “Will this be the season when Liverpool get back into top four?” or “Will this be the season when the Reds end up with some silverware at least?”.
But this August, the Liverpool faithful are not wondering about top four or about any silverware. Their team’s performance in the season gone-by has given them enough confidence to start wondering if this will be the season when they can win the title again. And they have several good reasons to be confident again. Not only did their little-fancied side that had to progress via the playoffs to reach the Champions League group stage reach the final, but they did it in style, breaking several goalscoring records on the way. Liverpool also attained their overall goal of top-four in the Premier League without much fuss.
More Reasons for Optimism Other than the Last Season
Of course, it is not just because of the last season that Liverpool fans are hopeful for the 2018-19 season. They have more reasons. First of which is the transfer window. Earlier, when the Reds did well in a season, they invariably ended up selling some of their stars. Alonso after 2008-09 and Luis Suarez after 2013-14 are prime examples of this. This time, however, none of the stars of last season have exited from Anfield so far. On top of that Liverpool have gone ahead and plugged some of the gaps that caused them to drop points last season.
Naby Keita and Fabinho have not just bolstered Liverpool’s midfield, but rather upgraded it. The Reds have broken transfer records to sign Alisson, which has led to an upgrade in goal as well. Up front, Liverpool did not need an upgrade, but they did need good backup options. For that, they have signed Shaqiri and at least till now resisted the temptation to send Daniel Sturridge out on loan. Between Shaqiri and Sturridge, Liverpool can boast of two of the best backup options in the entire league. In defence, the Reds’ first-choice defenders from the second half of last season are joined by fit backup options. This squad strength and depth indeed is impressive and is the second reason for the optimism.
The third reason is the preseason. Yes, I know. We cannot read too much into the preseason results. But it is not the results that are as inspiring as the fact that almost all their new signings were able to participate in a large part of the preseason and managed to put in inspiring performances in those friendly games. Other than Lovren, who joined Klopp’s squad just earlier this week, all World Cup returnees were also able to take part in the friendlies in the US and in the training camp in France. This gives Liverpool the chance of hitting the ground running when the season starts next weekend when some of their fellow top-six sides are struggling with awol or want-away stars.
What are the Soothsayers Predicting?
Whether they are knowledgeable ex-footballers and respected journalists or whether they are nerdy football statisticians, they are all predicting at least a second-place finish for Liverpool. The nerds go as far as saying that the Reds have a 20% chance of winning the league, while Manchester City have a 47% chance of retaining the title.
But, if Liverpool are to win the title, they need at least 85 – 90 points, especially as City’s drive to retain the title seems as strong as the Reds’ desire to win it. Liverpool will need a bit of luck here and there but if they can convert their draws into wins. Liverpool played out 12 draws last season, which was the highest number of draws in the top-six. Just halving that number can yield an additional 12 points, getting the tally up to 87. Clearly, this will be an area for Klopp to focus on. In my view, Liverpool should be targeting at least 20 points from games against fellow-top six teams and at least 70 points from games against the other 14 teams.
Individually speaking, for Liverpool to achieve such targets, their prolific front three will need to keep scoring as they were scoring last season. We can expect Salah, Mane and Firmino to do exactly that. But a fit Sturridge also means a good handful of goals. That would be a bonus. But the real focus will be on the defence, as the pairing of world’s most expensive central defender and goalkeeper will be constantly evaluated. If they live up t their price tags and if Lovren lives up to the epithet he gave himself (“World’s best”), the above targets will seem easily achievable.
No matter how we look at this – through the eyes of fans or through the objective lens of stats – it seems quite likely that Liverpool will challenge for the title this season. If they improve enough over the last season and if the others (City) regress a little bit, this indeed might be the season that the Liverpool fans have been dreaming of for a long time.