It’s nearly two years since Jürgen Klopp pitched up at Anfield, and he has already succeeded in returning Liverpool to the top table of European football by securing Champions League qualification for the first time since 2014/15.
But this season will be no easy ride for the German and his team.
Liverpool are surrounded by rivals spending huge sums of money on players and, while they have already invested in Mo Salah and may yet burn another £100m or so in the runaway blaze that is the transfer market, there is a sense that they are struggling to keep up with the widespread fiscal irresponsibility.
There’s no guarantee that the primary objects of Klopp’s affection, Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita, will be successfully acquired this summer. And, if those moves fail to materialise, Liverpool could be staring down the barrel of a season spent competing on two fronts without having significantly built upon last year’s squad. Moreover, despite Klopp forcefully denying that Philippe Coutinho will be allowed to depart, it’s hard to see the club resisting if they end up in the path of the Barcelona transfer machine.
However, speculation regarding human resources is always a pursuit fraught with danger when it comes to football clubs. After all, it’s hardly unforeseeable that van Dijk, Keita, Coutinho and a raft of other new arrivals could all be featuring at Anfield over the comings months; in the age of a Trump presidency and the DUP propping up a UK government, far stranger things appear to be happening.
Still, Klopp will be feeling the pinch.
Since becoming Liverpool boss, he has wisely resisted the temptation to prophesise a trophy-filled future for his side, and now seems to be once again playing down their chances. Perhaps he has learned the merits of moderating the expectations of a fanbase that can occasionally lose sight of reality. Or perhaps he is simply getting the excuses in early.
“I would love to fight for the title, of course, but I really believe in consistency. If you are convinced about the group you have then you don’t have to make big changes,” he said recently.
“Finishing fourth in the Premier League was, for us, a really big thing. Two really big teams were behind us and we should not forget that.
“This group of players achieved that – so give them another chance. Yes, there are a few little things that we can – and will – improve, but the message is ‘let’s go again.'”
Read into those quotes what you will, but it doesn’t sound as if the “Normal One” is anticipating a genuine tilt at a Premier League or Champions League title. His aim may well be merely to consolidate a place in the globe’s premier continental competition by creeping a place or two up the ladder on the domestic front, which would seem quite a reasonable and readily achievable target.
But is this a point-of-view shared by his club’s board, its players and, more importantly, its fans?
To the more intrepid Liverpool supporters, Klopp arrived with a somewhat Messiah-like image and, although few can still be aligned with the unfair This-is-Our-Year stereotype, there will be those who expect him to return the Reds to something resembling their former status. The manager himself may not consider that possible, but many would.
If Klopp’s vision of how far he can take Liverpool begins to separate from that of a large chunk of the supporters, he may find himself subject to harsher examination. This season will be a test of that theory; progress has clearly been made in his time on Merseyside, but it’s far from accurate to say his side has been thrilling the football world with their quality.
2017/18 will be his second full campaign in charge, and if it’s a mediocre one, there could be calls in some quarters for his head. This may be a quite exceptionally unjust weight to place on the shoulders of one of the world’s most accomplished managers, but as Klopp himself acknowledges, he is operating in an era when patience is a virtue not widely found in footballing circles.