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Why 2016-17 could be a watershed season for Liverpool FC

The upcoming season could define the journey ahead for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool’s fortunes for the upcoming 2016-17 EPL season probably changed sharply in a matter of minutes at St. Jakob-Park, Basel in the Europa League final on 18th May. After a brilliant goal by Daniel Sturridge in the 35th minute and almost a second by Dejan Lovren, the Reds’ promising first-half display made their fans dream of winning their first European trophy in over a decade.

The appointment of talismanic manager Jürgen Klopp was going to bear instant fruit. A lackluster end to the Premier League season where the team finished outside the Europe qualification spots wouldn’t have mattered as winning the Europa League guaranteed Champions League qualification for the side for the next season, and with the likelihood of some blockbuster signings aided by the presence of a very popular manager.

But an incredible comeback by Sevilla in the second half, in which Los Rojiblancos silenced the Liverpool fans with 3 goals in 25 minutes to win their third consecutive Europa crown, and with it leave the Reds with no European football for the 2016-17 season.

Even before the conclusion of the Premier League season, many Liverpool supporters had been vocal about the fact that they’d prefer either Champions League football or otherwise no Europe at all for the next season (in other words, attributing Europa League as an avoidable distraction).

With the defeat in the final, the lesser preferred of these two options became a reality – and the focus soon shifted to the planning for the next season with discussions on how Klopp would deal in the transfer market to mould the side his way, after having to make do with the players left behind by Brendan Rodgers last season.

Many have referred to the club’s title challenge in 2013-14 and Leicester’s win in 2015-16 being aided by the absence of mid-week European football, and it is undeniable that lesser number of games in the upcoming season will definitely work in favour of Klopp’s side (more so, because of the constant talk of the high count of games last season).

The fact that Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United will have new managers coming in and may require some time to settle down and get their systems functional is definitely an advantage for Liverpool with Klopp being appointed mid-season last year and having got a head start over Guardiola, Conte and Mourinho to understand the squad’s capabilities and get the team to play his style of game.

Also factoring in that Leicester and Tottenham may still hangover of the performances last season (and Arsenal being Arsenal!) only strengthens the case that the new season offers a very promising chance for Klopp and his team to make amends for an ordinary previous season.

What the next season holds for the Reds

A strong finish and possibly a title charge (if not the title win) will go a long way in helping re-establish the club as one of Europe’s elite. Some may point to the decline after the heights of 2013-14, but with a proven manager of the pedigree of Klopp at helm, a good show in the season will definitely augur well for the club in the near future and possibly even in longer term – maybe on the lines of an impressive European run over many seasons under Rafa Benitez or possibly even better!

But the going will definitely not be easy – as has already been seen in the summer transfer window. Despite Klopp’s presence, some of the rumoured moves for high profile targets like Mario Götze and Alvaro Morata didn’t materialize.

The club’s wage structure means it can’t compete with the likes of Manchester United who have signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who incidentally was a one-time priority target for Liverpool some years back, but didn’t join the club) this window despite having not qualified for Champions League.

The signing of Sadio Mane is likely to be Liverpool’s highest spend in the summer – a somewhat underwhelming purchase given the players being targeted by rivals (though the fact that Mané will definitely add much-needed firepower to the Liverpool attack is widely agreed upon).

Klopp built a strong Bundesliga winning Borussia Dortmund side without relying much on star purchases and instead developed young & talented players into world class players. The Liverpool squad has many young, talents who perfectly fit the bill for the profile of players with whom Klopp likes working with, but the task will be far difficult in England than it was in Germany.

With the broadcasting deal money available to the clubs, teams are now able to strengthen their squad with world class players because of increased income. Even the traditionally relatively smaller sides like Crystal Palace are now able to make big money bids for the players, and all teams looking to strengthen their squad.

Farhad Moshiri’s investment in Everton has meant that the League now has another club financed by super-rich owners – this time on the Merseyside itself -  who are willing to spend big money to achieve success in short span of time.

Klopp has his work cut out – Players and the fixtures

Klopp has his work cut out as Liverpool have got a tough schedule of fixtures in the start to the season and will need a good run of results to avoid slipping away from the other clubs in the League rankings. The Premier League is no longer the stronghold of what were called as the Big 4 in the 2000s (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and many teams will have their sights on Europe qualification and top half finish.

And hence, it’s imperative that Klopp and his team make the most of the lesser workload because of absence from European competition in the season. A lot will depend on Sturridge’s fitness over the season.

A lot has been said about the player’s injuries in recent times and that affecting the club – but to analyse it from another perspective, it is a likely reason why the club still have a player of such goal-scoring pedigree in their squad. However, if the medical team can ensure that Sturridge stays fit for majority of the season, the player is very likely to lead a strong performance by the club with crucial goals.

Klopp will also have to utilize his other players well too – especially the Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firmino, with the added incentive that a strong performance will increase the chances of the club retaining the two players in coming seasons despite keen interest by top European sides to sign them.

Liverpool’s tricky round of fixtures along with the requested away games because of redevelopment at Anfield in the initial phase of the upcoming season has been predicted by some to leave the club finding itself in the lower spots of the League table and out of contention for a good finish at an early stage itself.

However, to look at this from another perspective, every team finishes the season with results of 19 home & away games each and that’s no advantage/disadvantage to any side over this. The Reds will look to take the early round of matches in their stride, knowing that it’ll be compensated by an easier run during the mid-season as compared to the rivals

Every season of football is important for all teams, but given the juncture at which the club finds itself in, the 2016-17 season could well end up being a turning point for Liverpool.  After years of ups & downs since the inception of the Premier League, the club is at a stage at which a strong performance will ensure that Klopp gets a chance to stay at the club for many years and build his legacy by challenging for and winning trophies.

On the other hand, an average/poor show could result in the club lagging behind in the League with the level of competition higher than ever before – no team is now big enough to be guaranteed safety from failure, possibility of star players moving out in exodus to the European giants and also question mark on the future of Klopp at the helm and the ownership by FSG.

With memories of Gillett-Hicks & Hodgson in 2010 still fresh, stability at the top will be very important for the club.

The task for Klopp isn’t an easy one, but he knows all about being in this situation and succeeding, from his time at Dortmund. He has the ingredients for success with him and the talent he has in the squad at Liverpool. He had the chance to plan and build his team in the summer and have a complete pre-season to assess his best system.

He will be aware that despite his popularity, a repeat of the 2015-16 season (or worse) will mean that it’ll be tricky to defend his position at Liverpool, and also leave the club at risk for further decline in coming seasons.

However, if he does manage to get the team to play the high-quality football (of which we got some glimpses last season) consistently over the season and take advantage of no European football to have better fitness levels and playing quality, Klopp would have possibly taken a first big step towards being counted in a very illustrious list of top Liverpool managers and bring back the glory days to the club.

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