Liverpool has everything place for another great EPL season, even if it still finishes second to Manchester City.

By Jonathan Wilson
August 08, 2019

What does it do to a team to come so close? What impact does it have to accumulate 97 points, the third-highest tally in English League history, and still not win the league? How have Liverpool been affected by last season's pursuit of Manchester City, a long and arduous quest in which it three times found extremely late winners, that still wasn't enough?

The answers probably won't become apparent until the mid-point of the season or perhaps later. This is an issue of mental resilience: even last season the strain on Liverpool was clear, winning every week but also seeing its rival win. Can it do that again—assuming City is as good or almost as good as it was last year. And perhaps that is Liverpool's best hope. City has appeared over the last two seasons a relentless machine but the squad does appear short of a center-back and there has been a surprising amount of summer chatter about how, even by his standards, Pep Guardiola seems unusually intense.

Liverpool, though, faced with such an unprecedented rival, is perhaps best off simply concentrating on itself. If it can accumulate more than 90 points again, then it has a chance. Targeting the 98 points City amassed last season feels an impossible goal, one that would heap intolerable pressure on Liverpool from the start and make every draw feel a potentially fatal blow.

Although Liverpool rallied well in the second half of the Community Shield, and could easily have won the game before losing on penalties to City, the indications are that it goes into the season slightly underprepared. To an extent, having had five players—Sadio Mané, Mohammed Salah, Naby Keita, Roberto Firmino and Alisson—involved in either the African Cup of Nations or the Copa America this summer, that's inevitable. If Liverpool can get through the testing early months and blossom next spring, it may even be a positive. Jurgen Klopp's frustration at the demands of players is readily understandable, even if you can question the way his criticism is aimed at the Nations League rather than, say, his own club's decision to spend July touring China and Japan. Those demands are even greater this season as Liverpool, as European champion, must also play in the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

Which perhaps makes it all the more surprising that Liverpool has not made a major signing this summer. Klopp's point that in football, in which integration into a system and the development of mutual understanding between players is so vital, he cannot simply make a raft of signings and swap them in is sound, but it's still perhaps a little surprising Liverpool hasn't opted for one or two reinforcements. It was one of Bob Paisley's dictums that clubs should always sign from a position of strength, in part to ward off complacency but mainly because it meant they could then dictate terms without being forced to pay over the odds or to sign somebody who didn't quite fit just because a hole needed filling.

The teenagers Harvey Elliott and Sepp van den Berg have been signed but it's unlikely either will be involved in league games for at least a couple of seasons, while Adrian has come in as a reserve keeper with Simon Mignolet leaving for Club Brugge. But essentially this has been a summer of consolidation for Liverpool, offloading Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno and tying down a number of players to longer deals. That's not insignificant. Each of the previous three occasions Liverpool finished second in the league, it lost a major star: Nicolas Anelka, Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez.

And there is another factor that perhaps means Paisley's theory doesn't quite apply here. He was obsessed by the danger of a team growing old together—as had happened to Manchester United in the early seventies and Leeds United slightly later that decade. Permanent renewal became for him essential. But this Liverpool squad is young. Only three members of it are 30 and over, and of them only James Milner might be considered a first-teamer. Right now, age is not an issue.

What is more important, perhaps, is maintaining the balance of an excellent side—into which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is returning after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury—and trying to ensure it can fulfil the prediction made by Virgil van Dijk after the Champions League final last season that this is the start of a golden age. Chasing City, though, seems a uniquely difficult task.

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