Liverpool's strength in depth under Jurgen Klopp can give Anfield first league title since 1990
They may not have made many summer acquisitions but the European champions are well stocked in quality personnel
In the calculus of tiny margins at the summit of the Premier League, some more millimetres for Jurgen Klopp to audit.
Liverpool finished second to Manchester City in the Community Shield on Sunday because of a Virgil van Dijk effort that ended up bouncing out off the goal-line when something like 40-odd per cent of the ball had crossed it, and because City’s Kyle Walker later cleared a Mohamed Salah effort from just in front of the same line.
If finished close, too, after the 1-1 scoreline required a tie-breaker. Liverpool lost the shoot-out because just 10 per cent of the penalties were not converted, Georginio Wijnaldum the one man of the 10 spot-kickers whose attempt was saved.
So here we go again, Liverpool are obliged to think, less than three months after they finished a single point off their first top-of-the-league finish since 1990.
Or, if you prefer, behind Manchester City by a slender 11.7 millimetres, the portion of the ball that had not crossed City’s goal-line when John Stones cleared in the key 2018-19 fixture between England’s best two teams, City going on to win that game 2-1.
For Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, the issue is how to close up those margins on defending champions he regards as a modern-day automaton, a City who, he suspects, will not yield in their tendency of racking up close to 100 points from their 38 games, a total they achieved in 2017-18 and fell just two short of last season.
So, are his Liverpool, the reigning European champions, stronger this season than last, when they lost only once - thanks to the goal-line technology verdict at City - in the entire league campaign?
Who finishes where in 2019/20?
Not on the basis of any new recruits, after a summer which can look barren in terms of signings compared with the activity of their previous two windows, when Virgil Van Dijk arrived and was followed by Alisson, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri.
But then, when such a qualitative leap has been made by Alisson’s goalkeeping and the defender Van Dijk’s authority and leadership, and new contracts agreed to ensure that the Premier League’s joint leading scorers, Salah and Sadio Mane and their productive suppliers from full-back, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are not lured away, then this window of quiet business looks like a window of good business.
Besides, Klopp’s Liverpool have an in-built instinct for improvement, and the sort of grooved and successful routines that, with too much heavy-duty tinkering, might be disrupted.
There is strength in depth, for all that last season left a very firm idea of what is Klopp’s preferred starting line-up.
Take away the XI who started the Champions League final, and Klopp could still field a team that reads: Adrian in goal; Joe Gomez; Dejan Lovren; either of the promising Dutch teenagers, Ki-Jana Hoever or Sepp van den Berg; and James Milner.
There would be a midfield of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita, and Adam Lallana; and, up front, Shaqiri, Divock Origi and the highly promising Rhian Brewster.
Granted, that side would not be fancied to end up as the best in Europe, but it would be envied by most of the Premier League.
Klopp will need many of those players, although he knows Lovren is restless and might move on in search of better first-team opportunities.
Success in the Champions League, where Liverpool avenged their 2018 defeat in the final by beating Tottenham Hotspur, means more drain on playing resources, with a clutch of extra, faraway fixtures, like the Uefa Super Cup in Istanbul next week, and December’s Club World Cup in Qatar.
The good news is that Klopp trusts Lallana, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain far more than the statistics of their playing time would indicate.
Each of the trio have had long periods out with injury. If they stay fit, they can expect to be challenging Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Wijnaldum for berths in midfield, and to add energy and their own forms of guile when they have a run in the side.
Competition for places will stave off complacency, though Klopp sees few symptoms of that.
“In this team there are no doubts about being satisfied,” said Klopp. “Or that we will stop working or stop running. The character is incredibly good.”
The target is also crystal clear. Being European champions is, almost uniquely for Liverpool, not quite the ultimate prize. The club have reached four Champions League finals since they last won the English league.
That is the itch that needs scratching, a title that has seldom felt more deserved yet so tantalisingly hard to attain.
Published: August 7, 2019 11:02 AM