There was a time – in the 1970’s and 1980’s, before the Heysel and Hillsborough Stadium disasters, before the Premier League started – where Liverpool were the single, undisputed soccer kings in England. From 1892 until 1990, Liverpool racked up 18 First Division titles, four European Cups, and countless other, minor trophies. Icons such as Kevin Keegan, Steve Nicol, and Kenny Danglish roamed the pitch, and Liverpool was the envy of every other club in England; stylish, arrogant, and above all, winners, both in domestic and European competitions.
The modern Liverpool, however, has had a quite different history; full of one glorious peak and numerous valleys of disappointment and failure. They have never won the Premier League, frequently coming in second, most famously in 2013-2014 when Steven Gerrard’s slip and a second half collapse against Crystal Palace gave Man City the title. Players such as Xabi Alonso, Luis Suarez, and Javier Mascherano all left Liverpool at the peak of their powers for other clubs.The only major positive from the past three decades was that magical night in Istanbul, when Liverpool came back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan for the Champions League. Rooting for Liverpool was intense, combative, dramatic, but seldom ever enjoyable.
Entering the 2018-19 season, however, things are different; positive, hopeful, exciting, all words that have not been used frequently to describe Liverpool in the past. Jurgen Klopp, he of the hipster glasses and gegenpressing, has given the club a common vision of enterprise — what a match is supposed to look like, what a season is supposed to look like, what the narrative around the club is. And thanks to a superb transfer policy that has filled Liverpool’s roster with players that fit Klopp’s vision, Liverpool have unexpectedly, and reasonably, find themselves as one of the two favorites to win the Premier League this season on the back of a Champions League final appearance last May.
There are no longer any weaknesses on the Liverpool roster; even Dejan Lovern, the much-maligned Crotian center-back, has looked assured and confident next to Virgil Van Dyke in the last 4 months of the clubs season. On either side of the center-back pairing are the young and talented Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, both of whom impressed immensely during the Champion League knockout stages. Finally, the goalkeeping position – which has alternated between the train wrecks that are Simon Mingolet and Loris Karius – has been filled with Allison, a Brazilian goalkeeper who is molded after Manuel Neuer as an imposing sweeper-keeper.
Two of the newest arrivals in Liverpool, Naby Kieta and Fabihno, will help shore up the center of the park. Fabinho is a versatile, intelligent midfielder that can provide both defensive stability and press resistance as a screener in front of the back four. Kieta, however, is the real prize; a competent defensive midfielder with the offensive wizardry of a #10, providing 6 goals, 5 assists, and 2.5 dribbles per game during his loan season at RB Leizbeg. He is the ideal link between attack and defense in Klopp’s team, able to provide line breaking dribble and passing while providing end product as well.
Of course, the three headed monster in attack is Liverpool’s most effective, and most thrilling unit. Sadio Mane quietly provided 23 goals and 10 assists last season, succeeding despite playing a more defensive minded role on the left wing. Mo Salah is the goal threat and the pace that stretches the opposition, breaking the Premier League record for goal in the season last year with 32. Roberto Firmino links the two sides together, unselfishly providing work rate and movements to free up his fellow attackers.
Under the tutelage of Klopp, Liverpool has terrified opposition, especially big clubs, but have also struggled against lesser sides that park the bus. The strides the club made last year in handling lesser opponents, the deep Champions League run, and the transfers of quality players have Mersyside dreaming of their first Premier League trophy. Is it fair for the fans to expect that?
Yes, it is. Liverpool is not Tottenham, even if the two have followed the most similar trajectories for the past few years. The Spurs, having signed Kane and Poch to new, lucrative contracts and currently building a new stadium, are well below Liverpool in terms of funding, both in transfers and wages. Just look at Toby Alderwield. The Belgian center-back should be getting a substantial raise from Tottenham; instead, Manchester United are swooping in and claiming him for $60 million. The Spurs fans don’t expect the Spurs to win the tittle because they never expected to be in this situation, ever.
Liverpool should be competing for titles, year after year, with no exceptions, and especially after the money the club has spent over the past few years – $380 million dollars since Klopp took over – the onus is to win now. Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United are all slumping under either new managers or the joyless Jose Mourihno, and Tottenham have somehow still not made a single summer signing. Only Manchester City is above Liverpool, and the Premier League Champions were beat three times last season by Liverpool. Being the favorites will be a new for Klopp, and failure to deliver on expectations – a title challenge and at least one trophy – means that, for the first time, the seat will grow warm under the German. Let’s hope it doesn’t get hot.