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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Strength in depth gives Liverpool and Klopp strong chance to end trophy drought

The Merseyside club have recruited well over the summer and have cover across the pitch

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has real squad depth with which to work with. AP Photo
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has real squad depth with which to work with. AP Photo

The second-best team in Europe last season, and the first club from England to reach an Uefa Champions League final in more than half a decade ought not to have look back to the last time they won a domestic title with the help of a telescope.

At Liverpool, impatience for silverware grows, even if the prospect of a first league title for 28 years still looks a very tall order.

But they are a club on the up. By reaching the European Cup final in May, Jurgen Klopp provided a huge endorsement of the hunch the club’s owners had back in 2015 that the German’s charisma, populist touch and drive would fit with Anfield’s fierce idea of what makes Liverpool unique in English football.

His record of two European finals in less than three full seasons in charge has restored one important aspect of the club’s sense of itself: As intrepid flag-bearers for the English game, the club whose five European Cups are more than any compatriot has accumulated.

Klopp’s part in transfer strategy, his significant say in recent signings should be applauded, too.

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The arrivals, last summer and in January, of Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk propelled Liverpool to their Champions League final in Kiev against Real Madrid.

The defeat in Kiev to Real Madrid also did point an accusing finger at a shortcoming in squad-building that may well have been quickly rectified.

The choice of goalkeeper, the luckless Loris Karius - then the urgency with which Liverpool have sought out a replacement, Alisson Becker, has helped embolden supporters in the belief that for 2018-19, the club are adequately staffed now in their problem position.

Alisson's purchase pushes the value of the summer investments in new players more than €200 million (Dh849.8m), and, with last term’s strident victories over Manchester City in the Premier League and in Europe fresh in the memory, Liverpool have started to look like the best equipped of the 18 others in the top division to challenge City’s defence of the main domestic title.

But, a note of caution. The high-class reinforcements to the spine of Liverpool’s team - namely Alisson, who cost €75m from Roma; Naby Keita, €68m from RB Leipzig, and Fabinho, whose sale could, with add-ons, earn the sellers Monaco €50m - are unlike Salah and Van Dijk in one important respect.

They all come as complete newcomers to English football, and the adjustment to it tends to take a few weeks, not least in a team like Klopp’s Liverpool, with their idiosyncratic rhythms, their crescendos of high-intensity football and phases of lower-intensity recuperation.

Of Keita, with who Liverpool had a deal set up 12 months ago, Klopp acknowledged: “We have got him because of the player he is, and now we have to let him adapt to our system.”

One exciting newcomer, Xherdan Shaqiri, signed from Stoke City, does know the English game. The Swiss with the well-developed upper-body looks an appropriate back-up for either of the wider positions - Salah, or Sadio Mane - in Klopp’s trusted front three.

He is quick on the counter-attack, and has an eye for the spectacular goal. While Mane-Firmino-Salah are the principal trio, alternatives will be important:

Liverpool's style is fatiguing and Salah and Firmino both played more than 50 matches last season and have been at the World Cup this summer.

Goals from other sources will be welcome too. Last season, while each of the three main strikers scored more than 20 goals each - and Salah was the Premier League’s leading marksmen - no other Liverpool player other than the departed Philippe Coutinho, notched more than six across competitions.

Keita is no Coutinho, but he will create opportunities and contribute goals himself. He and Fabinho come in to fortify a midfield that will be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for at least the rest of this calendar year because of the England player’s serious ligament damage, sustained in April.

All of which gives Klopp a squad that looks genuinely able to compete across competitions: A Liverpool second XI might now read Karius, Clyne, Gomez, Matip, Moreno, Lallana, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Woodburn, Sturridge, Shaqiri, a team where all of the outfielders are senior internationals, and the kind of team who could put together a strong run in a domestic Cup.

That matters. While Liverpool have a standard to maintain in the Champions League, and a genuine title challenge must be a requirement, supporters are entitled to believe they are due a trophy of any sort. Liverpool’s last was the League Cup triumph, way back in February 2012.

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