If Liverpool are looking to bridge the gap between them and last season’s champions Manchester City then they will need to hit the ground running in August. West Ham at the weekend will be Klopp’s third season opener as Liverpool manager and judging off pre-season Liverpool will come flying out of the gates for 2018/19.
In recent times, Liverpool have had good and bad starts to the Premier League, after a disaster of a campaign in 2014/15 the board decided to back their manager at the time Brendan Rodgers going into the new season, with their last competitive game the season before being a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Stoke the manager and team were ready to wipe that clear from their memories and start new.
Ironically, it was back to the Bet365 stadium for the season opener and whilst the result improved Liverpool’s overall performance did not. 86 minutes went by without much happening before a stunning goal from Phillipe Coutinho gave the reds all three points; eight days later and it was the same story all over again, Christian Benteke this time saving the reds’ blushes as they scraped past newly promoted Bournemouth 1-0. Whilst the points were coming in there was a worry of how long Liverpool could survive like this and they were eventually caught out, drawing 0-0 away to Arsenal before a 3-0 thrashing at home to West Ham. Whilst seven points from the opening 4 games isn’t the worst return, the performances were concerning and Rodgers was promptly sacked in October after drawing with Everton.
Fast forward a year and Liverpool now have Jurgen Klopp in charge and are coming off the back of a Europa League final loss the season before, the expectation for the team was to be pushing for top 4 and who better to start the campaign against other than a top 4 rival in Arsenal. It was a big ask for the team but if the reds managed to come away from The Emirates with all three points then it would send a message to the rest of the top 6 that Liverpool meant business.
A rollercoaster of a game saw Liverpool eventually emerged as 4-3 victors but what momentum they had was halted by the 2-0 loss away to Burnley. Liverpool’s second string regrouped to thrash Burton 5-0 in the Carabao Cup and then grabbed a point at White Hart Lane to end August; whilst the 2-0 loss to Burnley was a disappointment, Liverpool had now played two top four rivals away from home before the international break and had come back with four points. We all know the story for the rest of the season and that win against Arsenal at The Emirates would prove to be vital as Liverpool just pipped the north London side to 4th in the league.
With Champions League football back at Anfield and new signings like Mo Salah, expectation once again rose for Liverpool as they started the 2017/18 campaign. Unlike previous years Jurgen Klopp and his side had a tricky two-legged tie against Hoffenheim to deal with in-between season openers.
Once again Liverpool started the season with an entertaining game to say the least, playing Watford at Vicarage Road was a difficult task and the home side took the lead after just eight minutes. Liverpool equalised through Mane only to be knocked back again and go 2-1 down. Liverpool regained their composure in the second half and in the space of two minutes took the lead through a Firmino penalty and Mo Salah.
Liverpool had done enough to win the game, but a 93rd minute equaliser spoilt the party for the reds; with complications happening off the pitch surrounding Coutinho the late equaliser only brought on more pressure for the manager.
Seemingly unfazed by this however, Liverpool kicked on and would win every remaining game before the September international break, beating Hoffenheim home and away, scraping past Crystal Palace before thrashing Arsenal once again at Anfield; with the new challenges Champions League football had brought Liverpool had negotiated it almost perfectly and kick started the season that would eventually end with a Champions League final.
Compared to previous seasons, Liverpool have a relatively easy start to the campaign this time around; West Ham at home, Palace away, Brighton at home and Leicester away are all games that Liverpool should be winning and with City starting their season against Arsenal it gives Klopp’s team a chance to get a head start on the reigning champions. For the first time in a while Liverpool are genuinely seen by neutrals as title challengers so if the reds can head into the international break two or three points ahead already then it puts the pressure on Guardiola and his team – something they didn’t have to deal with in the league last season.
Are Liverpool going to win the league? There’s no reason why they can’t but if City can repeat last season’s feat we won’t have much say on the matter, of course there are teams who have started slow but eventually won the league (see Chelsea 2016/17) but with so much expectation building around Liverpool over pre-season it is vital they we hit the ground running when the season starts on Sunday.
Article by Louis Connor