2016/17 Liverpool Season Preview
Liverpool are looking for a huge improvement on last seasons disappointing league finish of 8th. Jurgen Klopp the current head coach enters his first full season at the helm. Klopp places great value on training and fitness in his squad preparation. A first full preseason presents Klopp with the chance to truly mould his team into what he hopes to be genuine title contenders.
Positives From Last Season
Liverpool began last season with internal turmoil. Former Coach Brendan Rodgers was barely clinging to his job after a very disappointing prior campaign. The loss of Champions League football following a sixth place finish in 2014/15 was a crushing blow to the club. The writing was on the wall for Rodgers and his overly cautious tactics eventually led to his contract being terminated by the owners.
The club owners moved swiftly to recruit the much sought after and recently available Jurgen Klopp. His arrival immediately lifted spirits at Anfield and renewed the players appetite to perform in a red shirt. Klopp’s exuberant character and obvious passion for the club is infectious. Positivity had returned, the fans were reignited and the combination powered (what was still Rodgers squad) the team to two domestic Cup Final appearances.
Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge were two of the main beneficiaries from Klopps arrival. Sturridge, a brilliant but injury plagued striker benefited from sensible management of his game time. Given time by Klopp to properly rehabilitate, Sturridge proved to be a key player in the latter stages of the season. He was also able to be fit for England duty at the Euro 2016.
Origi’s play had suffered under Rodgers over cautious style. The young striker had failed to make any impact, and was mooted as one to be sold. Klopp immediately started to play to the Belgian’s strengths. Gegenpressing (counter pressing) suits a speedy and strong forward, and Origi bought into Klopp’s system and was rewarded with increased game time. His overall improvement and exciting performances, saw him rise to rival Sturridge as the preferred starting striker.
Weaknesses From Last Season
Following the loss of Luis Suarez and the ending of Steven Gerrard’s stellar Liverpool career, Brendan Rodgers amassed a very large and expensive squad. Signings such as Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic all failed to deliver as expected. Rodgers had also loaned out Balotelli and Markovic and acquired players such as Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and James Milner.
Upon Klopp’s arrival the squad was littered with sub par performers and senior players who should have similarly been performing better. Klopp decided against making big money signings in the January 2016 transfer window. Preferring to work with an inherited squad, Klopp postponed big squad changes until the following summer.
Areas of obvious weakness from the eighth place finish, included, Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno at goalkeeper and left back, and a lack of pace going forward. The centre backs finished the season strongly with Mamadou Sakho and Lovren starting to find form and confidence. Liverpool’s midfield did not provide enough goals to support Sturridge, Origi and when played, Benteke. The latter struggling to adapt to the playing style of Klopp. These areas of weakness are issues that Klopp and his staff will look to address in this pre-season.
Liverpool have signed Joel Matip and Marko Grujic for the start of the 2016/17 season for a combined transfer fee of 5.1 million pounds. The Reds have also recruited the pacey forward/winger Sadio Mane and a goal scoring midfielder in Georginio Wijnaldum. Defensively, Klopp has added the talented young German goalkeeper Loris Karius and another experienced centre back in Ragnar Klavan. Veteran goalkeeper Alex Manninger is another of the summer signings. He will provide cover and will likely mentor Karius and Mignolet.
With no European football this season, Liverpool need a streamlined squad. Klopp has been ruthless in offloading Jordon Ibe, Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure, Brad Smith and Joe Allen. Fan favourite Jon Flanagan also looks to possibly be departing on a season long loan to Burnley. Benteke, heavily courted by Crystal Palace, and Lucas Leiva tracked by Turkish clubs should result in more outgoings. Balotelli and Markovic are also likely to exit the club. The Premier League opening squad, will be compiled exclusively with players Klopp wants at the club.
Players To Watch
Emre Can: A powerhouse midfielder, the German international was Liverpool’s young player of the year last season. Mooted as a future captain the German must kick on from his breakout season. Adding goals to his game will see Can rise to the next level of complete midfielders.
Philippe Coutinho: Mercurial when in form, the twice player of the year Brazilian, faces a pivotal season. Coutinho needs to be dominant in games on a more consistent basis. A possible big bid for his services could see Klopp tempted to cash in however.
Sadio Mane: Blistering pace and trickery on the ball, the Senegalese can also chip in with goals. Mane will stretch defences and provides a more direct option for Liverpool counter attacks. Klopp made his admiration known by paying a significant fee to secure his talents. Mane along with Matip must start strongly as they will miss a crucial portion of the season while playing in the African Cup of Nations.
Dejan Lovren: Lovren has flourished under Klopp, emerging last season as Liverpool’s most solid centre back. Lovren will face competition from a good center back crew, including Sakho, Matip, Klavan and when fit Joe Gomez. This competition should inspire the Croatian to continue to perform at his highest level.
Sheyi Ojo: An Academy starlet, Ojo has pressed his first team claims well in the pre-season USA tour. Having pace to burn and the ability to pick key passes are just two of the attributes of this young winger. Ojo’s willingness to forego a vacation in order to link up with the squad in the USA, will endear him to Klopp. An exciting squad option for the Reds.
The Reds have made improvements to the squad since the end of last season. Klopp has addressed the areas of weakness and strengthened long term. Most of the new signings this season are under the age of twenty five. This shows that Klopp is planning for the longer term rather than building an ageing squad. Big matches for the Reds this year include traditional rivals Manchester United and Everton, but also key games against Leicester, Tottenham, Southampton, West Ham and Stoke, all of whom were ahead of or just behind Liverpool in the final table last season
Premiership victories such as Leicester’s last year are proof that anything is possible The dominance of big money clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea was shattered. A great team ethic, passionate fans and a well drilled game plan are what carried the Foxes to glory last year. Jurgen Klopp is building in a very similar manner at Anfield. With a ground capacity increase to 54,000 in the offing and with passionate Anfield fans roaring his team on, Klopp will be looking to re-assert the club in the Champions League positions.