With just under £175 million spent on new players this summer by Liverpool comes the unusual, at least in the Premier League era, labeling of title favorites.
Naby Keita and Fabinho arrived to bolster a midfield that looks deep and flexible, even with the injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain probably sidelining him until the end of the season. Xherdan Shaqiri arrives to provide something that was missing in the Champions League final – depth and creativity beyond their fearsome front three. Alisson Becker puts plenty of pressure on Jurgen Klopp to get rid of Simon Mignolet and/or Loris Karius.
And that might not be the end of Liverpool’s signings. After two consecutive seasons of finishing 4th and feeling satisfied about making it into the Champions League, a combination of achievements and personalities leads to bigger expectations, and a lot more pressure.
Not that pressure is a foreign term to this club. The 18 championships, even if the last of them came 28 years ago, create that kind of pressure each year. However, the brand of football the team played, the emergence of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino next to Sadio Mane, the stabilizing of the defense and the presence of new, shiny, expensive players, makes it difficult not to think of Liverpool as Manchester City’s main threat in 2018-2019.
Obviously, there are things to sort out, especially on defense. Dejan Lovren might have been terrific for Croatia, but he has been inconsistent in Liverpool uniform. The arrival of Virgil Van Dijk improved everyone’s ability to keep clean sheets, but not by that much, and it’ll be interesting to see how Klopp handles unhappy faces at full back, where Andy Robertson and Alexander Trent-Arnold have the edge, but not a guaranteed spot from wire-to-wire.
There’s also the pressure on Salah himself – a player who was as good as anyone in Europe last season, but a shoulder injury and perhaps the immense weight of expectations from the Egyptian nation and practically everyone seemed to lean a bit too heavily on him during the World Cup. Can he produce just like last season? Do Liverpool need him to be that dominant, or has the team evolved into something a bit more sophisticated?
Regardless, this has been Liverpool’s most ambitious summer in recent memory. The kind of summer which puts Klopp, a two-time champion in Germany but also two-time Champions League Final runner-up, with less wiggle room in terms of mistakes and bad stretches. A squad based more and more on his signings, on his philosophy. This looks like a team that can give City a fight for a season and not just a match here and there. Liverpool’s big seasons in recent years have been followed by duds (2009-10, 2014-15). But this is a different team, and perhaps their fate, under a manager who has mostly done right since taking the Anfield job, will be different as well.