Jurgen Klopp has enjoyed an intriguing yet somewhat unspectacular first seven months on Merseyside since replacing Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool boss back at the start of October.
He’s taken the Reds to the final of both the League Cup and Europa League – which certainly isn’t bad going for a debut campaign – but their Premier League form has often left much to be desired, especially against sides lower than them in the table.
Yet, it’s always difficult for players, coaches, managers and clubs in general when a new gaffer arrives halfway through the season, without the benefit of a pre-season or a transfer window to bring in his own signings, and we at FootballFanCast expect the Reds to do much better than their current standing of eighth place next term – Klopp’s first full campaign at the helm.
In fact, ahead of a 2016/17 season that’s seemingly impossible to predict, we’re tipping Liverpool to finish in the top four for just the second time since 2009.
Here are SIX reasons why…
It is evident enough in the Premier League table, currently two places higher than when Brendan Rodgers was issued his marching orders back in October, but those who’ve watched Liverpool regularly this season will be well aware of the improvements they’ve made since Jurgen Klopp took the helm.
The football is far more ferocious, entertaining and effective – particularly against heavyweight opposition. Indeed, the Reds have beaten Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Leicester City during Klopp’s short spell in charge, not to mention pulling off one of the most incredible comebacks in Europa League history against Borussia Dortmund.
Admittedly, the Reds have struggled with consistency, both throughout the campaign and during the course of 90 minutes. But the German gaffer should be able to address that in the summer, which brings us nicely onto…
Jurgen Klopp’s renowned ‘gegenpressing’ philosophy is a notoriously demanding one. Pulling it off to full effect requires incredibly athletic players to be at the pinnacle of their fitness, so implementing ‘gegenpressing’ properly halfway through the season was always going to be a difficult task for Klopp and his Reds roster – an underlying cause of their aforementioned inconsistency.
But come the start of 2016/17, Klopp’s Liverpool will have enjoyed a full pre-season to get up to speed with the athletic demands of the 48-year-old’s famous style of play. And if the Reds are capable of claiming top results against top opposition when they’re still adapting to that high-pressing mantra, imagine what they can achieve when properly tuned to it.
I’m sure Jurgen Klopp and all of Liverpool’s players want the team to finish in as high a position as possible this season in a bid to gloss over a largely underwhelming domestic campaign. But as Harry Redknapp dubbed it in 2011, the Europa League is a real ‘killer’ for Premier League sides and missing out on Europe’s second-tier tournament is often a greater blessing than qualifying for it.
As things stand, Liverpool are set to record a final standing of eighth. That could still see them drafted into the Europa League, but it would depend on a series of events – including Manchester United winning the FA Cup and finishing in the top six and Manchester City finishing in the top four.
The last time Liverpool weren’t involved in a European competition, they claimed a runners-up finish in the Premier League – which shows how beneficial failing to qualify could inadvertently be for Klopp’s first full season at the Anfield helm.
It’s no secret that defence remains Liverpool’s weakest department. They’ve conceded a whopping 48 times this season, the joint-most of any side in the Premier League’s top nine and a worst defensive record than three clubs in the bottom half, and goals from set pieces has been a fatal flaw over the last few years.
Reinforcements are clearly needed but Jurgen Klopp has already sealed one in Joel Matip, who will arrive from FC Schalke this summer on a free transfer, and the Reds boss has made no secret of his intentions to sign more defenders during the coming transfer window, recently telling reporters; “When you build up a team you start with the defence. But it’s not just about speaking to the defenders. I’m never happy conceding goals. To build up a stability [in defence] is a big target for next season.”
Despite many doubting the ability of this current Liverpool side, there is definite star quality within its ranks – albeit sometimes overwhelmed by an admittedly mediocre majority. Few clubs in world football, let alone the Premier League, boast a goalscorer with as impressive a strike-rate as Daniel Sturridge, so if Jurgen Klopp can keep the England international fit next season, Liverpool will have a great chance of finishing in the top four.
Likewise, Philippe Coutinho is a real old-fashioned match-winner, capable of creating or scoring a goal out of nothing, and is already on Barcelona’s transfer radar at the age of 23. Roberto Firmino has really impressed since arriving last summer as well and should perform even better next season, bearing in mind the old adage of a allowing a year to settle.
No doubt, Liverpool lack top-class quality in other key departments. But Klopp already has the makings of a top four team – he just needs to find the right additions this summer.
Next season is shaping up to be the toughest to predict in Premier League history. Leicester City enter it as reigning champions, Tottenham Hotspur are on the rise, Arsene Wenger is determined to break the bank for Arsenal this summer and Chelsea and Manchester City are welcoming two new managers, including the near-legendary Pep Guardiola, whilst Jose Mourinho could make a return to the English top flight with Manchester United.
That suggests the usual top four (Arsenal, Chelsea, City, United) will all rebuild heavily during the summer, which will inevitably throw up some teething pains that could be further amplified if Spurs and Leicester City hit the ground running. In other words, some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs will be caught in transition and much like the Foxes this season, Liverpool are in a great position to take advantage.