John Brewin: Liverpool are no longer underdogs, there’s no excuses now

Our expert writer feels Liverpool have to be targeting the Premier League title now after a summer of splurging in the transfer market…


Could this be their year?

The thought has passed through Liverpool fans’ minds each summer since the club’s last league title in 1990. And during the Premier League era, blind optimism has mostly been the order of the day.

The close-run things of the last decade, namely in 2008-9 and 2013-14, came as a surprise rather than meeting realistic pre-season expectations.

Ten years ago, under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool could claim to have the strongest midfield in England with Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano behind Steven Gerrard, himself playing off a peak-era Fernando Torres. Behind them, Jamie Carragher marshalled the defence.

Manchester United were given a sincere scare before winning a third Premier League title in a row.

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In 2013-14, Luis Suarez’s brilliance powered Liverpool to the brink of a title they squandered at the final hurdles.

Both seasons were followed by swift, corrosive declines. The 2009-10 campaign saw Liverpool finish seventh and Benitez given his cards. Brendan Rodgers held on after finishing sixth in 2014-15 but not for long; he was sacked by October.

The latter title challenge bore similarities with last season’s run to the Champions League final, where the momentum of a surprise package playing thrilling football under Jurgen Klopp was eventually denied by cold, hard football reality.

Can things be different this time around? The club’s transfer activities suggest so, when compared with the business done ten and four years ago. Benitez’s major purchase in the summer of 2009 was Alberto Aquilani, a desperately ill-fated replacement for the excellence of Alonso.

And 2014 was the summer of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic.

Even allowing for Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana eventually making contributions after signing from Southampton, it was transfer business to make Kopites wince, considering that Suarez was cashed in to pay for it.

With the caveat that there can never be a guarantee of a transfer paying off, Liverpool finally appear to have realised that adding to a position of strength is the means to forge future success.

Midfield has been bolstered by Naby Keita for £53m, his move from RB Leipzig booked in last year, and Fabinho, signed from Monaco for £43m. The attack will now feature Xherdan Shaqiri, who looks a snip at £13m from relegated Stoke.

And while a move for French World Cup winner Nabil Fekir may or may not happen, the purchase of goalkeeper Alisson Becker for a world record £67m captures the imagination as a deal done expediently, and under the noses of interested parties like Real Madrid.

When Tranmere’s Ben Tollitt, as a Liverpool fan unable to believe the bungling German’s latest howler, was caught calling Loris Karius “f****** s***” last week during a friendly between the neighbouring clubs, there was mounting dread that Klopp, who has long been accused of a blindspot for keepers, might persist with his compatriot.

Had the soft-focus, Baywatch-style Instagram video that Karius released a fortnight ago convinced Klopp that all was now well with a player who dropped two horrific howlers in Kiev?

Instead, Liverpool have signed someone good enough to keep Manchester City’s Ederson out of Brazil’s World Cup team, to solve a long term problem position.

Equally, the rest of the signings have strengthened a first team that was good enough to finish fourth in the Premier League and reach a first Champions League final in 12 years, but suffered from sincere lack of quality to come off the bench.

At the Olimpiyskiy stadium, as the fates and Sergio Ramos did for Mohamed Salah, Klopp could only turn to a half-fit Lallana, and his options beyond that were threadbare. Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne, Ragnar Klavan, the soon-departing Emre Can and a 20-year-old substitute striker in Dominic Solanke were Klopp’s hand to play against an opponent going for its fourth Champions League in five years.

And for the long, hard slog of a Premier League title challenge playing the ultra-athletic pressing game Klopp demands from players, Liverpool were woefully under-amped.

But now, Liverpool having done the sharpest business of any of English football’s elite, with Manchester City angrily missing out on Jorginho and Jose Mourinho grumbling at Manchester United. Chelsea, despite snaffling Jorginho are in a state of flux with Arsenal in rebuilding mode.

In buying big, Liverpool have made themselves highly credible challengers to City, an opponent they beat three times out of four last season.

Despite defeat to Real Madrid in Kiev, Klopp is as popular, probably more so, than Benitez and Rodgers were after their near-misses, and unlike those predecessors, he has been backed in the transfer marker with no corners cut and no vital players cashed in.

This summer, Liverpool fans would be right to get excited.

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