Liverpool

This weekend marks the start of the 2018-2019 English Premier League season, which is always an exciting time of the year. And Liverpool opens on Sunday, August 12, at 5:30 a.m. Expectations are high after a surprisingly successful season that saw them not only finish in the top four once again but make it all the way to Champions League Final.

They finished with 75 points, one less than the year before, but there’s no doubt Liverpool was more impressive this time around. They scored more goals (2nd-most in the league) and had a top-5 defense (best defense in years, allowing just 38 goals in 38 games); all while going through a tougher schedule. They played more games because of their deep Champions League run and faced many more injuries, which exposed their lack of quality depth, but they somehow held down the fort.

They addressed their weakness during the summer transfer window. The most notable additions were midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho, winger Xherdan Shaqiri on the flank, and most importantly, a world-class goalkeeper in Alisson Becker. In large part because of these additions, there’s a lot of hype and excitement for the upcoming season. It’s a relatively young team but established that is strong in every area.

This is easily the best Liverpool squad in a long time; even better than the one that almost won the title in 2014. That was a profoundly flawed team that Luis Suarez carried. This new squad is a well-rounded and well-oiled machine.

First off, the defense is finally an asset. Since I started heavily following Liverpool back in 2010, they’ve never had a defense you can be comfortable with. Liverpool has always been shaky at the back, and that’s always been their Achilles heel and have gone through numerous transfer windows buying new defenders, hoping to find guys that stick.

And their fortunes changed last year when it was the first time the back four and wasn’t a weakness. They allowed just a goal-per-game but allowed only 21 goals over the last 29 games to close out the season. That is a 27-goal pace, which would have tied them with the best defense in Manchester City.

Liverpool has, arguably, the best center back in the league in Virgil Van Dijk. His partner is still up for debate between Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. Matip is a quality player who makes for a great center back duo, but he’s facing an injury right now. Lovren has had an up-and-down Liverpool career, but was better than people expected last season and had an excellent World Cup.

Jurgen Klopp finally solidified the team’s left-back hole with Andrew Robertson, who had a superb debut season with the Reds. He was probably the best left-back in the league last season, and he gives the stability at the position Liverpool has been missing since the days of John Arne Riise over a decade ago. And on the opposite end, Trent Alexander-Arnold broke out as a 19-year-old and had some of his best games in the biggest situations.

He and Robertson have solidified the outer edges of the Reds’ defense, and combined with the excellent cornerback duo and a world-class goalkeeper in Alisson Becker; there is a calming presence at the back, which is hard to believe. Now Liverpool does not have to be desperate to score 3-4 four goals each time to win.

It should be one of the best defenses in the league, and even better than last season, and they have added depth with Joe Gomez, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno.

Naby Keita and Fabinho add more depth, cover, and dynamism to a midfield which needed it. Even without Emre Can’s departure, Liverpool needed more youth and bodies in the midfield that can play. Save for a Fabinho penalty miss during the preseason; both have looked good and are of excellent quality. They’re only 23 and 24, respectively, with world-class potential, so the duo is just going to get better.

A midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Keita and Fabinho look to be the expected starting group when all are healthy, but Adam Lallana is worthy of starting, as is Gini Wijnaldum. It’s a luxury to be able to rotate these players in and out and not lose much when you do. It’s a strong midfield that will support the face of the team: The Front Three.

Liverpool is mainly known for it’s fast-paced, fluid, and fun-to-watch offense with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and of course Mohamed Salah,. They combined for 87 goals and 36 assists last year in all competitions, which made them the most dangerous attacking trio in the world. When you think of Liverpool today, the first thing to come to mind is the front three and Jurgen Klopp unlocking their potential.

And they are all just entering their primes (all three happen to be 26). They have excellent chemistry and considering it was just Salah’s first season; there’s no reason not to expect them to get better together. And now they get reinforcements with the return of Daniel Sturridge and addition of Xherdan Shaqiri. Last year, they did not have guys off-the-bench after the trio, but again, this year is different.

Liverpool finally has depth in every area, and depth of quality, which has been their biggest weakness over the years, along with the defense. Both have been shored up. Jurgen Klopp has the luxury, when fully healthy, to be able to rotate players out and still have a formidable starting 11, which means he can keep the players fresh while still fielding a quality side.

For example, Sturridge has always been fragile, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite striking talent. He’s a 20-goal striker, and he may be coming off the bench and starring during domestic cup competition, instead of a guy like unproven Danny Ings did last season. It won’t appear like they are not trying to win on every front.

That is what the elite teams in Europe are able to do, and this is the next step in Liverpool’s ascension. Manchester City should be the favorites, but Liverpool is a genuine title contender now. Those are legitimate expectations, which says a lot. They are on that elite level now, which explains the excitement from fans.

Predictions

Finish: 2nd place with 84 points

Goals For: 90

Goals Allowed: 34

Highest Goal-Scorer: Mo Salah (28)

Best New Addition: Alisson Becker

Featured Image via Flickr/cchana