And so that’s it. Pre-season is over and pre-season is done. There’s nothing more to be tried or tested in a semi-competitive environment and Jürgen Klopp needs to decide on his strongest XI for the Arsenal game on Sunday. It could well be a game that lays down a marker for the season. Perform like we did against Barcelona and teams will be afraid to face us right out the blocks. Get a result like we did against Mainz, however, and it will feel like a long season is in store after just one match.
The biggest downer from the weekend won’t be the result in Germany as much as it will be the injuries that we suffered. Klopp will have felt that his squad was looking in good shape before the two games, but his mood won’t have been aided by seeing James Milner suffer a heel problem against Barcelona before Marko Grujic went down with an ankle injury in the match at the Opel Arena.
Will that force the manager into the transfer market once more? Or will he consider holding out to see when his treatment room can be cleared? It’s a difficult call for him to make. Given he said in the past that he thinks there are two many players in his squad I think he’ll be reluctant to bring in even more players unless he thinks they’ll genuinely add something to his side.
This isn’t the time for such questions. Now is the time to have a look at the season ahead and ask: Are we ready?
People can think about football however they want. I’m not an expert in anything and I have no right to tell people to behave one way or another when it comes to supporting their team.
That said, right now is the time for hope. Hope for what is yet to come. Some Liverpool fans might prefer to approach the forthcoming league campaign with realism or even negativity and that is their right. My question is: What’s the point?
If you don’t believe, before a ball has even been kicked, that we can win the league then what are you even in it for? More than a few Reds fans have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the club’s transfer activity and declare that we’ll be lucky to finish in the top six this season. What joy. What positivity. They seem keen to be able to say ‘I told you so’ further down the line rather than let themselves get swept up in a mood of positivity. That’s their prerogative, but it isn’t for me.
I don’t understand how anyone can have watched the performance against Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday and not been excited by what they witnessed. The cry of ‘it’s only pre-season’ is all well and good, but who else has been sticking four past Barca this summer? The answer, of course, is no one. Leicester manager to put two past them but they conceded four in return.
Let’s also be fair here and point out that this wasn’t a weakened Barcelona team. This was a side containing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, with Ter Stegen in goal and Javier Mascherano in defence. It was a strong side that is only a week or so behind the Reds in their pre-season preparations. It’s ok to be impressed by the way that we played against them. It’s alright to allow yourself to feel positive on the back of it.
A ball has yet to be kicked and the possibilities for the 2016-2017 season are endless. Surely last season’s champions taught us that anything is possible if you believe that be the case? People kept saying that Leicester would drop away. They kept declaring that the Foxes finishing in the top four would be impressive. The pundits said that they couldn’t win the league. The bookies declare it to be a 2000-1 shot. But they won it anyway.
Learning From Leicester
Supporters can behave how they want to behave, however I want nothing but full-throated belief in a Premier League title from the players themselves. There are two main reasons that bookies and pundits think that Liverpool are unlikely to mount a title challenge: The cost of the squad and past performances.
Leicester’s win last season knock both of those arguments into a paper cup.
It’s not that squad costs don’t matter, of course they do. Paul Tomkins has done some excellent work proving exactly why the cost of a team is consistently an important factor in the team’s league position, with the two being very closely related. It’s also entirely fair to say that when Leicester City made the signings that they made last summer they weren’t doing so in the hope that they would lift the Premier League title. Their chief aim was to stay in the league full-stop.
Yet what the Foxes did prove was that consistency is key. You can afford to lose to a game to Liverpool at Anfield and both your games against Arsenal as long as you win games against the league’s canon-fodder. For all the talk that the Premier League is one of the strongest and most competitive leagues in the world, there’s actually a load of rubbish teams in it.
Swansea, Crystal Palace, Watford, Hull City, Burnley, Bournemouth. These sides aren’t great. They can put in a good performance every now and then but they aren’t good enough to cause anyone any real problems if you’re up for the fight. They are the sides that Leicester put to the sword last season or, in the case of Hull and Burnley, their equivalents.
What does it matter how strong Manchester United or Chelsea’s squads are when Liverpool are playing against Sunderland? Who cares how much money Manchester City spent this summer when we’re lining up against Stoke? It’s an irrelevance, an excuse dressed up as a reason.
The only time we can use the squads of other sides as an excuse for not doing well enough is when we’re playing against the teams themselves. Leicester were notoriously stingy in allowing other teams to score goals last term, but Arsenal put seven past them over two games. The Gunners conceded the same number of goals as them and only scored three less, yet they finished ten points behind them.
Liverpool have had two decent title challenges over the past decade. The first came in 2008-2009 and the second in 2013-2014. On both occasions we came close to that elusive Premier League title but were pipped to the post by one of the two Manchester clubs. In both instances their squads were stronger than ours and it showed at the crucial moments.
In 2008-2009 United could call on the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes from their bench for important games. Players that were no longer at their best but were full of experience and know-how when it mattered the most. In 2013-2014 Man City’s squad players included James Milner, Edin Dzeko, Gaël Clichy and Stevan Jovetić. None of them world-class but all of them with the ability to change mix things up when called upon.
In 2008-2009 Liverpool needed to turn to Andrea Dossena, Albert Riera and David N’Gog. In 2013-2014 it was José Enrique, Luis Alberto, Aly Cissokho, Victor Moses and, most famously, Iago Aspas. None of them were good enough to be on the bench, let alone being turned to for the first XI.
This season things are different. Klopp has cut out the weak players and kept the decent ones. He’s added squad players that aren’t unproven or disappointing, but rather ones that look ready for the fight such as Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip. We’re stronger this season and we’ll be all the better for it.
It’s also entirely fair to say that this is likely to be one of the least predictable Premier League seasons for years. Will things definitely click for Pep Guardiola’s all-star Manchester City team? Can Conte get Chelsea playing the way he wants them to? Will Mourinho’s millions pay off or will Pogba struggle to adapt to life in England’s top-flight?
Last season Manchester City all of their first five games and seven of their first ten. They looked dead certs for the title and it seemed as though they might have it tied up by December. Instead they finished the season with ten losses and were perhaps a little fortunate to even scrape into the top four.
The television money means that even the weakest teams in the league have made significant improvements. Should they take points off the big boys then the league will be wide open and past performances will matter very little this time around.
It’s also worth pointing to Leicester City one last time. Were their previous performances important heading into the final weeks of their title-winning campaign? If so they had a funny way of showing it. Their players weren’t bothered that twelve months before the club had been involved in a title race. Perhaps because some of them weren’t even at the club back then, but mostly because it was irrelevant.
You Set Your Own Limits
My constant refrain this season is going to be Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. When thinking about what he achieved in 1954 it’s important to remember that it wasn’t just that people thought it was difficult. They thought it was impossible. They genuinely believed that the human body was unable to run that quickly and that he would do irreparable damage to himself if he did it.
He ran the mile in three minutes and fifty-nine seconds on the 6th of May 1954 and, much as Leicester City did last season, proved all of the doubters wrong. Remarkably, with no one having done it in human history before then, Bannister’s record was broken just forty-six days later when the Australian John Landy ran it in three minutes and fifty-seven seconds.
It’s easy to be told what you can’t do. Plenty of fans will be saying what Liverpool are unable to achieve this season. Isn’t it more interesting, though, to dream of what may be?
There are countless obstacles to Liverpool winning the league. We’ve got to hope that Mourinho’s attempts to buy the title back to Old Trafford fail. We’ve got to see Antonio Conte annoy Roman Abramovich with his failure and get sacked before the season’s over. We need Pep Guardiola to take time to get Manchester City prepped for his way of working. Leicester need to fall away and Spurs need to under-perform on their potential.
Yet all of those things are out of our control. We can’t let what happens at The Etihad, The Emirates or White Hart Lane affect how we go about our business in the new season. It’s pointless being concerned by West Ham’s success or Ronald Koeman’s arrival at Goodison Park.
The only thing that we can do is concentrate on ourselves. We need to take things game by game and treat every single one as though the opposition is Barcelona. We need to steamroll the lesser teams in the Premier League and then put up a fight against the big boys before seeing what that puts us. If we can do that then it doesn’t matter how much Paul Pogba cost or whether or not Raheem Sterling can re-find the form that made so explosive when he played for us.
We are the masters of our own destiny and right now the future is yet to be written. Let’s write a story filled with hope, possibility and accomplishment. There’s no point in trying to do anything else.