Liverpool’s Season Was Historic, But They’re Not Dropping Off

May 16, 2019

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It’s difficult to pinpoint where Liverpool went wrong this season, largely because there were so few blots on their 2018/19 Premier League copybook, losing just once from 38 games and finishing with a points tally that would have seen them crowned champions in any other season barring the last two. 

The away draw to West Ham in early February could perhaps, at a stretch, be picked out, as could the draw to an injury ravaged Manchester United later that same month, but any criticism of Liverpool’s league campaign feels somewhat contrived. And yet to congratulate them for finishing second also feels condescending.

Liverpool have surely grappled with their emotions in a similar way since Sunday’s Premier League finale, which saw Manchester City retain their title. But when the dust settles and the way forward becomes visible again they will see that their team is only likely to get even better. This is not the end for Liverpool’s quest for supremacy.

Of course, Jurgen Klopp’s side still have a Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to, their season could yet end in glory, but beyond that, there’s reason to believe that Liverpool have still to peak. That this season, despite the disappointing note it ended on in the league, will be a mere precursor to even bigger and better things.

That isn’t to say that Liverpool will necessarily better this season’s astonishing Premier League points tally of 97, but there is a solid argument to make that they will become a more complete team, leading them to greater achievements in the form of tangible silverware.

For all their undoubted defensive improvement over the past 18 months, Liverpool suffered a great deal of disruption at the back over the 2018/19 season. Joe Gomez, for example, has only just returned to the starting lineup having picked up an injury in December, meaning Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren had to fill in. Lovren also had injury troubles of his own.

Then there’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who also missed a large chunk of the season due to injury. The 20-year-old has become integral to the way Liverpool play as a team and so when he was missing the Reds were knocked out of their stride. Indeed, Liverpool’s one slump this season, when they won just two of seven games over January and February, coincided with Alexander-Arnold’s spell out.

Should those two stay fit, Liverpool’s defence, in theory, should be even stronger next season. The same should be applicable to their attack, with Roberto Firmino’s injury hindering the Anfield side down the final stretch of the 2018/19 campaign. A fully fit season from the Brazilian could also carry them that little bit further.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be back having missed the last season and a half, while Fabinho won’t have to contend with the bedding in period that saw him struggle with his new surroundings after joining from Monaco last summer. On top of this, there is the possibility of further new signings, with Liverpool increasingly confident, according to reports, of landing the much sought after Matthijs de Ligt. What a defensive bedrock that would provide.

Some might point out the fight Liverpool face to keep hold of their best players. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have, after all, both been linked with a move to Real Madrid. More recently, reports have claimed Firmino is on the radar of Paris Saint-Germain as they prepare for the potential exit of Neymar this summer. Liverpool’s last rise was halted by the sale of Luis Suarez, after all.

The Anfield club have come a long way since then, though. The lure of the two Spanish giants no longer shine so bright with Liverpool now considered a bona fide member of the European elite. It used to be the case that Liverpool’s best players had to leave to win trophies. That is no longer the case.

Past Liverpool title challenges have been only flashes of potential. Brendan Rodgers’ 2013/14 team, for instance, fell away just as quickly as they rose. This time, however, it feels different. Nobody expects Klopp’s team to slip down the other side of the mountain any time soon. Instead, they could climb even higher.

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Author: Graham Ruthven

Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it

Twitter @grahamruthven

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