Inside Liverpool's Master Plan to Win Next Season's Premier League
Liverpool are one game away from becoming European champions for a sixth time—but when will they finally make the transition to become champions of England?
The Reds have never won the Premier League, and they last won the top tier of English football back in 1990.
It means an entire generation of Reds supporters have heard all the stories about Liverpool's domestic glory days without ever witnessing any success. But if one man can change that story, surely it is Jurgen Klopp.
"We are Liverpool so somebody kicks our ass constantly," the Reds manager said ahead of their Champions League success against Roma. "It is, 'Make the next step, make the next step, make the next step.' It is not possible in this club to stand still."
Other managers would complain about such pressure. Klopp seems accepting of it—and desperate to rise to the challenge.
This summer, he is looking for new signings and new contracts for big-game players to reach a summit that no man since Kenny Dalglish has achieved.
But most importantly, sources around Liverpool believe he plans to do so with his thrilling, attacking brand of football.
Klopp knows the city craves success and will push forward in a bid to seriously challenge Manchester City for the crown next time around.
Deals in the Making
The big news his week has been the pursuit of Nabil Fekir, and it's exciting for supporters, who know the big difference next season is going to be in the depth and quality of the squad. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that recruitment is going to be the most significant factor in whether Liverpool are able to move on to the next level.
Paul Gorst, football reporter for the Liverpool Echo explained: "The Reds may be bargaining from a position of strength as European champions, but with the World Cup plonked in the middle of a transfer window that closes before the Premier League season starts, time is of the essence—and Liverpool undoubtedly need a bigger squad."
They have been moving quickly in sounding out targets and still have that cash from the Philippe Coutinho sale to reinvest. If they win the Champions League, it will mean another £70 million in the bank. Liverpool are equipped to challenge any rival in the transfer market.
Sources were coy on the links to Fekir, suggesting a potential deal may not be quite as far down the line as has been reported.
But players of his style are undoubtedly being earmarked.
One potential signing could yet arrive in the shape of Borussia Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, as sources indicated that a move would still be on the cards—even if Fekir signs.
Klopp is desperate to ensure a Premier League rival does not beat him to the signing, who he has earmarked as a future Liverpool player ever since landing the job at Anfield.
The boss is also still tempted to sign another defender, with Harry Maguire of Leicester believed to be emerging as a genuine target. Tottenham Hotspur's Toby Alderweireld is on the radar, too.
One year ago, Klopp set his focus on finding someone to help Sadio Mane as the side's catalyst and fixed the problem with Mohamed Salah. Setting out to find a centre-back to bring new resolve and technical ability to the back line, he bought Virgil van Dijk. He wanted a more dynamic midfield and has Naby Keita of RB Leipzig now waiting to become the engine of the team. He usually gets what he wants.
As an interesting aside, one source in Spain suggested that Real Madrid showed late interest in Keita and have even considered offering Liverpool double the £48 million fee they agreed with RB Leipzig last year.
Whether or not their idea has made it as far as Anfield is not clear, but it would be pointless anyway. "There is no way Liverpool would agree to sell him before he has played a game," an Anfield insider said.
Trust in the Tactics
When looking into the Klopp masterplan it quickly became clear he is not fixated on finding a Plan B for when his attacking trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino aren't firing.
Everyone well connected to the club discusses Klopp's brand of football and vision of the future by talking of his unwavering belief in the style that has seen them stun Europe this season.
Klopp may sign a new centre-back and even another defensive midfielder this summer, but it does not mean his approach to games will be changing.
Liverpool Echo journalist Gorst explained: "Liverpool may suffer the odd bump in the road, but there’s little doubt they are one of the best attacking teams in Europe when they begin to purr, so I don’t think Klopp will be overly concerned about getting 'sussed out'."
Instead, he plans to add new options further up the field who can step in to ease the pressure on Mane, Salah and Firmino.
"The bench needs a few more game-changers to bolster the starting 11," Reds fan Ben Webb said. "It's often been our downfall in chasing the elusive Premier League trophy—great first team, but weak back-up options."
While Liverpool have their critics when it comes to defending, Klopp also has complete belief in his ability as a coach to fix any problems. He arrived in 2015 and has not yet had time to fix every flaw in the side he adopted, but there have been signs of improvement this term. The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson has also given him encouragement that the side will become more stable.
Klopp built his reputation on heavy-metal football and has also been encouraged by watching Pep Guardiola's approach to the Premier League pay off.
Liverpool believe their brand of football is a match for anyone.
Securing a Safe Future
To make sure they can continue with the current philosophy, no one can jump ship. Klopp is locking the emergency exit door at Anfield—there will be no big-name departures in the near future.
The manager is confident no one is going to have their head turned in the fashion of Coutinho, he's already made sure his main assets are happy at Liverpool.
So Real Madrid can wish for Salah as much as they like—he won't be leaving.
Instead the club are tying him down to a new contract at the end of the season, hopefully before the World Cup begins. The club are ready to reward him for his sensational season with a much-improved contract on his current £90,000-a-week deal. Sources close to the Egyptian told B/R that he is set on staying on Merseyside.
Fellow Reds ace Sadio Mane is also going to pen a new deal this summer. The original plan was for him to secure new terms before Salah, but now the club are not too concerned which contract is signed first. They are confident both men are committed.
Their loyalty will be a huge boost in the wake of past years when big names have hit red-hot form and then left the club. But Roberto Firmino's recent new deal, worth around £9 million per year, sets the tone for an era in which Klopp's men are dedicated to seeing through their potential.
Firmino is now the club's highest-paid player—but Salah and Mane will move into the same bracket.
There is no doubt the manager's warmth towards the trio has gone a long way to showing them that Anfield is the best place to call home at this stage in their career.
Taking the Next Step
With the big names secured on new contracts and new exciting signings on board next summer, Liverpool will then be tasked with taking an important factor into the 2018/19 season.
Sources believe that if the club are to have any chance of winning the league, there are two key weaknesses that need to be fixed.
As one Anfield insider explained: "Consistency has to become a better trait of the team and the boss also wants them controlling matches more frequently. There has been some concern over their momentum around big victories and that can not be the case if they are to challenge City for the title."
Indeed, the fact they have not won any of their three league matches against West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Chelsea in the games that surrounded that European semi-final tussle with AS Roma gives weight to the argument. There was similar concern earlier in the season when they beat Man City 4-3, but then lost the next two matches to Swansea and West Brom.
Klopp will tread carefully in his public approach to next season. He will not make any grand statements about them winning the league or trying to master Pep Guardiola. But belief is growing around the club.
"I genuinely don’t think we're too far away," Liverpool supporter Webb said. "Every year we look that bit stronger, that bit closer, that bit wiser.
"Twelve draws is the difference in our end position—that's the most in the top-six. Change even half of those into wins, and we'd be in business. This team is on the verge of sealing a top-four spot in consecutive seasons for the first time in years, not forgetting the added extra of reaching a Champions League final. I actually think there's a very realistic chance for next season."
Klopp will turn to the next page in the evolution of this side. If his plan continues to take shape—and City don't quite live up to this season's incredible points tally—a title tilt could be on the cards.