Jack Hallows looks ahead to the upcoming transfer window, Liverpool’s return to the elite for the 2017/18 season and why Jurgen Klopp must learn from the mistakes of those before him.
Jürgen Klopp’s first full season on Merseyside has been a qualified success in my eyes. The German has guided the Reds to a top four finish and back to where they belong – pending a play off of course – despite being told constantly he didn’t have the squad for it.
While there was a brief title challenge in the Autumn and some of us were bitterly disappointed to see it peter out, we must keep perspective. We started the season sixth favourites for the title, with a squad that many believed was insufficient to return to the top spots. For Klopp to have ended this campaign having amassed 76 points and finished ahead of both Arsenal and Manchester United – two sides billed as ‘shoe-ins’ for the Champions League at the start of the season – is nothing to turn your nose up at.
However, we’ve been here before and it’s vital that Klopp learns from his predecessor’s mistakes in order to keep us on an upward trajectory and prove that this season was not a one-off.
A defining summer for Jürgen Klopp
As much as spending money isn’t everything in football, this is going to be an absolutely mammoth summer for the German and could truly make or break next season. The Reds proved during a tough winter that they are in desperate need of first team quality reinforcements and Klopp’s admission that he’d already begun early negotiations with targets was a promising one. However, he must ensure he spends wisely.
Think back to 2014 for a minute. The Reds had finished second under Brendan Rodgers in a turbocharged, Luis Suarez-fuelled campaign and despite returning to Europe’s top stage, things would only go downhill very quickly. Suarez left for Barcelona in a £75m deal and the funds were to put it plain and simply wasted. While Adam Lallana and to a lesser extent Dejan Lovren have cemented themselves on Merseyside, a vast chunk of that money was spent on Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno and infamously, Mario Balotelli.
A short period of looking like outside challengers for a top four spot after Christmas aside, the Reds endured a miserable campaign that saw them out of Europe in the group stage and finishing the season with a 6-1 humiliation to Stoke on the final day. Rodgers would never recover and while he wasn’t sacked until after the Merseyside derby the following season, it was clear that final result became a ticking time bomb hanging over his head.
Rafa Benitez, unfortunately, suffered the same fate back in 2009. Of course, the club was being run by two completely incompetent idiots back then who would make even the most passionate FSG haters compliment our current owners but the basis of the story remains the same. Xabi Alonso left for Real Madrid and the Reds signed Aquilani, Glen Johnson and Maxi Rodriguez. Yikes. The result? We went out of the Champions League after the group stage and ended up finishing seventh. Sounds familiar right?
The stakes are high for Klopp with the top six being closer this season than it has been in years and the German must avoid making these same mistakes.
Good signs of what’s to come
The main thing to remember here is this: Klopp’s done this before. The German was brilliant at building his Dortmund side back in Germany and the similarities with this Liverpool side provide us with a number of positives. If anyone’s going to know how to handle making the next step up it’s Klopp and we simply have to trust him to do what we know he’s capable of.
FSG are evidently ready to back the manager with reports of a ‘war-chest’ at his disposal growing stronger by the day and with his current buying record at Liverpool being successful thus far, it’s hard not to be excited. Klopp’s European pedigree, Liverpool’s big club reputation, an increased transfer kitty and of course the prospect of Champions League football should all serve to attract big names and should see the players targeted be a step up from what we’ve been used to in recent years.
There has been a clear need for a step up in quality this season with Klopp’s substitute bench looking awfully thin at times. To have to rely on teenagers like Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold so frequently just isn’t good enough and when our rivals have the likes of Anthony Martial, Cesc Fabregas, Olivier Giroud, Son Heung-Min and Raheem Sterling on their benches it just reinforces the need to strengthen.
Of course, even if we don’t sign the likes of Lacazette or Van Dijk this summer, trust in Klopp and his signings. The German is a perfectionist in his style of management and no player will be signed ‘for the sake of it.’ Targets will have been carefully thought out and extensively scouted to ensure they’re worth the money and will fit the system.
Many bemoaned the signings of Mane and Wijnaldum last Summer and both were key to the Reds successes this season. Mané was voted our player of the year and it’s hard to dispute this, while Wijnaldum’s goals this season came in big moments of big games with his final day strike the one that essentially secured top four for the Reds.
Momentum is on our side, let’s grab it
While Arsenal, Manchester United and to an extent Manchester City all have been seen to underachieve this season, the Reds have met expectations and momentum is most certainly on our side. The opportunities afforded by Champions League qualification are massive and it is realistically the first time that the Reds won’t be left behind by their Premier League rivals in either the market or the league table next season.
The ability to compete in the market when buying the best players is just as important as being able to compete on the pitch – something the Reds did better than any other top six side this season – and it’s time to make that next step up. I’m not saying we’re going to win the title next season but if Klopp is backed to the hilt by FSG and manages to secure the signings he wants then anything is truly possible.
There are improvements still to be made, our defence must show more of the resilience we saw in the final five games of the season across extended periods of time and a solution to playing low sitting defences must be found quickly but the positives are overwhelmingly present. Momentum and positivity are on our side and it’s time to grasp them with both hands and move forward with a huge period in Liverpool Football Club’s history. I can’t wait for next season.