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Why Liverpool can push for the Premier League title next season

 • by Sam McGuire
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Liverpool secured Champions League football for the second successive season after a comfortable 4-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield.

The Reds put on a show for the home fans and on another day they could’ve been cheering six or seven goals. They had to settle for just the three.

The victory also meant Jürgen Klopp had guided his side to an unbeaten season at home for only the second time in Premier League history. While there are no trophies on offer for a fourth placed finish, the league position does improve the Liverpool manager’s stock.

He sanctioned the sale of Philippe Coutinho in January and held off on bringing in a replacement. It was a brave move, and could’ve backfired, but the campaign has come to an end with the Reds in fourth, a Champions League final on the cards and with a huge transfer kitty to work with.

Furthermore, players will be looking at the project on Merseyside and wanting to be part of it. It’s an easy sell for the likes of Michael Edwards.

The 2017/18 campaign has seen Liverpool improve across the board and it’s going to stand them in good stead for next season. They’re could emerge as the only real contenders to challenge Manchester City.

The Reds have one of the best attacking units in Europe and have showcased this on a regular basis this term. They’ve scored three or more in a single game 16 times in the Premier League and 25 across all competitions.

The likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané have rightly been lauded. But it’s meant the defence has been overlooked at times.

It was one of Klopp’s biggest issues heading into the campaign with individual mistakes costing the Reds on a regular basis.

However, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk has shored things up. Along with Loris Karius replacing Simon Mignolet and Andrew Robertson’s inclusion in the starting XI, Liverpool look a more stable and solid outfit now.

In the 14 Premier League games that the £75million defender had started. Klopp’s team have conceded just the ten goals. It works out at a rate of 0.71 per game – under 27 over an entire season.

Manchester City have a goal difference of +79, if Liverpool concede around the 30 mark next term but manage to score at a similar rate, which the expected numbers seem to suggest is sustainable, then their goal difference at the end of the campaign should be, at a minimum, +50. It’s the sort of figure which leads to a title challenge.

The likes of Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold now both have a full season of top flight football, playing in the Champions League too, under their belt. The experience will only improve the pair but it’s perhaps the latter, who is the teenager with the most Premier League minutes this season, who could be a real stalwart down the line. 

There are already signs that he’s the perfect full-back for the way Klopp wants Liverpool to play and if the manager can hone the 19-year-old’s talent then the local lad could be a serious player in the future.

And the Reds aren’t just going to be content with the squad they’ve got.

Naby Keïta is already on his way to Anfield. His performances for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga this term have shown he’s not a one-season wonder and that the £53million Liverpool paid for him is a bargain in the current transfer market.

The graphic above compares the 23-year-old to Liverpool’s current midfield options. It paints him as an all-rounder who can do a number of jobs and roles.

He’s more of a goal threat, as highlighted by his expected goals numbers, and he’s more creative than Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner.

The new Reds midfielder completes over twice as many dribbles as Wijnaldum – the player with highest of the three already at Anfield – showing he’s an individual who can take the game to the opposition. He’s a risk taker and in turn this makes him a game changer. He’s got the ability to beat a man, take them out of the game and move Liverpool up the field.

The Guinean is also diligent when it comes to his defensive work. None of the Liverpool midfielders make as many interceptions, highlighting the fact he can read the game exceptionally, or make as many tackles. It’s worth noting that Keïta plays in a two-man midfield so his defensive actions should, in theory, be higher.

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Having said that, though, the Reds appear to have bagged themselves one of the most complete midfielders in Europe. What was at times a weakness this season could be a strength next year.

If recent reports are correct, midfield isn’t the only area of the pitch that Klopp’s looking to improve. Links to Nabil Fekir as well as Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic, Malcom and Leon Bailey show the Liverpool manager knows what parts of his team need strengthening.

Fekir, who has enjoyed his most productive campaign to date with Lyon, fills a number of voids in the squad. He’s as creative as Coutinho, as dynamic as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when slaloming past people from deeper areas and as much of a goal threat as Firmino. He could well be Klopp’s Swiss Army knife.

He’s a facilitator as well as a finisher. The fact Liverpool are seemingly in the market for a player of that profile shows Klopp realises he needs more wildcards in his team if they’re to beat sides who sit deep.

He could be the difference between a draw and a win, and it’s exactly what Liverpool lacked during the 2017/18 campaign. The 12 draws this term have been why they had to settle for a fourth placed finish. 

The links to the speedsters also prove that the Liverpool boss is well aware that his side needs dynamism off of the bench. If either Mané or Salah are ruled out the Reds lack pace, incisiveness and players who aggressively attack the opposition.

They go from unpredictable to pedestrian in the absence of their explosive forwards simply because the squad lacks players of a similar style. Addressing that problem would change the dynamic and make them even more of a frightening prospect going forward.

If everything goes to plan this summer, on paper, it appears as though the 2018/19 season could see Liverpool rival Manchester City for their Premier League crown.

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