Jurgen Klopp’s side will play host to Leeds United in their first match of the season after a club-record 99 points last season, but the German will know improvement is needed to do it again.
Manchester City will bounce back and Chelsea have added some phenomenal talent in the transfer window, while the Reds so far have signed only Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiakos as left-back cover.
COVID-19 has meant the transfer window will close after Liverpool’s fourth game of the season, meaning there is plenty of time to adjust with a signing, or indeed a sale, after the start of the season.
But the squad as it is has plenty of improvement left in it and Klopp will no doubt identify those areas to ensure his side are back at the top come the end of the season.
Unleash the supporting cast
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was Liverpool’s clear 12th man last season, playing over 500 minutes more than 13th-most used James Milner, but his 1,489 league minutes were some way off those of Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson as the Reds’ three most-regular midfielders.
Naby Keita made only nine starts, five of which came in Project Restart, while Joel Matip played just nine times all together as both were riddled by niggling injuries. January signing Takumi Minamino started two of his 10 appearances, registering just 243 minutes.
Those three in particular need to be in line for greater involvement this season. The fixture is busy with League Cup ties to be crammed into the league schedule early on, as well as the return of the Champions League.
Keita was probably Liverpool’s best player after the lockdown period and has prepared well, while Minamino seems to have integrated into the squad and, if his pre-season performances are anything to go by, he should have an important part to play this season.
With Dejan Lovren leaving and no replacement in line, Matip will need to stay fit and provide competition for Joe Gomez to partner Virgil van Dijk at the back. The Cameroonian was a key part of the Champions League-winning run in 2019, but simply has to be available more often.
If Liverpool can get more out of these players outside of the regular XI, including Oxlade-Chamberlain and the likes of Divock Origi and Curtis Jones, they will put themselves in a strong position for success.
Overcoming a difficult start
Liverpool won eight games in a row to start last season, and if they do the same again this season they will give themselves the perfect chance to jump their rivals.
But the first eight fixtures this time around are considerably more challenging. Within the opening five rounds, Liverpool will travel to Chelsea, host Arsenal and play Everton at Goodison Park, a place where they have scored twice and won once in their last six league visits.
The eighth game of the campaign will come against Manchester City at the Etihad, interestingly the first time the two have met first in Manchester since 2017/18. Liverpool haven’t won at City in the last four attempts and have lost the last three – two of those being 4-0 and 5-0 score lines.
The Reds will play 14 games before meeting the Citizens again, with only six of those to come against teams that finished in the top half last season. Assuming that will be a fairly lucrative run of points-getting, the opening two months of the season will be vital to any success for Klopp’s side.
Much like his preferred starting XI, Klopp has very rarely strayed from the 4-3-3 formation he uses, with the sole pivot in a narrow midfield and the high full-backs distinct characteristics of the way the team plays.
But teams are learning and adapting to this style. Arsenal have beaten Liverpool twice in a row because they figured out how to bypass the initial press and overload in midfield. Burnley knew they could pack the box and repel the constant crossing, and came away with a 1-1 draw in July – the only game at Anfield Liverpool didn’t win.
Arguably the best period of football the side has had in the last two years was in October-November 2018 when Klopp tinkered with a 4-2-3-1 – the same system he used with great success at Borussia Dortmund.
Klopp turned to that tactic around the hour mark of the Community Shield, and in little over 10 minutes they had equalised and came close to a winner. Minamino could be key to this, as it was his introduction on the left-hand side that brought about the change, with the Japanese scoring the goal.
Liverpool have long been criticised for lacking creativity through the middle and struggling to break down deep defences. The stability of a double pivot and the addition of an out-and-out no.10 seem to combat this well.
The possible Thiago capture would enhance this further with his ball playing ability and progression in his passing.
If for nothing else but adding an air of unpredictability, Klopp and his staff ought to think about being flexible with their tactics as they adapt to being the hunted, rather than the hunters.