Wednesday 19 December 2018

Jamie Carragher: I am cautious about Jurgen Klopp's chances. There is still a formidable obstacle in the way

Summer signings give Liverpool a genuine chance of progress but also leaves them open to closer scrutiny

Klopp has given Liverpool a chance of contesting for the title with his summer spending spree. Photo: Sportsfile
Klopp has given Liverpool a chance of contesting for the title with his summer spending spree. Photo: Sportsfile

Jamie Carragher

Liverpool have waited 28 years. Not just for the league title, but for a pre-season where so many pundits and supporters believe they can win it.

Not since Kenny Dalglish's first reign as manager has there been so much summer optimism at Anfield, or heaped expectation on the club from the outside.

I am cautious about Jurgen Klopp's chances. There is still a formidable obstacle in the way … Manchester City.

I believe City will retain their crown. Pep Guardiola could be on the threshold of an era of dominance, winning successive titles in a manner that has eluded clubs since Alex Ferguson's retirement.

For those chasing, not only must their own performances massively improve, they need City to significantly decline. Guardiola's side can't keep repeating the freakishly brilliant performance of last season, but such is the standard set, anyone with aspirations of catching them must secure at least 90 points.

If City cannot replicate their form, Liverpool must take advantage before everyone else sorts themselves out. The club has had no better chance to reach this points tally in 28 years, regardless of whether it will be enough to finish top.

Usually, when naming possible winners, there are three clubs ahead of the rest - Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. The next three - Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham - tend to fight for a Champions League place.

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Although they finished fourth last season, I believe Liverpool can replace Chelsea in the top trio this season. That is a sign of significant progress; the club finding itself in a situation it has not been often enough.

There have been occasions when the club promised more than was ultimately delivered. There have been a couple of unexpected title bids in 2009 and 2014 which defied, rather than met, expectations. Then circumstances conspired to halt momentum.

I remember the summer of 2009 under Rafa Benitez when, having finished runners-up to Manchester United, we felt we could go close again. Instead Xabi Alonso was sold, there was boardroom chaos under Tom Hicks and George Gillett (which we were aware about as players but underestimated how serious it would get), and we did not finish in the top six in 2010.

Brendan Rodgers' challenge four years later was a one-off, the subsequent sale of Luis Suarez ensuring Liverpool finished outside the top four a year later.

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers deep in conversation with Luis Suarez during a training session

Anomaly

Few beyond Merseyside predicted Liverpool would be contenders going into those seasons. The challenges evolved.

This Anfield era feels different though, and there are several reasons for that.

The first, naturally, is the squad strengthening. Liverpool have spent the kind of money usually associated with the Manchester clubs and Chelsea, but this is an anomaly rather than a trend.

Klopp has spent £170 million, but those funds came mainly from the £142m received for Philippe Coutinho last January.

We cannot ignore that when trying to redefine Klopp as some kind of chequebook manager, or Liverpool's American owners as Roman Abramovich-style benefactors.

It means this summer's investment is unlikely to be repeated without selling another star. I wrote last season I feared Liverpool may never win the league under Klopp due to the financial strength in Manchester.

I also stated after Coutinho's sale that the extraordinary fee presented an opportunity - for one summer at least - to outspend the rest of the Premier League. That is the world Liverpool is in today. They have given themselves a chance by investing heavily to correct weaknesses in their line-up - a chance that will not come along regularly.

Last season's Champions League run showed where Liverpool are strong; they have a front three to rival anything in the Premier League and added a centre-back in Virgil Van Dijk as good as any in the country.

The final against Real Madrid exposed where investment was needed; a new goalkeeper, stronger midfield and back-up if any of the attacking trio is injured.

It remains to be seen how good goalkeeper Alisson is but he will be an upgrade. Naby Keita and Fabinho add midfield power, and Xherdan Shaqiri could be a shrewd acquisition backing up the strikers.

The heavy spending to correct flaws, building on a good side, fuels the idea that this is a massive opportunity.

But it also means that if Liverpool do not go close, they may find themselves back in familiar territory in 12 months' time, behind those who usually invest more but are rebuilding going into this campaign.

City aside, other major clubs have problems. Chelsea have been the masters of immediately winning trophies after a managerial change, but they will need time to adjust to a new style under manager Maurizio Sarri, even though they, too, have flexed their financial muscle in the last few days.

Arsenal also need time under Unai Emery. A year from now both will be stronger.

You can never read too much into pre-season, but United appear combustible. There seems to be problems behind the scenes at Old Trafford, with many transfer targets missed - you never know where it is going to lead when Jose Mourinho starts criticising his own board and players.

The question for Spurs is will they have a World Cup hangover? Nine of their players reached the final stages. They have kept their best team together, but the World Cup demands make it more surprising they did not add to their squad.

City demonstrated in the Community Shield how good they will continue to be. Guardiola has the hunger to ensure, unlike recent title winners, that they hit the ground running.

When Guardiola defended Spanish La Liga title for the first time with Barcelona, he won 99 points - 12 more than his side's previous year's tally.

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It’s one step at a time for Pep Guardiola (Adam Davy/PA).

Liverpool had 75 points last season. It is easy to see where they must focus to bridge the gap. Their biggest games are against the rest of the top six and Everton.

In 2017-18, they won only two of their 12 fixtures against these clubs, collecting just 12 from 36 points.

Their record against the relegated sides was also unimpressive, dropping a combined nine points against West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Swansea.

Liverpool can see where they failed. Significantly, so can their competitors. That is why so many of them speak about Klopp's chances, trying to increase pressure on him.

None of that is coming from within Anfield. Mostly, it is coming from Manchester.

That is a sign of how popular Klopp is with the Liverpool fans, and how much trust he carries with him into his third full season, and where City and United see the greatest threat.

It has been all-too-rare for Liverpool to go into the season with any likelihood of challenging, let alone winning the Premier League. That is why so many are talking about them.

Whether they have the capacity to catch a formidable City or not - and no matter how much opposition managers speak about Klopp having to start delivering a major trophy - it is better to be part of the conversation than on the outside listening in.

Irish Independent

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