5 Reasons Why Liverpool Can Win the 2017/18 Premier League

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistAugust 10, 2017

With Jurgen Klopp at the helm, Liverpool fans can dare to dream.
With Jurgen Klopp at the helm, Liverpool fans can dare to dream.Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

This is the year. This has to be the year.

Liverpool fans have been saying those words at the start of August for nearly three decades now. Summer tends to sow the seeds of optimism on Merseyside, leading to predictions that, after the barren years, the Reds will finally be crowned champions of England again.

However, that feeling of hope has too often disappeared before the clocks are altered in October.

Former managers Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers threatened to end the title drought in 2009 and 2014 respectively, only to fall short down the final stretch.

Last season, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp dared supporters to dream again. A 6-1 thrashing of Watford early in November 2016 had Liverpool top of the Premier League table. By the time 2017 was ushered in, they were still just about in touch with leaders Chelsea, having defeated Manchester City on New Year's Eve.

In January, however, the wheels spectacularly fell off. Liverpool failed to win any of their four league outings during a month that also saw them knocked out of both domestic cup competitions.

Still, they finished inside the top four, an impressive achievement for Klopp in his first full season in charge. Promised financial backing from owners Fenway Sports Group, there was a feeling of genuine belief that the Reds were on the rise again.

A tricky transfer window has perhaps dampened expectations; Liverpool haveso far, at leastfailed in their public pursuits of Virgil van Dijk or Naby Keita, two of their main summer targets.

Throw in the continued doubt surrounding Philippe Coutinho's future, and the forecast looks a little unclear heading into the start of the 2017/18 campaign.

Yet, this is the time of year to be upbeat. Forget failed bids and potential departures (and overlook the Adam Lallana injury blow in a pre-season friendly in Germany), Liverpool fans are allowed to think that, at long last, this could be the year.

Bleacher Report has picked out five reasons why Klopp's crop can finish on top.

                         

1. The Manager

If the cap fits: Klopp is the key to success for Liverpool, rather than any one player.
If the cap fits: Klopp is the key to success for Liverpool, rather than any one player.Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Barcelona making eyes at Coutinho may have turned the player's head and led to endless media speculation, but would losing him really be that bad? Yes, particularly with so little time to find a suitable replacement.

However, as good as the Brazil international is on the field, the key to Liverpool's hopes of winning the league rests with the man who picks the team.

From the counter-pressing game to the commitment to constant improvement, Klopp has worked wonders during his tenure so far.

The Liverpool side that Rodgers left behind lacked an identity. Steven Gerrard had just left to wind down his stellar career in Los Angeles, and the club's transfer committee had, in some united brain fart, decided signing Christian Benteke was a good idea.

Now? Now, there is a clear structure and style. Whatever starting XI takes the field, the ethos doesn't change. That runs throughout the club, too, as Klopp monitors the progress of all players at Liverpool.

Branding Klopp as Anfield's new messiah seems a step too far at this stage. Yet, while he hasn't turned water into wine, he did take midfielder James Milner and turn him into a reliable option at left-back.

"There's no doubt about it; if he had been here three or four years, I believe I would have been part of him delivering big trophies for this club," Gerrard told James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo after playing under the German in a friendly earlier this year.

The man who famously described himself as "the normal one" at his first press conference on Merseyside is anything but ordinary. Players will come and go, but Klopp is the key for Liverpool.

                                   

2. Flexibility

Liverpool started last season with a sensational win at Arsenal.
Liverpool started last season with a sensational win at Arsenal.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Remember, the Reds were unbeaten against the rest of the top six last season.

They outgunned Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in an opening-weekend shootout, toppled champions Chelsea in the capital before Blues manager Antonio Conte switched to 3-4-2-1 and even outhustled both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield.

There were some issues against the so-called lesser teams in the top flight (their six league defeats came against Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Hull City, Leicester City and Crystal Palace), while a lack of depth to the squad was badly exposed by absences at the turn of the year.

Klopp recognised these problem areas and took action. 

He has added fresh faces (more on those to come) and, crucially, worked with his squad on the training field during pre-season. His Liverpool side may have set methods, but they can be flexible in terms of their formation.

Per Pearce, Klopp said at the start of pre-season:

"(In 2015-16) we played most of the time kind of 4-2-3-1, (in 2016-17) most of the time 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. In our opinion it fitted best to the players we had.

"I'm not sure which way we have to play next year, there will be a few different ones. And we'll prepare for European football also so we need a bigger squad of course."

With Klopp, there is that willingness to adapt. He showed that at the end of last season, as he switched to a diamond midfield for the final two games of the crucial run-in.

Dropping Coutinho into a deeper midfield role proved a masterstroke at West Ham United, while including Daniel Sturridge as an extra striker helped get Liverpool over the line with a home win over Middlesbrough.

Is three at the back even possible? Perhaps so with the current personnel, but Klopp will line his side up to help his players flourish, rather than focus on finding ways to nullify the opposition.

                             

3. Goals, Goals, Goals

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah: Liverpool's flying forwards on the flanks.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah: Liverpool's flying forwards on the flanks.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

Unless you were on the opposing team or just have a permanent dislike for the club, Liverpool were a joy to watch when in full flow last season.

Fast, fluid and full of intent, they played as if you were watching the game at x12 speed on your digibox. Opposition teams were often overrun and unable to cope under the intense pressure. It was less pass-and-move, more press-and-punish.

This season, the squad looks even more potent in attack. Once overreliant on Sadio Mane's speed to stretch the field, Klopp has added extra pace by bringing in Mohamed Salah from AS Roma. Now Liverpool can field a flyer on each flank.

Salah managed 29 goals in the past two seasons in Serie A alone. The Egyptian—discarded quickly by Chelsea before rebuilding his reputation in Italian football—has already suggested in pre-season he can be a regular scorer for his new employers.

And then there is Sturridge. Klopp announced in July how the oft-absent forward was "looking good" in training, per BBC Sport. Of course, not long after his manager praised him, the England international picked up an injury in the act of scoring against Bayern Munich in the Audi Cup.

As Sam McGuire pointed out for The Sportsman, though, a fit and focused Sturridge could make a difference over the course of a long season. Why spend on a top-class striker when you already have one on the books?

"He could be a weapon for Liverpool next season. Their wild card, trump card and ace in the pack all rolled into one. The difference-maker because, let's face it, not many teams are able to bring a player of Sturridge’s quality off the bench," McGuire wrote.

Add in Dominic Solankea signing made with one eye on the future but who appears ready to contribute immediatelyand the squad contains enough firepower to launch a takeover of a small country.

                              

4. Continuity

Andrew Robertson's arrival from Hull City adds depth to Liverpool's squad.
Andrew Robertson's arrival from Hull City adds depth to Liverpool's squad.Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Time to take a quick check on the rest of the Premier League's top six ahead of opening weekend:

Chelsea: The post-John Terry years start with one injured star (Eden Hazard) and another who appears to be waiting by the exit door (Diego Costa). With new faces Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko still bedding in, the champions look a little undercooked at the start of their title defence.

Tottenham Hotspur: Second last year, they don't appear too bothered about signing anyone—at all. However, while boasting a settled squad under manager Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have to get used to a temporary home at Wembley Stadium.

Manchester City: They have another new goalkeeper, along with three fresh full-backs (even manager Pep Guardiola cannot change the shape of the field at the Etihad Stadium to play all of them in their usual positions). But the pressure is on the Spaniard to get results after an up-and-down first season.

Arsenal: They are still Arsenal, despite a positive summer. Alexandre Lacazette should improve their attack, but the contract situations of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, will linger like a storm cloud over the entire squad until sorted one way or another. 

Manchester United: Having lost the leading scorer (albeit the recovering Zlatan Ibrahimovic could yet return), manager Jose Mourinho has spent big on Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is on the Belgian to hit the ground running at Old Trafford, a place that saw far too many home league draws in 2016/17.

Pep Guardiola here, pointing at another full-back he wants to buy.
Pep Guardiola here, pointing at another full-back he wants to buy.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Liverpool, meanwhile, have enhanced their options. They've built a bigger, better squad, even if huge question marks remain over the defence. This is a time to focus on the positives, not pick holes in the back four (let opposing teams do that from set-piece situations).

The recruits are welcome additions, adding competition for places rather than replacing those who've departed. To date, Lucas Leiva is the only leaver who might have featured regularly in the first team.

Andrew Robertson is a left-back with plenty of Premier League experience—albeit in fighting relegation battles instead of challenging at the summit—Salah has played in England previously, and Solanke is a young man with a chip on his shoulder after his treatment at previous club Chelsea.

Captain Jordan Henderson is also back to full health, while there will also be no need to play on the road until Anfield is fit for purpose (they didn't play their first home game last season until September 10).

UEFA Champions League campaigns stretch a squad both physically and mentally, yet the Reds should revel in the opportunity to play in Europe again. From his days at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp knows how to fight on multiple fronts.

                     

5. Coutinho Will Stay

Continued speculation regarding Coutinho making a move to Barcelona will make for a nervy final few weeks of the summer transfer window.

However, Klopp and the club's owners have been forthright in stating they have no intention of selling one of their brightest stars. Despite the Catalan press thinking to the contrary, Liverpool will not budge from that stance, per Melissa Reddy of Goal.

To date, the player hasn't kicked up a fuss. Considering he signed a new contract in January—and that bumper deal doesn't contain a release clause—his only option would be to follow Van Dijk's lead and hand in a transfer request. Such a move would sour an otherwise excellent relationship with the fans, though.

Former Red Jamie Carragher believes Coutinho will stay put—for now. The television pundit told Sky Sports' The Debate show:

"What is the point of Jurgen Klopp or the owners being at Liverpool if you are going to sell your best players? You are there to be successful. Klopp is not there just to be in the top four.

"The thing with Coutinho is that he will want to go. I think Liverpool will have him and he will stay, but I think they will have him for 12 months. I do not think there is any way Liverpool will sell him. Not a chance."

Liverpool were in a similar situation with Luis Suarez four years ago, albeit the Uruguayan made public his intention to leave due to a lack of privacy, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian.

Instead, he stayed put, scored 31 goals in 33 Premier League games as Liverpool nearly won the title the following season and picked up the personal double of PFA and Football Association Writers' Player of the Year awards.

And that was that for Suarez in England. After playing/biting opponents at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, he joined Barcelona to become part of their MSN forward line alongside Lionel Messi and the now-departed Neymar.

History may be repeated with Coutinho, although Liverpool will hope he eventually heads for Spain next summer possessing a Premier League medal, rather than a suitcase full of individual honours.

Keep hold of the playmaker and the Reds not only remain stronger on the field—Coutinho contributed 13 goals and seven assists last season—it would also show they will not be bullied by heavyweights such as Barcelona. 

                        

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All statistics used in the article are from Transfermarkt unless otherwise stated.

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