New Premier League champions Liverpool are on course to register a record points tally. But no team is perfect – where can they still improve?
Liverpool secured their first Premier League title without kicking a ball on Thursday night thanks to Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Manchester City, but it is their unyielding consistency across the whole season that has brought a league trophy back to Anfield for the first time since 1990.
Even with that, Jurgen Klopp is not a man to rest on his laurels and insists their first title is far from job done. “This is not the final destination,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s a moment like last year’s Champions League final. From that moment you carry on, and that’s what we’ll do now.”
His players share that restlessness, and demonstrated it in the closing moments of their win over Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, already 4-0 up and cruising. “They are 4-0 up in the 87th minute, and four players are chasing one poor Crystal Palace player like he has the only ball in the world. I like it so much,” a beaming Klopp told Sky Sports afterwards.
Matching a points tally which could yet stretch to 107 points, seven more than Manchester City’s record tally from 2018, is going to be tough for Liverpool. You can be sure Klopp and his dressing room will not relent in their desire of perfection and to build the kind of dynasty Anfield enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s. But how does he go about doing it?
Strength in depth
It is too coincidental to say Liverpool have been lucky with injuries over the past few years. When Klopp first took the reins in October 2015, his players were soon dropping like flies, but just as he has adapted his Gegenpress for a relentless English schedule, so too have his main men displayed a remarkable level of fitness despite precious little rest across several seasons.
Liverpool’s midfield has proven to have enough depth to rotate Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain without major issue – but in other areas of the field, there is less room for manoeuvre.
For instance, in the nine games Klopp has called upon the often-maligned Dejan Lovren at centre-back, Liverpool have conceded an average of 1.2 goals per game, as opposed to just 0.5 in games he has not started. Likewise, when creative full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andrew Robertson are out, the average number of goals scored drops by almost a quarter.
But perhaps the position where Liverpool have enjoyed most fortune is in attack. Since the start of 2017/18, their majestic front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have missed only 25 games out of 321 between them. That level of fitness is remarkable, especially with the World Cup, Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations requiring additional commitments during that period. It is not a run Liverpool can afford to assume will continue.
“I think there could be something more in reserve for the front three,” Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports during the coronavirus break. “I think Liverpool have been lucky in that the best players and most important players for Jurgen Klopp have never really suffered injury-wise, certainly big injuries.
“I just think Liverpool need more than Divock Origi as back-up for the front three when they are out. I actually do think Liverpool need to invest to keep them where they are.”
Graeme Souness, who won five First Division titles with Liverpool between 1979 and 1984, was in agreement. “When we were the dominant team during my time as a player, every summer they spent money and brought players in. It was the Liverpool way,” he said. “I’m thinking of Fabinho and Andy Robertson, they have bought players in the past that do not need to slot into the side straight away, or make an instant impression, and that’s a great place to be.”
Another position Liverpool have struggled to nail down in recent years is that of a back-up goalkeeper. Summer-arrival Adrian appeared a capable deputy for Alisson in the early weeks of the season but was partly responsible for their exit from the Champions League against Atletico Madrid in March, although Liverpool may have trouble convincing a genuinely top-class goalkeeper to warm the bench at Anfield.
Where else does a team which could conceivably drop just seven points all season go from here? When the dust eventually settles and they look back on a remarkable season, that 3-0 defeat at Watford in February will rankle for Klopp and his team, who found themselves within 11 games of an unbeaten season.
They did manage some 13 months without tasting league defeat, but over the course of a single season, there is a reason only Arsenal have done so in living memory in the top flight. There are a few teams who have managed to get through a season losing only once, but the way in which Arsenal’s Invincibles are remembered almost two decades on shows just how much of a legacy Liverpool could develop should they follow in their footsteps.
Beat the low block
There’s not been much stopping Liverpool this season, as their 28 league wins from 31 games would suggest. But the low block, as it does for everyone, has proved difficult to deal with at times.
It was something then-Sky Sports pundit Jose Mourinho raised when covering their 1-1 draw at Manchester United in October, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s five-man defence saw Liverpool drop their first points of the campaign.
It is a difficulty Klopp fully accepts. “Oh, we are a different team since then,” he told Sky Sports earlier this year. “But it’s still the biggest challenge for each football team in the world, playing against a low block.
“I would say the best team in the world at it is Manchester City, but even they struggle from time to time because it’s just difficult.
“It’s about always right decisions, forcing the opponent into a situation he’s not comfortable with, using the space behind the last line as long as you can because when they drop there’s not a lot there any more… All these kind of things. But we are a completely different team. We developed a lot in the last months and years.”
How does he address it? The reason Manchester City seem to have more joy than most against a low block lies with the intricacy of their passing and build-up. It may be no coincidence that Liverpool have been linked with summer additions in midfield, including the likes of Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara.