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Liverpool have to run to stand still in their race with Manchester City, but they’re well positioned to at least push them all the way again.
Despite the best efforts of those with a vested interest, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Liverpool ended last season on something of a downbeat note. They’d been in it to win it for what would have been an unprecedented quadruple, and while winning two trophies is obviously not to be sniffed at, the two that they did win were not the two they would have wanted.
In the Premier League they took Manchester City to the last 20 minutes of the last day of the season. In the Champions League, they were beaten by one goal by Real Madrid. That’s how thin the margins between victory and defeat can be at the top end of the club game, even if subsequent analysis can make it feel as though the end result was never in doubt.
These weren’t the only reasons, either. The events of the evening of the Champions League final in Paris will have summoned up horrible memories from the past for Liverpool supporters of a certain age. As if the last 30 years had never passed, the French authorities shamefully tried to foist the blame of an absolute loss of control on their part onto innocent supporters, and it was only really the proliferation of smartphones that was able to disprove their lies.
And even on the playing side of the club’s operations, there was uncertainty. Sporting Director Michael Edwards left the club in May, having given his notice the previous November. Mo Salah had been stalling over contract negotiations; Sadio Mane was on his way to Munich. It would have been understandable had Liverpool supporters been feeling a little as though an era – and a feeling that they hadn’t properly experienced in more than 30 years – might be coming to an end.
Fast-forward to the start of the 2022/23 season, and many of these concerns now look ill-placed. Salah signed a new contract. Sadio Mane did leave for Germany, but after a period of negotiation the departure was amicable, with the club quickly bringing in a replacement in the form of Darwin Nunez. The subsequent investigation into the events of Paris have proved a fairly comprehensive refutation of the lies that were spouted that evening by officials who should have known better.
The feeling of the summer of 2022 being a period of reckoning for Liverpool turned out to be vastly overblown. Evolution not revolution has been the way in which this club’s personnel changes have been made over the last few years, and that evolution has been continuing. Luis Diaz arrived in January from Porto and had already impressed during the second half of last season. Ibramima Konate had done similarly well after arriving from RB Leipzig last summer. There are fewer visible signs of this particular project’s momentum slowing than some would like to see.
And although there can be no guarantees of success for a young player – the speed with which rival supporters settled on ‘The New Andy Carroll’ as a moniker for Darwin Nunez after he skied a chance in a pre-season friendly against Manchester United that probably couldn’t have been any more meaningless was almost admirable – Nunez impressed in the Community Shield in a way that his fellow expensively acquired striker on the Manchester City definitely did not. Sadio Mane’s departure from Anfield left a big gap to fill, but Nunez appears well-qualified to bridge it.
Did Liverpool over-reach last season? It’s tempting to think that they did, as they only ended up with two trophies of the four that they’d been targeting, with the team occasionally looking visibly tired in the last few games of their season. This overlooks the fact that the Carabao Cup was wrapped up by the end of February and that they barely played their full first team in either this or the FA Cup, but the way in which the season ended may even be a sobering reminder of the financial gulf between Liverpool and Manchester City.
It’s possible that Jurgen Klopp may be considering greater ‘prioritisation’ this season, even if some has already been in place for years. Liverpool may have a formidable first team and bench, but they don’t quite have the resources – the ability to make high-cost mistakes in the transfer market, particularly – that Manchester City’s new money and Real Madrid’s old money do.
It’s not quite a David versus Goliath narrative – that’s impossible while Liverpool have such a huge financial advantage over most of the other 18 Premier League clubs and many in the Champions League – but that they have gotten so close and stayed there is an achievement in itself. But it does mean that they have to run harder in order to stay standing still.
These fine words will butter no parsnips should anything start to go wrong next season, but Jurgen Klopp is pretty much bulletproof in his position and it’s pretty easy to see that the confidence that Klopp has engendered in supporters has allowed him the space to have more of a ‘transitional’ season than others. There may be work to be done again soon. Their midfield isn’t getting any younger and Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, the bright young hopes, aren’t quite fully cooked yet.
But those are questions for the future, and the very start of the season is about both the present and the future. Manchester City seemed to be having issues integrating Erling Haaland into their structure during the Community Shield. No-one doubts that Haaland will come good, but it may take a little while for him to gel and a slow Manchester City start is possible, even though they’re plenty capable of papering over any cracks, no matter how tiny.
And it shouldn’t be forgotten that this season will be distorted by there being a dirty great World Cup dropped into the middle of it. This is unprecedented, of course, and as such it’s difficult to say what impact this will have upon clubs beyond saying it being pretty unlikely that it’ll have none whatsoever. Will depth of squad size out-weigh getting a nice break because most of your squad have or haven’t been selected?
The last time there was a significant and unprecedented change to the rhythm of a football season, the effect upon Liverpool was mixed. They ended the 2019/20 season, the last three months of which were played after much delay and behind closed doors, by winning the Premier League by 18 points, but the following season, played entirely behind closed doors, saw them drop to third, 17 points behind runaway champions Manchester City.
Of course, the effects of a winter World Cup won’t be as transformative as the society-reshaping effects of a global pandemic, but there’s a possibility that they may make things less predictable and that, on balance, probably suits second-favourites better than it does favourites, if it suits either of them at all.
With both Liverpool and Manchester City both undergoing change and a World Cup-shaped hole in the middle of the domestic schedule, the consistency demanded of English champions these days may be difficult to achieve. But there seems little reason to believe that Liverpool won’t at least push City all the way in at least the Premier League this season.
With so many variables at play and last season having come down to its last 20 minutes, perhaps it’s a fool’s errand to stick one’s neck on the line and try to predict who’ll finish first this time around, but knowing this doesn’t stop me thinking that it will be Liverpool, fool that I am.
The article Why I am predicting Premier League title success for Liverpool and their evolutionary approach appeared first on Football365.com.