2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Liverpool (August 3)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 17th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page.)

LIVERPOOL REDS

Manager: Jurgen Klopp (Hire Date: Oct. 8, 2015)
Tenure Length: 5th/20 in Premier League and 14th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 21-12-5, 75 points, 4th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 84
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-46
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 57 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 1962
Last Relegation: 
1954 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Runner-up (Real Madrid)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss (Leicester City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (West Bromwich Albion)

2017/18 REVIEW

Liverpool opened its season with a rollicking 3-3 draw at Watford in which it rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits only to be pegged back in second-half stoppage time. The Reds then ripped off four straight wins, including a home-and-away sweep of Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim by a 6-3 aggregate to advance to the Champions League group stage proper.

Jurgen Klopp’s team went into the international break on a sensational high after waxing Arsenal 4-0 as both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino each had a goal and an assist. But any dreams of grandeur were quickly tempered coming of the recess after a 5-0 thrashing administered by Manchester City, though the match swung on a red card to Sadio Mane in the 37th minute.

Liverpool opened group play with a 2-2 draw at Anfield versus Sevilla, its defence again called into question while Firmino missed a penalty that could have put the match out of reach. It was part of a seven-match spell in which the Reds won just one game but also lost just one — getting bounced by Leicester City in the second round of the Carabao Cup and avenging the defeat four days later on the same Midlands grounds as Simon Mingolet made a penalty save on Jamie Vardy to preserve a 3-2 scoreline.

Liverpool had another pair of draws around the October break versus Newcastle United and Manchester United before drilling Slovenian side NK Maribor 7-0 to record the largest English football away win in European competition. The low point of defender Dejan Lovren’s season came in Liverpool’s 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur in which the Croatia international was responsible for two goals and was pulled by Klopp on the half-hour.

Liverpool found its groove after that match, going unbeaten in 18 matches (13-5-0) across all competitions. The draws were not without some anxiety, though, as Alberto Moreno had a miserable time as Liverpool threw away a three-goal second-half lead in a draw at Seville in Champions League. That followed a draw against Chelsea in which Salah scored against his former team only to see the Reds pulled back late on a goal by Willian.

The Reds finished atop their Champions League group in style by flattening CSKA Moscow 7-0 in their final group match as Philippe Coutinho had three goals and James Milner had three assists. That led into the first Merseyside derby of the year, which played to a 1-1 draw as Liverpool put just three of its 23 shots on target and Lovren conceded a penalty that led to the Toffees’ equaliser.

Despite the lengthy unbeaten streak, the likelihood of Coutinho moving onto Barcelona in the January window became more apparent as the Catalan side repeatedly increased its offers for the Brazil international after each rejection from Liverpool. Still, the Reds marched on, playing a wild 3-3 draw at the Emirates against Arsenal during the busy fixture period in which the Gunners scored all three of their goals in a five-minute span of madness before Firmino rescued a point.

The excitement of the announcement that defender Virgil Van Dijk finally broke free from Southampton on a £75 million move was tempered the following week when Coutinho made his inevitable departure from Anfield. In the end, £142 million was a figure Liverpool could accept as Salah continued his blistering scoring pace.

The last two matches of the unbeaten streak were wins to savour — a 2-1 victory over eternal rival Everton in the third round of the FA Cup and then a 4-3 triumph over Manchester City that also marked the eventual champion’s first loss in league play. Firmino, Salah and Mane scored nine minutes apart to create a 4-1 lead before Liverpool held out after conceding two goals late.

While a letdown was not surprising, the shock 1-0 scoreline at Swansea City that Van Dijk contributed to with an error still banged around for a few days as arguably the biggest single-match upset all season. The hangover continued with an FA Cup exit at a similar relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion, but the streamlining of the schedule coupled with Man City’s dominance meant Liverpool could focus on Champions League play.

The Reds waxed FC Porto 5-0 on the road in their first-leg Champions League round of 16 tie, rendering the scoreless draw for the second one moot after a scoreless draw. There was a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford, but before dispatching Watford 5-0 on St. Patrick’s Day, Liverpool learned it would face Man City in the Champions League quarterfinals.

While much was made of Man City’s bus being subjected to the animated Liverpool supporters en route to Anfield, there was also no doubt Liverpool was the better side on that day with a clinical 3-0 beatdown of the champion-elect. Taking full advantage of the Anfield cauldron and Pep Guardiola’s inexplicable decision to start Ilkay Gundogan over Raheem Sterling, Klopp’s charges ran riot in the midfield in the first half-hour as Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane all scored before a composed defence provided a needed clean sheet.

Another draw in the Merseyside derby, this one 0-0 at Goodison Park, ran Liverpool’s unbeaten streak against the Toffees to 17 matches in all competitions, but the second leg at the Etihad loomed soon after. City gave itself an early lifeline through Gabriel Jesus in the second minute, and Liverpool bent repeatedly but never gave up the second goal — though one was disallowed — that could have resulted in the floodgates opening.

Salah delivered a needed away goal in the 56th minute, and Firmino finished City off in the 77th as Liverpool advanced 5-1 on aggregate. The Reds were also doing their part domestically to ensure a top-four finish as both Chelsea and Arsenal fell off the pace, trying to fend off Spurs for third.

The Champions League semifinal pitted Liverpool versus AS Roma, and once more the Anfield cauldron proved intimidating for 70 minutes as both Salah and Firmino had braces bookending Mane’s goal, but the Italian side pulled two goals back in the final 10 minutes to ensure there would be a proper second leg in Rome.

Mane and Wijnaldum scored around a Milner own goal in the first 25 minutes, but even at 7-3 on aggregate, Roma refused to capitulate. The Giallorossi pulled within 7-6 after a penalty deep in second-half stoppage time, but there finally was no more time for Roma to pull off one last miracle, and Liverpool had advanced to its first Champions League final in 11 years.

The Reds wrapped up the Premier League season in fourth place for the second straight year, and it was the first time they topped 70 points in back-to-back seasons since 2007-08 and 2008-09. Liverpool, though, was also 25 points adrift of champion Manchester City.

Real Madrid stood between Liverpool and its sixth European title as the Spanish side was seeking its third consecutive Champions League title. For nearly the first half-hour, the Reds were on level terms with the defending champions, then disaster struck as Salah got tangled up with Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. Depending on the point of view, it was either an awkward collision or Ramos, no stranger to the dark arts, angled his body in such a way to make Salah bear the full weight of the fall on his shoulder.

The Egypt international tried to play through the pain, but a short while after the injury, it was clear he could not continue. The image of him tearfully walking off the pitch lingered, and the match slowly titled in Madrid’s favor.

Keeper Loris Karius committed a terrible blunder to gift Madrid its first goal in the 51st minute as Karim Benzema stuck out his boot and deflected Karius’ throw before it agonisingly rolled into the net. Liverpool would draw level four minutes later through Mane as he tapped in Lovren’s header off Milner’s corner kick.

Madrid, though, would not be denied on this day. Gareth Bale, who entered the game as a substitute, reclaimed the lead for Los Blancos with a tremendous bicycle kick in the 63rd minute. Already with one howler to his credit, Karius — who in all likelihood played most of the match with a concussion after taking a shoulder from Ramos during a Madrid corner early in the contest — then flubbed a swerving 40-yard shot by Bale into the net seven minutes from time to complete the 3-1 scoreline.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Liverpool Lineup.png

Quick note, the numbers for Alisson and Fabinho are guesses based on what is available on the roster. While there are four new signings, only three of them are going to make the cut for the starting XI (Sorry, Xherdan Shaqiri). The two obvious changes are between the sticks, where Alisson supplants Karius, and in the midfield, where Naby Keita makes his long-awaited Liverpool debut after signing with the team before last season, and Fabinho was somewhat of a surprise addition this summer after coming over from Monaco.

The talent, though, oozes throughout the pitch. Van Dijk will have his first full season in Anfield, and while Lovren took his lumps last season, he should enter this term full of confidence after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Henderson was a key component of England’s World Cup squad that reached the semifinals before losing to Lovren and the Vatreni, and Alexander-Arnold will set out to prove his meteoric rise that included a trip to Russia with the Three Lions was no fluke.

It says something that Andrew Robertson could be considered the weakest link on the team, and he is anything but that at left back.

Fun fact: All three of Liverpool’s projected forwards in this starting XI scored in the World Cup as Mane netted a goal for Senegal in group play and Firmino potted one for Brazil while coming off the bench in four of the Selecao’s five matches.

The signings also give Klopp plenty of depth in the midfield as Milner, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum can all provide support in the forms of being cup and Premier League regulars while stepping in during the early part of the season.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

While saying all the right things about Karius in the summer, Klopp knew he had to get a new No. 1 for this season to make any realistic challenge at Manchester City. Alisson was the best keeper available, and despite the £65 million price tag to pry him from AS Roma, the Reds are somewhat fortunate he did not have a standout World Cup — note, Alisson did not have a bad World Cup — and did not have to pay that premium after the Selecao lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals.

Keita had a solid final season with Red Bull Leipzig, totaling eight goals and seven assists in all competitions and got a taste of Champions League for the second time in his career.

While Fabinho’s signing was a bit of a surprise, and he will have plenty of motivation to impress after not making Brazil’s World Cup roster, Xherdan Shaqiri’s signing is an intriguing curiosity. The Switzerland international had a goal and an assist in helping his side reach the round of 16 at the World Cup, and while he is behind Salah in the pecking order on the right side, the Egyptian’s room to roam means Shaqiri can be a devastating 30-minute sub from his favored right side or be used as a rotation player to keep others fresh.

A relative bargain of a signing at £13.5 million after Stoke City was relegated, Shaqiri could wind up with a surprising goals per 90 minute average if utilised correctly.

In the other direction, midfielder Emre Can moved to Juventus on a free transfer, while backup keeper Danny Ward — who dropped to No. 4 in the pecking order with Alisson’s arrival — joined Leicester City on a £12.5 million move. Ben Woodburn was loaned out to Sheffield United, and there is talk No. 3 keeper Simon Mingolet could move to Barcelona.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Mohamed Salah (F)

Forty-four goals in all competitions, including a record 32 in the Premier League made the world sit up and take notice of the Egypt international.

Silky smooth on the ball, an adept finisher in any style you like, Salah was more than the linchpin of Liverpool’s offence, he was the Swiss Army knife because he could pop up anywhere in the attacking third and find a way to score a goal. He had eight match-winners in league play and put nearly half of his shots on target in the back of the net.

That is some ruthless efficiency.

Expected to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that coast him Egypt’s World Cup opener while still scoring two goals for the Pharaohs in their other two matches, the only real concern for Salah is fatigue/burnout from the cumulative long season when including Champions League play and the World Cup.

Defenses will obviously key on him, but there is still so much offensive firepower on the Reds that step back in goal haul may be negligible. The bigger short-term concern is how quickly he gets a read on new midfield teammates Keita and Fabinho as the attacking six look to wreak havoc and misery on opponents.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool is the second-choice favorite to win the Premier League at 4/1 odds and has 2/9 odds on repeating a top-four finish for the third straight season. The Reds also have 4/1 odds to be at the top of the table on Christmas Day and 3/1 odds on finishing outside the top four.

Salah is a 4/9 favorite to finish as Liverpool’s top scorer, with Firmino (4/1) and Mane (6/1) rounding out the top three. For the Premier League’s Golden Boot, Salah is second-choice at 5/1 odds behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane, and Firmino is eighth on the list at 20/1.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 12 — West Ham United (13th) H
Aug. 20 — Crystal Palace (11th) A
Aug. 25 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) H
Sept. 1 — Leicester City (9th) A
—————-
April 20 — Cardiff City (N/A) A
April 27 — Huddersfield Town (16th) H
May 4 — Newcastle United (10th) A
May 12 — Wolverhampton (N/A) H

OUTLOOK

Will it be enough? That is the question which will trail Liverpool all season. Will the signing of Alisson be enough to help Liverpool get back to a Champions League final for a second straight year? Will Keita’s long-awaited arrival and Fabinho’s surprising signing be enough to strengthen the spine of a team that, while inconsistent at times, still allowed only one goal per game in league play? Will Shaqiri’s influence on the wing provide enough offensive diversity?

Liverpool’s mayhem-inducing, high-pressing style gives it the shortest distance to make up among the Premier League teams chasing Manchester City — remember, the Reds beat them three out of four times in all competitions last season — but 25 points is still a large gap to narrow. That’s not to say it cannot be done, but Liverpool will need the same rub of the green it got last season in Champions League play to follow it into domestic play.

How Klopp shuffles his players in the early going as players recover from World Cup summers will be something to watch. This is the first time Liverpool is playing back-to-back Champions League seasons since a six-year run from 2004-10, and the World Cup compresses recovery time further.

But the good news is Liverpool has both a favourable run-out and perhaps the best run-in of any title contender in the event it needs to make up ground in the final four matchdays. Of that ending quartet, only away to Newcastle United appears to be a tricky test, and the other three teams could be facing relegation.

There are teams that are good stalkers and teams good at being stalked. Liverpool is a perfect example of the former, and the Reds have a perfect foil in Manchester City as the latter. This time around, there should be a title race.

PREDICTED FINISH

2nd place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City

Author: Chris Altruda

Currently a freelance sportswriter on the hunt for full-time work. If you like my work or have constructive criticism, please share it and/or contact me at chris.altruda@hotmail.com or via Twitter at @AlTruda73 My portfolio of clippings can be viewed at http://www.clippings.me/caltruda And thank you for taking time out of your day to read my posts.

17 thoughts on “2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Liverpool (August 3)”

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