EPL Previews: Can the Magic of Klopp push Liverpool to new heights?
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last. While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most. In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here’s number nine and this potentially magical Liverpool side.
Historically, Liverpool is one of the most decorated soccer clubs in the entire world -- in fact, their 18 titles, all before the Premier League was created in 1992, is second in English history, only trailing Manchester United's 20. Despite that success, it means that Liverpool has not lifted the trophy since the 1989-1990 season, making it one of the longest worldwide droughts for a major club. While they've had legendary players like Steven Gerrad bolstering their midfield for a decade, they've also had plenty of slip-ups (too soon?) elsewhere, including the hiring (and then firing) of Brendan Rodgers, the signing of Mario Balotelli, and over-dependence on certain homegrown players.
Fortunately, Anfield is under new management as Jurgen Klopp, the mysterious former manager of Dortmund, has not only reinvigorated a stale Liverpool side, but the fanbase as a whole. While they're still discovering their team identity, the Reds have turned into one of the Premier League's most exciting watches week in, week out. The Reds can't spend like Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea, but they've made some great transfers this summer that should strengthen their previously weak defense and shore up some aging positions. While their 8th place finish was frustrating, they had a magical run to the Europa League Finals, so there's plenty that Klopp can build off of heading into year two at the helm.
As of publishing, Liverpool have made some serious transfers thus far -- including moves away from Anfield for Joe Allen, Martin Skrtel, and Jordan Ibe. However, they've more than replaced them as Klopp has added Ragnar Klavan, Sadio Mane, and even secured the rights to Georginio Wijnaldum. Although last season's signing of Christian Benteke hasn't worked out, Mane certainly complements Liverpool's fast, frenetic style of play better. Out on the wing, Wijnaldum, who comes from a relegated Newcastle side, should tear up the sidelines as he combines with the talented Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho. It's a major "what if" at this point, of course, but if Daniel Sturridge finally stays healthy, there's an outside chance at competing for a return to Champions League once again.
Preferred Starting XI
Many of the major changes to this squad were executed in order strengthen a defense that allowed 50 goals in 2015-2016. The additions of Joel Matip (free) and Karius (Mainz), should offer plenty of competition to the club's status quo and Starting XI. The possibilities up top from Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, and Sturridge will keep the attack heavy as Klopp's passionate, frenzied pace churns out highlight goal after highlight goal. Coutinho will provide a strong midfield presence alongside Mane in the attacking midfield role, forming the core pieces of an overall improved side. Given these implications, here's how Klopp should line up against Arsenal in August:
Players to Watch
Sadio Mane, the 30 million dollar man that transferred from Southampton this window. With an extremely fast pace and great finishing touch, look for the 24 year-old to blossom this year under a formation that massively benefits Mane's strengths. Mane scored 21 goals in 62 games for Southampton over his three campaigns there, so he'll combine with Countinho, a PFA Player of the Year Finalist, each and every match. Simon Mignolet, the preferred keeper, for now. He finally faces stiff competition from Karius, which begs the question: does this mean it's his last chance to prove that he is one of the Premier League's elite? Oftentimes, Mignolet has moments of brilliance, unfortunately then equally counter-balanced by moments of poor decision-making, not unlike the forever-Arsenal-hopeful, Wojciech Szczesny. He allowed a staggering 42 goals in 2015-2016, good for sixth-worst in the Premier League. That mark was only bettered by Brad Guzan and John Ruddy, the starting keepers for Aston Villa and Norwich, two of the three relegated clubs, and Lukasz Fabianski, Artur Boruc, and Heurelho Gomes, all starters on bottom of the table squads. So, obviously, if Liverpool are to seriously challenge for a European berth, it starts (or ends) with Mignolet in net.
Highlight of Yesteryear
Duh. This Europa League Semi-Final may even be considered for the best match of the entire year and if you've seen these highlights, you'll understand why. Klopp, facing his former club for the first time since he left Dortmund, found his side down 2-1 on aggregate to start the second leg at Anfield. After a couple of early Dortmund goals, it looked dismal for Liverpool -- but, then, Klopp's magic took hold. We won't spoil the rest.
Getting Off To A Good Start
8/14 @ Arsenal
8/20 vs. Burnley
8/27 @ Spurs
9/10 vs. Leicester City
9/16 @ Chelsea
9/24 vs. Hull City
Unfortunately for Liverpool, they were not blessed with an easy schedule this season, a time in which they typically shine, as they will face one of the toughest opening two months in Premier League history. With a start at the Emirates, a place they have won in just one out of their last sixteen meetings there, followed by matches against Tottenham, Leicester, and Chelsea, it does not bode well for a tremendous start at Anfield. Rating: 0/10.
This season will be a trying one for the Reds, but all signs point to a much higher finish then 8th place, but could top four still be in play? Honestly, that would be a real stretch at this point, but look for them to be a challenging and fun side to watch. At the absolute very least, it is still the eccentric, excitable Jurgen Klopp on the bench and who doesn't love his many facial expressions? This should be a breakout year for a few of the younger players at the club and their new additions will keep the dream of Champions League football alive for another day.
English Premier League Previews 2016-2017:
9th: Stoke City