Liverpool earned a place in the top four thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on the last day of the season and can now look forward to Champions League football next year. The board now has to bankroll Jurgen Klopp to seriously invest in the squad to ensure to ensure the Reds can compete on all fronts next season.
Without the distraction of Champions League football, Liverpool still fell short this campaign. They were dumped out of both cups and a disastrous period in the New Year derailed their title bid. Scraping into the top four was the bare minimum and it illustrates real progress after they finished eighth last season, but it is clear that the squad needs to be bolstered.
Liverpool have some wonderful attacking players: Sadio Mane, Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana form a front four that is full of pace, dynamism and goals. But they need more strength in depth. Divock Origi looks a good player to have in reserve, but Daniel Sturridge cannot be relied upon to stay injury free and may have to go. Liverpool need a goal scorer and another winger. But the main overhaul needs to be defensively. The Reds shipped 42 goals this season, more than all the teams above them, and if they can tighten it up while remaining fluid in attack, they could achieve great things next season.
They have raided Southampton time and time again in recent years, so why not go back for Virgil Van Dijk? He is exactly the sort of player Liverpool need. The club’s coffers have been seriously boosted by Champions League qualification, and it can afford to invest in the playing squad. Speculate to accumulate, and shirt sales around the world could recoup the investment. A new goalkeeper would not go amiss either. And a left-back.
But there is cause for optimism around Anfield. Klopp summed it up when he said: “I’m not sure if fourth place was the target of all the Liverpool supporters, but I think pretty much the second best. For a few weeks we knew that’s the maximum we can achieve and we did it. Seventy-six points, that’s an outstanding number. That’s the base we created, we learned a lot in this year about ourselves, so we can use it. If you want, usually at the end of the season you’re kind of tired, but I could start – and don’t tell the players this – tomorrow because I’m already looking forward to what we can do.”
It will be even harder next season. Arsenal will overhaul their side, while Man Utd will spend a fortune and even upstarts like West Ham and Everton will be throwing money around. The teams above Liverpool, meanwhile – Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea – will also all come back stronger. 5dimes lines for Liverpool and a trawl through leading bookmaker websites shows that Liverpool are sixth favourites to finish in the top four next season, behind Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham and Arsenal. They will have the distraction of Champions League football, and the luxury of a week off between league games will be a thing of the past, so they will need to bring in more bodies for the cause.