It turned out to be a bitterly frustrating 2020/21 English Premier League (EPL) campaign for reigning champions Liverpool. Fresh from winning their first EPL title, Jurgen Klopp’s men flattered to deceive and never looked capable of retaining the championship. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – still smarting from being knocked off the top spot in 2019/20 by the Reds – regained the EPL crown in some style, finishing streets ahead of their city rivals United.
The writing was on the wall for Klopp’s troops in the early stages of last season. Liverpool was trounced 7-2 at Aston Villa in front of the live television cameras, leaving the Reds’ usually impregnable back line in tatters. It was a particularly offensive start to the 2020/21 EPL campaign all round, with 144 goals in the opening 38 games, equating to an average of 3.79 goals per game. The freakish results did not stop there, with many attributing the lack of fans to the cavalier attitude adopted by many EPL teams.
Nevertheless, hope abounds among Liverpool supporters that the 2021/22 season will yield a more positive year. The Reds finished the season strong, winning their last five games, and will be entering the new campaign in a confident mood, keen to avoid a 17-point gap between themselves and Manchester City. We’ve put together four reasons why the Reds’ faithful should be excited about their prospects in the next 12 months.
Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk is inching ever closer to a return to full training ahead of the 2021/22 campaign. The former Celtic and Southampton stopper missed the majority of last season, leaving the Reds continually shifting their backline with makeshift options. The absence of Joe Gomez also hit Klopp hard, but both van Dijk and Gomez are set to be ready to play the first league game of the season at newly promoted Norwich City. Klopp said that the duo were “not injured anymore” but were not “at 100% yet”.
Klopp’s first major summer signing was the capture of 22-year-old French central defender Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. No more will Klopp be required to scrape the January bargain basement for makeshift cover signings like Ben Davies from Preston North End, who may even leave Anfield before kicking a ball for the first team. Konate, a French U21 international, was an important part of the RB Leipzig team which finished second in last season’s Bundesliga, behind runaway champions Bayern Munich. With Van Dijk, Gomez, Joel Matip and now Ibrahima Konate to choose from, it’s clear the Reds’ backline has been majorly reinforced.
Liverpool are by no means finished in the summer transfer window either. Klopp is still desperately searching for a long-term replacement for Gini Wijnaldum, who departed for PSG at the end of his Anfield contract. Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez is thought to be a prime target, along with Inter Milan and Italy’s EURO 2020-winning midfield maestro Nicolo Barella. If either do agree a switch to Merseyside, then this will certainly plug the gap left by Wijnaldum and, if anything, strengthen the Reds’ spine for several years to come.
The return to fitness of van Dijk, Gomez and Matip, coupled with the addition of Konate, gives Klopp a real sense of formation flexibility for 2021/22. He has been wedded to a 4-3-3 system in recent years, but there is every chance he could switch to a three-man defence, freeing up Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to press higher up the field and do more damage in the opponent’s half.
Fit-again Jordan Henderson will also be a major boost in the midfield anchor, alongside Fabinho, while Roberto Firmino will almost certainly continue to operate in his effective false nine role if a three-man backline is adopted. A central defensive trio of van Dijk, Gomez and Konate has a mouth-watering blend of power, pace, ball-playing ability and aerial presence.