Liverpool: Jürgen Klopp’s entertainers remain in need of stronger determination
Star man: Philippe Coutinho has a box full of tricks, though his most reliable party piece involves him peeling in from the wing and pearling a shot into the corner. Everyone knows it’s coming, though few seem capable of stopping it. A gnawing sense of inevitability also surrounds a move to Spain, the playground for all serious South American talent in the end. So enjoy him while you can, should Liverpool see out August without Barcelona ripping out their heart for the second time in three years.
Biggest summer buy: Mohamed Salah joined from Roma for a fee that could rise as high as £44m. That broke the club record, though with the market having subsequently overheated, it now looks a snip for a player who can operate on either wing with pace, panache and a calm eye for goal.
Breakthrough season: The 18-year-old right back Trent Alexander-Arnold made his first league start at Manchester United last season. Thrown in at the deep end, he kept Anthony Martial relatively quiet, a feat that had been beyond Martin Skrtel the season before. He’s more than happy to augment the attack, and ensures a local presence in the team.
Bad boy: Emre Can is an all-action midfielder. Problem is, all of those actions are conducted very slowly, pace and speed of thought not prominent in his otherwise impressive skill set. As a result, he has a tendency to throw himself into tackles he’s not certain to win. Jordan Henderson picked up more bookings last season – eight to Can’s six – but it’s the German who usually ends up skating on the thinnest ice.
Boo boy: Dejan Lovren was part of a defence that did not concede a goal during the final four matches of last season. Yet he very nearly cost Liverpool fourth place, inexplicably unpunished for hauling down Patrick Bamford when last man in the last game against Middlesborough. It was Lovren in microcosm: solid for the most part, but capable of astonishing and sometimes costly lapses. He’s also fond of clanking passes straight into the stand under no pressure whatsoever. The patience of fans is not infinite.
Destination Russia: In 2014 Divock Origi became the youngest player to score for Belgium at a World Cup. The goals have dried up since: none in his last 10 appearances, a run that stretches back over two-and-a-half years. Time for Liverpool’s fourth-choice striker to convert potential into practice.
Glass half-full: A first league title for 28 years, or a first cup in six. Either would do, else the club suffer their longest trophy drought since the 1950s.
Glass half-empty: A season in the Europa League, accompanied by nagging regret that their crack team of negotiators managed to sour relations with Southampton and Leipzig so spectacularly.
Off the pitch
The manager: Jürgen Klopp has transformed Brendan Rodgers’s flaky entertainers into a team that are entertaining but flaky. But a little folksy charm goes a long way and Klopp has earned himself plenty of time and space to implement his heavy-metal project. The fans will have his back, even if the press pile on.
The owners: Boston Red Sox owners FSG rescued the club from the risible regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. They’ve got the finances back on an even keel. And they’ve built an imposing new main stand, ensuring the club remain at Anfield in the process. But a perception that they’re not prepared to go large in the transfer market has lost some goodwill. Expect a few moans if the window closes without further additions.
Steph Jones’ fan’s view: It’s pretty much Klopp’s side now. I can’t see us repeating the pattern after recent good seasons of finishing on a high in May only to collapse by autumn. And it’s great to be back in the Champions League. Prediction: 1st.