EPL preview: Don't be fooled by Liverpool's sleepy summer, because they're still a giant
It would be foolish to assume that just because Liverpool has scaled the highest peaks under Jurgen Klopp over the last two seasons — winning the Champions League in 2019 and then finally claiming its long-coveted Premier League title in June — that the Reds have lost their ambition.
Yet that seems to be a strangely prevalent opinion in the lead-up to the new Prem season, which kicks off in earnest this weekend.
Sure, Liverpool did look disinterested after clinching its first domestic crown in 30 years in June. Who could blame them? Following all the uncertainty around whether the end of the 2019-20 campaign could even be completed amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s understandable that the mental edge that helped propel the Reds to one of the most impressive seasons in history slipped a bit.
But don’t expect that brief championship hangover to, well, hang over this season, too.
If you know anything about Liverpool, you know that the club sees itself as the marquee team in the English game. Klopp and the Kop aren’t as concerned with winning the league in back-to-back years, the way Manchester City did in 2018 and ’19, as much as they are focused on pulling even with, and eventually surpassing, Manchester United atop the all-time titles list.
United had been England’s champ just seven times when the Reds won the league for the 18th time way back in 1990. Now, following this summer’s triumph, they trail the Red Devils, 20-19.
Make no mistake: Liverpool and its almost completely unchanged roster will be desperate to win the Premier League again this season. To prove the doubters wrong. To show that last season, the most unconventional ever played, was not a one-off or a fluke. They want to show everyone that their recent triumphs — the Reds also won the FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup last year — mark just the beginning of what they can accomplish, not the end.
In fact, without the pressure of ending three decades of futility amid the worst public health crisis in a century hanging over their heads, they could even find winning the league a bit easier this time around.
Klopp has built the most consistent, well-balanced squad in the English game, and maybe in all of Europe. The numbers speak to its dominance. Not only did Liverpool clinch the title earlier than any previous champ, they tied the record for most wins with 32. At Anfield, they’re basically unbeatable; the Reds have not lost a game at home in the Prem since April 2017.
All the key players, from sure-footed goalkeeper Alisson Becker to man-mountain center back Virgil van Dijk to heart-and-soul skipper Jordan Henderson to the all-world front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, return this season. All are still in their primes. Henderson and James Milner are the lone starters on the wrong side of 30.
Right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, 21, projects to be even better this year than last, when he was named the league’s top youngster. Takumi Minamino, acquired from FC Salzburg in January, figures to take on more responsibility in his first full season on Merseyside.
And while it’s true that chief title threat Manchester City has retooled to the tune of $91 million by adding defender Nathan Ake (from Bournemouth) and forwards Ferran Torres (Valencia) and Pablo Moreno (Juventus), the Sky Blues also lost Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich. Dark horse Chelsea dropped a quarter-billion dollars on Europe’s best recruiting class this summer, but still appears thin defensively.
Liverpool remains the clear favorite. That won’t change even if they aren’t able to add Spanish maestro Thiago Alcantara from Bayern before the transfer window closes next month. (If they can land Thiago, give them the trophy on the spot.) You would think this is obvious after last season.
It should be. Sleep on these Reds at your peril.
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