I’ll put it out there from the start… I’m a Liverpool fan. Last night’s Europa League Final loss to Sevilla was, quite probably, the lowest I’ve felt in a long time after a defeat, with the second half collapse a bolt out of the blue following a thoroughly dominant opening 45 minutes.
So this exercise is as important in a cathartic sense for myself as it is any supporter reading it. Yes Liverpool lost their biggest game of the season, and a second final in the calendar year, but, upon reflection, I soon realised that there are lots of reasons for optimism on the red half of Merseyside.
So instead of calling players out over the result and lamenting a few questionable refereeing decisions on a tough night in Basel, let’s look at FIVE reasons for positivity right now…
We’ll start with the obvious. Jurgen Klopp is in the elite band of managers in world football. Rival supporters may scorn and point to Brendan Rodgers guiding the Reds to a higher league position last season, but the German has started to sow the seed for recovery at Anfield. Granted, eighth place in the Premier League and two final losses is not a record that anyone, even Klopp, can look at with a great deal of pride, but it must be remembered there are extenuating circumstances, such as injuries, a lack of January additions and a pile up of fixtures during the winter period.
We have, however, seen glimpses of what is possible under Klopp in the long-term, so with a full pre-season behind him in which he will be able to prepare his players for the intense pressing game he favours, while also making a few choice signings, who knows what’s possible.
Just about everyone associated with Liverpool can see the need for this squad to be refreshed. It looks as if very few, if any, key first-team players will depart this summer, so it seems that it’ll be a case of complimenting the quality at Anfield with a handful of elite options – a stance somewhat reflected by the Bosman deal for centre-back, Joel Matip.
The marquee target appears to be Mario Gotze. Although there have been reports suggesting that Liverpool needed to win the Europa League to make a deal feasible, there’s no reason to believe the transfer is dead in the water, with the playmaker himself known to have a great relationship with Klopp following their time together at Dortmund. Plus, where else will he go? Leicester, Spurs, Man City and Arsenal appear to be off the table for a variety of reasons, Juventus cannot offer the vast salary Gotze could pocket in England, BVB’s fans have already voiced their discontent at potentially having him back and the 23-year-old’s stock isn’t quite high enough to alert Real Madrid or Barcelona right now.
As well as additions, Klopp will be able to use Lazar Markovic when he returns from his loan spell at Fenerbahce, while Sergi Canos looks in line to be a squad player after a great spell at Brentford.
Winning the Europa League was Liverpool’s last chance of booking continental football for 2016/17. Although it’s a huge blow to miss out on the Champions League and the riches that come with it, finishing eighth in the Premier League means that the Europa League – which, admittedly, created some pretty special memories over the last few months – will be swerved, allowing Liverpool to focus solely on domestic duties.
We saw the impact of a reduced quantity of games as the Reds came so close to winning the league 2013/14, while there’s no denying that Leicester benefitted this term from not having to play midweek games. A full seven days between matches will be massive for Klopp in terms of working with his squad, and will allow the likes of Daniel Sturridge the recovery time needed to maintain full fitness.
Here’s Sturridge’s sublime finish for you: https://t.co/HE6Y2evgN1
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 18, 2016
We need to say it quietly, but Sturridge is playing games regularly and looks close to being back to peak physical fitness. Enough has been written and said about his torrid couple of years, so we’ll gloss over the consistent niggling injuries and look instead at the past few months.
Since his ‘proper’ return in February, Sturridge has featured on 18 occasions in league, cup and continental action, firing nine goals. Klopp has used him responsibly to ease him back into action, but of late the England international has been fielded for full 90 minute games, and hasn’t looked close to having a drop off in terms of fitness, nor any injury scares. Granted, there’s a big summer ahead with the European Championship in France, but, at the risk of tempting fate, that lengthy spell out for surgery in America may well have done the trick…
Through necessity somewhat across 2015/16, Klopp turned to a number of alternative options. Before a ball was kicked few would have predicted that Divock Origi would play such a key role in games of the magnitude of Dortmund away, that Emre Can would mature so rapidly into a domineering central midfielder, that Sheyi Ojo would return and move ahead of Jordon Ibe in the pecking order or that Kevin Stewart would prove himself as a capable, if limited, anchorman. Throw into the mix the returning Joe Gomez and Welsh goalie Danny Ward, and there is much to be positive about for the coming few seasons.