Liverpool is a hugely successful club, some might even undoubtedly say the best in England and one of the creams of the crop franchises in Europe. Prior to last season over a two-year span (2018-20) they claimed 1X Premier League title, 1X Champions League winners medal, 1X UEFA Super Cup and 1X FIFA Club World Cup. All the while they were making themselves the envy of rivals such as Manchester United and Arsenal and even Spanish sides such as both Madrid-based ones to a certain extent. They were doing all this with world renowned manager Jürgen Klopp in charge and being led by superstars such as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané up front. And with defensive anchors such as Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker leading them from the back.
However, Football is a game that can be painfully fickle and can come at you extremely fast and for the Merseyside-based club that is exactly what was inflicted upon them this past campaign. As COVID19 and injuries tore through the franchise like a wildfire they struggled to keep up. They incurred some simply shocking domestic results as just four rounds in they were humiliated 7-2 away from home to Aston Villa. Then on Day’s 23 and 24 they lost at home, then at the King Power Stadium, 4-1 and 3-1 to City and Leicester respectively. Additionally, they crashed out of both the FA and the Carabao Cup with a whimper. Europe proved to give them no real reprieve either as Real Madrid beat and eliminated them quite comfortably to the tune of a 3-1 score line. They laid claim to zero trophies in what was a torturous season for all involved with The Reds.
So, the big question out there now is how they will fare this season. Will it be a pitiful repeat of the last one that just happened? Or will they wind back the clock a bit and display the vintage form that saw them win their 19th League title on 99 humungous points during the 2019-20 campaign? I will analyse in-depth what exactly went wrong for them to have that disastrous season and what could go right, which would see them reclaim top spot.
Salah, Mané and Firmino – Dangerous or overrated?
Over 35 matches played last season at a high average of 80 minutes played per game, Mané registered just seven goal assists despite being one of The Reds primary goal creators. Brazilian international Roberto Firmino also registered the same flimsy number (seven). And much like his Senegalese teammate he is widely considered to be Liverpool’s other major creator. Firmino’s registered number was over 36 games played and at an average of 79 minutes per match.
Neither number is particularly bad, but it doesn’t exactly look great on the surface of things when you consider that these two men are the driving force behind Liverpool’s usually insanely electric attack. Both men are 29-years of age and are no longer their former vibrant selves. Also working heavily against Firmino is that he no longer has speed on his side and as such he has to work his Footballing IQ to such a high degree in order to create the best chances possible for his teammates. A bit of extra assistance for these two this season would have gone a long, long way to helping both them and the club out, both results-wise and stats-wise.
Was the worldwide pandemic and injuries to blame?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain featured in just 13 games domestically. Divock Origi featured in the Premier League on just nine occasions. Xherdan Shaqiri played just 14 matches. Thiago Alcântara was only present for 24/38 occasions. Naby Keïta played only 10 games. Jordan Henderson was only present for 21/38 occasions. And there’s more as well! COVID19 as well as varying and persistent injury problems hit the club hard where it hurt the most. That was all a strong contributing factor as to why both Mané and Firmino didn’t necessarily get the support they required all-season long.
If COVID19 and injuries are more friendly to the club then that’s a whole host of players who will be available to fight for spots and help improve the overall morale of the franchise. A healthy Thiago would have done wonders for the Reds, likewise, bringing in the ‘Ox’ off the bench. They have quite different playing styles. But both are also each athlete’s that contribute heavily to the overall attacking forcefulness that the club are used to enforcing on their opponents. And if anything else healthier Midfielders/Forwards just relieves some of the pressure placed on Liverpool’s main men and that’s great news for everybody involved at the club.
When The Reds won the title only two years ago Mané registered seven Premier League assists, but he also bagged 18 goals to his credit. While for the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Bobby’ he went off for nine goals, eight assists and 52 shot assists. The key parallel between this point and my previous one is that The Reds had no major health problems back then. Because a healthy Liverpool side is a dangerous proposition for the rest of Europe, period!
When you add a record smasher such as worldly Egyptian Liverpool Striker Salah into the equation they somehow get even better. Last season he had 22 domestic goals despite his sides well-documented struggles. Imagine what he can do when Liverpool is actually playing to their potential? They get even more scarier. Just for some more context he’s also produced 15 combined assists over the previous two seasons.
Diving even deeper into the stats, last season Mané produced 61 shot assists. While Firmino conjured up 44. Fabinho in comparison had four. The much-loved Henderson had only 14. And James Milner got just 13. Linking back to their previously astonishing underlying health crisis, if those lads stay injury-free, or COVID-free, then naturally the work ethic of Mané and Firmino will pay off more and more and more. Shortly explained, it all links together in one ongoing and continuous circle.
Defensive heroes or defensive woes, woes, woes?
The Reds defence was also mainly kept at a high-level last season. Just two matches into the campaign they beat Chelsea 2-0. Then after that Arsenal 3-1. They allowed Chelsea to shot just five shots the entire match. As for Arsenal they kept them to only four in total. They also kept Ajax to zero strikes in both of their clashes against them despite the opposition shooting 5/12 and 4/11 on target during each of their encounters. It’s also quite difficult to forget when they kept City to 2/7 in what was an awfully close game ending at 1-all on Day 8 of the Premier League.
The problem for them was when teams such as City and Villa were allowed to torch them with little to no reply. And it is obvious that key defensive stalwarts such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, van Dijk and Becker all struggled in one way or another throughout the last year. If they can overcome their mental slump together and rediscover their previous title-winning form, then not even the likes of the two Manchester’s or Chelsea will be able to reign them back in. It’s so important that they start off on the right foot mentally and results-wise so they can build up that form quickly once again.
My expert opinion is that at the very worst Liverpool will scrape into the Top Four this season. However, barring any unexpected ‘challenges’ that Jürgen Klopp and his crew may potentially have to endure throughout the upcoming campaign I’m backing them to be a Top Two team. A healthy, fit and firing Reds front three is incredibly damaging both in England and throughout the rest of Europe. And while their defence may have a few ‘hurdles’ to overcome, the struggles of last season should drive them further and further throughout the duration of this one. Winning, success and hard work is wired into their DNA at this proud, proud club. They’ll look to put it all out on display extremely soon.