Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the fight for the title of Premier League Champions 2019! The contenders? In the Blue corner, the team that broke the Premier League points and goals scored records last season, the reigning Champions, Manchester City (muffled mumblings of support from the crowd due to poor attendance from their fans). Annnnnd in the RED corner, the most successful club in English football history! Five time winners of the European Cup! The mighty LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB (ground shaking, ear shattering cheer from the best supporters in the world)!
The scale of the task ahead of Liverpool, in order to go toe to toe with this incredible City side, should not be underestimated. As Klopp said in his recent press conference, we are still Rocky while City are IVAN DRAGO.
Liverpool finished in 4th place, 25 (TWENTY-FIVE) points behind Manchester City. The same place as the previous season. On 26 May we lost the European Cup Final. As we trudged away from that nightmare loss and the horror show put on by our keeper, there did not seem to be much reason for optimism that we could close the massive gap with City this season. So, how have we managed to bounce back to be contenders for the title?
Shortly after the final a video emerged of Klopp singing and dancing with supporters. He sang along with them about Madrid having all the luck, but the mood was a positive one. Appreciating what had been achieved and looking forward to see how to take the next big step up. Liverpool fans reacted in the same way. Disappointment was followed by determination and defiance. Allez, Allez, ALLEZ!
Anyone who follows Liverpool closely knows that since Klopp took over we have progressed in leaps and bounds from the dismal decline that marked the end of the Brendan Rodgers era. Fans could see the improvements in the team. Where once we had a forward line of Balotelli, Benteke and Lambert, now we have Firmino, Mane and Salah! Problem areas have gradually been fixed and the overall quality and depth of the squad has been improved. It was this progress that meant that, when we lost to Real Madrid, we knew that this was just another part of the journey. A bump in the road to the glorious destiny that awaits us ahead.
Even more impressive than Klopp’s and the fans’ resilience was the attitude of the club. No one was resting on their laurels at LFC, least of all transfer supremo Michael Edwards. Within days of losing the final LFC announced the signing of Fabinho and gave all of us supporters a massive lift.
The Fekir deal crumbled, which was disappointing. We may never know why, but it is always going to be better to walk away from a bad deal than be stuck with a player who isn’t quite right for us for whatever reason.
Keita finally arrived and showed in pre-season his speed, balance and skill. Shaqiri was snapped up from Stoke for a song and proceeded to score a sensational overhead kick against Man United in the US leg of the tour.
Past seasons have been blighted by the failure to address obvious problems quickly enough. James Milner is great, but he should not have had to play an entire season at leftback. VVD has been immense, but he was needed at the start of last season and not just from January onwards. It looked as though there would be a similar failure this year as the form of Karius cast a long and depressing shadow over the season to come. The club seemed to try to excuse his Champions League catastrophe on the basis of concussion and Klopp came out strongly in support of his keeper. However, it quickly became clear from some further blunders in pre-season matches that whatever psychological scars Karius suffered were still affecting his performances. Thankfully the club reacted decisively and spectacularly in breaking the world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. No more “wait and see”, no more “make do”. In came the mighty beast of a keeper that is, ALISSON.
Apart from the Fekir Fek up, this has been a brilliant transfer window for Liverpool.
What of our rivals? How have we managed to leapfrog them to become City’s main and only serious challengers? The answers lie in transition, inaction and self-destruction.
Man U finished 19 points behind City last season. They were nowhere near their blue neighbours in either points or the quality of their football. How have they addressed the gap? They haven’t. Fred and Dalot are not signings to set the league alight (no emojis for them). Their pre-season has been an embarrassment. Mourinho is succumbing to third season syndrome. Is there a more miserable looking manager in the Prem? He spent their American tour crying that all his best players had not come back from the World Cup yet. He bemoaned the lack of investment in his squad, despite the literally hundreds of millions of pounds that have been lavished on it. He seemingly has no regard for the club’s young players. He was even reported as saying that he would not have paid to watch his team take on Liverpool in the US. His words may have been taken as an affront to the club and their American supporters. This cannot have gone unnoticed by the board. He is a capable manager and his Man U will continue to grind out results, but he has done nothing to address the chasm in quality that lies between them and City. He already has his excuses lined up. I would not put any money on Mourinho being at the Theatre of Boredom to moan some more next season.
Spurs have seemed more interested in their flashy new stadium than the transfer market. It was smart to secure Pochettino and Kane with new contracts, but where is the new blood to push the team on? Too many changes can unbalance a good team and take time to bed in, but no signings seems like a dearth of ambition or a lack of funds. The new stadium isn’t cheap. Spurs may also take time to settle into their new home (West Ham fans know all about this). Spurs will do well to maintain their position in third. If they do so, it will be largely because their rivals have bigger problems.
The farce of Conte starting pre-season training, when everyone seemed to know that Sarri would be in charge for the new season, is a prime example of the disarray at Chelsea. Plans for a new stadium appear to have been shelved and the continued interest of their wealthy owner seems uncertain. Some of their key players may be unsettled by speculation about their futures. Hazard and Willian were both linked with big money moves. Courtois reportedly failed to turn up to training and shortly after that he was on a plane to Madrid. His ability and experience will be a big loss for Chelsea. The signing of Kepa for a world record fee (thanks for taking the pressure off Alisson lads) was more part of a desperate need to plug a gap, rather than careful future planning.
Arsenal are in transition following the departure of their greatest ever manager. Unai Emery has very big shoes to fill. He inherits a squad that struggled to challenge for the top four, let alone the title. He has brought in some new players, but none of them will satisfy the anguished Gunners fans on Arsenal Fan TV. I expect to see Arsenal finishing 6th again and that is only if Mr Emery does well.
In the absence of a shock team emerging from outside the usual suspects, it is clearly a two horse race between us and City.
City face two problems going into the season.
The first is that it is inevitably difficult to maintain the same level of hunger and motivation for the same target once it has already been achieved. It is notoriously difficult to retain the Premier League title. However, Pep Guardiola will not settle for second best and anyone not striving to be even better than last season will quickly be replaced. City have such strength in depth that Pep could probably name two separate teams that are almost as good as each other.
The second problem for City is that, despite their riches, they are not having it all their own way in the transfer market. Alexi Sanchez was supposed to be heading for the Etihad, but for some reason preferred to end up at United. City were also keen to sign Jorginho, but he preferred Chelsea instead. For some footballers living in London with all it has to offer will be more important than who they play for, even if it means lining up for a plastic club with no history. City will be strong again, but not as strong as Pep would have liked.
The hunger, sharpness, speed and team spirit that shone in Liverpool’s pre-season carry us into the new campaign on a wave of optimism. We have a great squad. We have a charismatic, fun, brilliant and HAPPY manager. We have a team full of exciting talent. We have the best player in the world and the world’s best keeper. @ me @MattyLine. Only City stand between us and the title. On the Kop this season, we will cheer even louder because now, more than ever before under Klopp’s leadership, we believe the title is ours for the taking.