Liverpool remain the team everyone has to catch as their Premier League defence gets under way
THE Premier League champions will have a target on their backs this season – but that is nothing new for Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players.
Having spent last season as European and then world champions, every opponent wanted to beat Liverpool and yet they still managed to make a mockery of the Premier League as they effectively won the title by February.
The Covid-19 crisis took some of the gloss off their triumph as they struggled to maintain the incredible momentum they built up over the course of 18 glorious months, and then had to lift the trophy in an empty Anfield.
Yet history will confirm that the champions in 2020 were Liverpool and that will be a relief to all at Anfield after far too long a wait for title number 19.
It was embarrassing for a club of Liverpool’s stature to have a 30-year wait for a domestic league title and even though there was plenty of cup success over that period, the Premier League trophy was the one the club wanted and needed.
Agony Manchester United’s 13 league titles in the years since Liverpool last got their hands on the trophy added to the agony.
That long wait is over now, and while you would hope that would help the Liverpool players to start an era of dominance in English football, history tells us that defending the Premier League title is no easy task.
Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are the only managers to win back-to-back Premier League title and when you consider the feat has only been achieved six times since 1992, it suggests Liverpool are in for a big battle this season.
You have to hope the motivation to keep on winning remains strong when a team reaches their ultimate goal and I’m convinced Liverpool have the right manager in place to give them every chance to rediscover their best form in the upcoming season.
Yet the desperation to get that first league title has gone now – and Klopp will be waiting to see whether the desire levels in his dressing room are as strong as they were last season.
He has to be encouraged by his side’s response to winning the Champions League and claiming 97 Premier League points last year, as they were more than ready to go again and put 99 points on the board to get their hands on another trophy.
However, we have seen a few worrying signs from Liverpool since the title was won – and Klopp has to make sure his team are firing on all cylinders when they open the season with a fascinating game against Leeds next Saturday.
Last weekend’s Community Shield defeat against Arsenal suggested some of Liverpool’s main men are not tuned in right now, with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino looking off the pace as the game was lost in a penalty shoot-out.
We also saw some flaky performances after the restart in June and July, and Klopp will be hoping the challenge of maintaining form and focus after the Premier League title was secured played part in that slip in form.
Yet what has gone on in the last few weeks counts for nothing now, as Liverpool are starting from scratch again and we need to see the desperation to win once more.
I would like to have seen Liverpool make some signings by now and while Klopp has suggested he will give first-team games to youngsters Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, the squad looks a little light in central defensive and forward-line cover.
Gaps If Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane are out for an extended period, we don’t know whether Liverpool have the players who can plug those gaps.
And make no mistake, the chasing pack will be ready to capitalise if they show any signs of weakness, with Manchester City the first in that queue if Liverpool falters.
Klopp and Liverpool have clearly got into City manager Pep Guardiola’s head and he confirmed as much in that Amazon documentary when he openly admitted he was ‘scared’ of Klopp’s forward line.
Liverpool well and truly ended the myth that Guardiola’s City were invincible in the Premier League last season, but they are still a top side when teams allow them to do what they do best – and I’d expect them to be right in the mix for the title this season.
When you see how they were beaten in the FA Cup semi-finals by Arsenal and they lost out in the Champions League against Lyon, it is clear that teams with quality attacking players can play an effective counter-attacking game against City.
Arsenal won the Community Shield using similar tactics against Liverpool last weekend, as they played in the style of a lower league team and tried to hit them on the break.
Most teams will try that against Liverpool and City next season, but it won’t work unless you have players like Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to take the one or two chances the opposition might create.
That’s why Liverpool and City will win most of the Premier League games they play this season and I don’t expect to see one side finishing 18 points ahead once again by the time the final ball is kicked.
Keen Chelsea will also be a team to watch as they have spent big this summer and did well to get striker Timo Werner when he was clearly keen to sign for Liverpool.
Manchester United will make strides forward and you would expect Tottenham and Arsenal to improve on their disappointing efforts, but Liverpool and City are still the top two and the champions are still a step or two ahead of the chasing pack.
Any team that finishes ahead of Liverpool will win the Premier League title this season because they proved last season that they are the best team in England right now.
To be one of the best teams of all time, they now need to win the Premier League title time and again.