My series of retrospectives based around Jürgen Klopp’s time in charge of Liverpool to date continues, this time looking at the 2017-2018 season. The manager had had a season and a half in the hot-seat by the time this campaign got underway, so it’s fair to say that things were a lot more settled at Anfield. We could see what the German was trying to achieve come through in the way the team played the game, with pressing now a far more obvious tactic used to shut opposition players down. Roberto Firmino was no longer the misunderstood and misused player he was when he first arrived at the club, instead becoming the focal point for our attacking play. It was his hard work that opened spaces for Mohamed Salah, who very much proved that he was not the flop that we’d all seen at Chelsea a few years before. Given he’s continued scoring double-figures since, it boggles my mind how much he’s still under-appreciated by some.
Mohamed Salah is the most under appreciated player we have and it’s as sad as it’s shocking. I didn’t believe it at first but it’s true. Jurgen Klopp reminded us again that he is world class striker.
— LFC Views (@Mobyhaque1) March 9, 2020
The season was a disappointment in the cups once again, with a fourth round exit in the FA Cup and a third round exist from the League Cup. That being said, the mini-FA Cup was worthwhile for the fact that we got to see Virgil van Dijk, our new signing, power a header past Jordan Pickford to see us beat our neighbours 2-1. Whilst we didn’t get any further than the next round, ensuring that the Blues still haven’t won a trophy since 1995 was a nice little highlight. It was progress in the Champions League that made the biggest difference to the season, making it all the way to the final before ultimately ending up disappointed. In hindsight, though, we can look back and wonder whether that defeat was part of what inspired us on to victory in the final a year later, just as missing out on the title in 2018-2019 was the catalyst for what we’ve been doing in the Premier League this season. What, then, were the highlights from 2017-2018?
Improving The Defence
In terms of what made 2017-2018 a standout year for most Liverpool fans, there’s no question that the arrival of Virgil van Dijk for a world-record fee for a defender of £75 million was right at the top of the list. That he scored that aforementioned goal against Everton cemented his place in our hearts, but the truth is that he changed the atmosphere around the place just by being there. I distinctly remember reading newspaper columns and tweets from people convinced that he was going to be going to Manchester City and in many ways nobody could have blamed him. After all, Pep Guardiola was assembling a side capable of beating the world and a ball-playing centre-back was all he was really missing. He chose working for success over buying it, however, and in doing so earned the respect of many football lovers. Many pundits were convinced that van Dijk alone couldn’t change Liverpool’s defensive frailties.
As good as a defender Van Dijk is, you can’t sign one player and expect the defence to be fixed overnight. Liverpool’s defence is even more calamitous than Arsenal’s.
— Andy Preston (@AndyPreston96) January 27, 2018
They were right to an extent, of course. Having conceded fifty league goals in 2015-2016 and forty-two in the league in 2016-2017, the Reds would end the 2017-2018 campaign having conceded thirty-eight goals in the Premier League; not exactly something to write home about. That being said, only thirteen of them came after van Dijk’s signing and the manager was still struggling to decide which goalkeeper worked best with his defenders. He settled on Loris Karius for the second-half of the season and I actually think that that was the right decision. Yes, we know what happened in the Champions League final that eventually led to the German goalkeeper being persona non grata, but he suited out defensive style much more than his Belgian counterpart. The Reds went from looking as though they’d concede every time the opposition won a set-piece to seeming invincible and that was largely down to Virgil van Dijk.
The Champions League
When it comes to the 2017-2018 campaign, the Champions League is relevant on two fronts: we qualified for the competition for the next season and we made it all the way to the final. Liverpool and Europe are so interlinked so as to mean that the absence of the former from the latter means that it feels somehow worse for it. Our qualification to Europe’s elite competition for the second year running meant that any potential negotiations over signings that summer would be easier. Indeed, it’s unlikely we’d have been able to bring Alisson Becker to the club if we hadn’t nabbed that top four spot. I remember at the time being absolutely convinced that we’d finish top four even whilst some people were totally losing their heads, stressing out over the draws and losses we seemed to be collected as the season came to a close. We only needed three points on the final day to do it and Klopp’s Liverpool team knows how to win when it matters.
We don’t speak about this enough. One of the greatest individual performances the Champions League has ever seen pic.twitter.com/XcuHEtET1g
— sabah (@Sabah07) March 23, 2020
That ultimately couldn’t be said about the final itself, however. The damage done to Mo Salah by Sergio Ramos was nothing short of disgraceful, and no one will ever be able to convince me that it was anything other than deliberate. The Reds completely lost their way after he went off and the mistakes made by Karius in the wake of it just made matters worse. It was heart-breaking for us all but most sensible supporters knew that it was just the start of the journey. The manager was assembling a team that was all about fighting for what it wanted to achieve, though even the most optimistic of people will have been surprised at just how quickly the players bounced back. It is a sign of just what a job this manager is doing that rather than let yet another final defeat under his leadership cause their heads to go down, the chose to get back on the horse and take the fight to Europe’s elite. It was a season full of massive results, but none more so than that.