Projected starting XI
Simon Mignolet; Andrew Robertson, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Nathaniel Clyne; Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho; Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah
What's the highest reasonable goal your team has and what needs to go right to get there?
A first league title in the Premier League era and the Champions League. Well, probably not both. And the club do need to do a little bit more in the transfer market to get there. If they do, though, winning one of the big ones isn’t outside the realm of possibility. That would be the highest reasonable goal, while a top four finish and at least one piece of silverware is going to be the minimum expectation heading into 2017-18.
Last season, through the autumn, Liverpool showed they were a side capable of pushing for league honours. More than that, they were a side capable of dominating any opponent. The problem, in the end, was a lack of depth. Injury and absence and tired legs caught up to them. With two more key signings before the transfer window closes, this is a side that can achieve great things — and play exciting football on the way to doing it.
What are you scared of that might derail your season?
If they don’t get in a starting-calibre centre half and midfielder, they’re in trouble. Jürgen Klopp’s first two years at Liverpool have seen his side run into a wall around the half way mark as they simply haven’t had the depth to sustain their aggressive play the whole way through. This season, with Champions League football and two games a week, not getting in the right players is a recipe for yet another Christmas collapse.
Who's a player on your team that neutrals might not know much about, but should become fans of?
Jordan Henderson. It’s less a question of not knowing — when it’s the captain of one of England’s top six, it’s hard to say neutrals wouldn’t know about him — as underrating him. Undervaluing. Overlooking. He arrived years back now for what at the time seemed a gargantuan fee and, as he didn’t turn out to be the next Steven Gerrard straight off, a lot of people, Liverpool fans and neutrals alike, quickly wrote him off.
Last season, though, Klopp moved him to the six to play as the club’s deepest midfielder. And in the first half of the season, before injuries derailed him, he was imperious. He set the tone, started attacks, flung passes left and right, and scored wonder goals from distance. At times, he looked a little like Steven Gerrard — but maybe even more complete; at least more tactically aware. If he can stay fit this year, he’ll be the toast of every neutral fan and pundit by the end of it.
Who will be your team's MVP this season, and why?
Well, after that last, it’d have to be Henderson, then. Unless it’s Philippe Coutinho, who looks set to take the step up into the rarified air of truly world-class superstars. But it could be Sadio Mané, too, Liverpool’s pacy raumdeuter who, along with Mohamed Salah, will be expected to provide the club’s main goal threat from the wing. Or it could be Roberto Firmino, the false nine tasked with the tough and often thankless work making it possible to play with a pair of wingers who will score their goals from areas more often reserved for strikers. But it’ll be one of them. Probably.
Are you happy with ownership? Elated? Cautiously optimistic? Furious?
They’re solid. Anyone sensible mostly doesn’t complain about them, even if there have been mistakes over their tenure and they might not be perfect. Look around the league, though — extend that to all of Europe, even — and it’s hard to see an owner who would be better for the club. They brought in Klopp, and they’re backing him to compete with the richest clubs in the world this summer, even if the’ve have been frustrated by some unwilling sellers. They’ve expanded Anfield. They’ve tried. They haven’t always got things right, but in the end you come back around and ask which owner out there you’d rather have and there isn’t one.
How do you feel about your club's summer transfer business?
Nervous. Increasingly nervous. Last season, Liverpool had a starting lineup capable of beating anyone. This summer they were supposed to use their return to the Champions League and an influx of funds to turn that into a matchday squad that could beat anyone. To that end, there were three starters targeted — Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keïta, and Mohamed Salah. They’ve gotten Salah in, and he looks phenomenal.
The other two, though, look like long shots at absolute best, and with just a month left in the transfer window and the season about to kick off, there’s growing concern what seemed primed to be the best summer the club has had in the Premier League era — has perhaps ever had — could turn out to be something very, very different. Because Liverpool need a few more key signings, and not getting them would nearly guarantee of failure in the coming season.
Main photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images