How Liverpool Became Premier League Title Contenders Without Kicking a Ball

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJuly 24, 2018

How Liverpool Became Premier League Title Contenders Without Kicking a Ball

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    It is almost two months since Liverpool were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final.

    On a crushing night in Kiev, Ukraine, Mohamed Salah was forced off with injury, Gareth Bale scored one of the goals of his life, and Loris Karius wanted the ground to open up and swallow him after two horrible errors.

    Yet the defeat has not dampened the enthusiasm and ambition of a club that is determined to finally land a first-ever Premier League title.

    Ahead of that European final, we looked "Inside Liverpool's Master Plan to Win Next Season's Premier League." And after a summer of reflection, it's time to reassess the situation.

    We returned to the same knowledgeable voices and trusted sources to discover just how far they feel the club has come in the days since that disappointing loss to Madrid.

    And with all the work that has gone in off the field, the general feeling is Liverpool are on the verge of producing something special.

Winning the Transfer Window

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    Naby Keita is now on board and finding his feet in pre-season, and while the predicted Nabil Fekir deal has not quite gone to plan, there has been plenty of excitement elsewhere as Jurgen Klopp has signed midfielder Fabinho, attacker Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Alisson Becker. It is a trio of transfers that even the most optimistic Liverpool fan would not have confidently predicted two months ago.

    Paul Gorst of the Liverpool Echo told us in the initial article how Liverpool "undoubtedly need a bigger squad," and he considered how the FIFA World Cup and early closure of the transfer window may impact their plans.

    It's fair to say any fears have been appeased.

    "There’s no doubt the squad is a lot stronger for this coming season," Gorst told B/R. "The additions of Fabinho and Keita have given the Reds a whole new dynamic in midfield. Fabinho is the defensive-minded destroyer that many have yearned for, while Keita is one of the most anticipated arrivals for some time. Shaqiri will add much-needed depth in wide areas."

    "Alisson was tracked extensively last season," he continued. "Liverpool were told the fee was around 90 million earlier in the year and have seen it come down. The initial amount up front is probably a bit too much for a goalkeeper, but it is a glaring weakness that has been aggressively resolved. Klopp's record in the market has been good, so fans should have faith in him on this one.

    "There's a serious suggestion that this is going to materialise into a genuine title tilt. Liverpool are the best-placed team to challenge Manchester City right now."

Strength in Depth

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    One of the biggest problems highlighted in the Champions League final was the fact Liverpool could not cope with Salah's absence once he was off injured.

    Adam Lallana was forced to play a large part of the game, despite being ruled out through injury himself for much of the campaign. Next season, the Reds should have more options to call on.

    Liverpool fan Ben Webb highlighted the issue before the final, telling us: "It's often been our downfall in chasing the elusive Premier League trophy—great first team, but weak back-up options."

    So how's he feeling now?

    "I think the arrival of Keita, Shaqiri and Fabinho has dramatically changed the look of our bench—and all three have the potential to change games in their own way," Webb told B/R.

    "Keita and Fabinho are likely to be starting so that would only leave a single spot in our midfield—leaving the bench bolstered with the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (when he's fit).

    "Shaqiri is a low-key signing but one I believe could prove to be a very astute piece of business—perfectly placed to impact against low-blocking teams."

    One of Liverpool's biggest problems last season was that they could not see out games they should have won. A club insider explained how one of the most fundamental factors that has to change is the consistency to churn out results.

    "It has to become a better trait of the team, and the boss also wants them controlling matches more frequently," the source told B/R. "There has been some concern over their momentum around big victories and that cannot be the case if they are to challenge City for the title."

    With the likes of Fabinho, Keita and Shaqiri now on board, and Alisson's presence bringing about less fear that the goalkeeper could cost them at the other end, the consistency may be easier to find.

    Joanna Durkan of This is Anfield said: "I think the biggest difference this season will be that ability to kill teams off. Liverpool dropped 14 points from winning positions last season, but I believe our summer business will be key to addressing our untimely lapses."

What's Still Missing?

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    Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona in January, and the only weakness that may be identifiable right now is that Liverpool have still not replaced him.

    Perhaps the Fekir signing was going to act as such a replacement, but sources told B/R that while the Reds have been back to speak to Lyon about a way of restructuring the deal recently, club president Jean-Michel Aulas is playing hardball and they have had to back away again.

    "I don't believe Klopp will rush into the market if the player he wants is unavailable," Durkan said. "Fekir was expected to be that man, but I anticipate he is willing to bide his time and experiment with some of our existing players if a deal cannot be revived."

    On the plus side, Salah has signed a new contract, meaning his exit is not a worry at a time when Madrid are looking for a new Galactico, and Sadio Mane is expected to follow suit by announcing an extended stay soon.

Ready to Overhaul Manchester City?

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    "We go again." That has to be Liverpool's thinking as they approach this new season. It's been a long wait, buton paper at leasttalk does not seem cheap.

    In May, we noted how Klopp will turn to the next page in the evolution of this side and that if his plan continued to take shape, this could be their time. He's certainly put in the hard yards with his recruitment team over the summer.

    "With quality signings in the bank and our upward trajectory showing no signs of stopping, the question has to be why can't we challenge for the title?" Durkan said. "The feeling is now that the missing pieces of the jigsaw have been found and put in their rightful place and that we are well-equipped to challenge City at the top."

    Liverpool fan Webb sums up the mood perfectly:

    "We reached the Champions League final last season and have shown such ambition and intent in the transfer window to continue the upward trajectory. This doesn’t feel like (another) false dawn, this feels like the beginning of something, something that fans can unite and truly believe in.

    "There were a few with goalkeeper-related reservations, but the arrival of Alisson Becker has soon cleared that up.

    "I don't want to be unoriginal and say 'this is our year.' but it's definitely 'going to be our year'."