20 Days of the Premier League is back with Liverpool, last year’s third-place finishers and once-removed champions.
The Reds used a late-season charge to sneak back into the top-four after injuries derailed their title hopes; still, they were the best team in the world last time they were whole, and they will have serious title ambitions this year.
A Turbulent Season
Liverpool lost its captain and Ballon d’Or runner-up, Virgil Van Dijk, during the fifth game of the season, a 2-2 draw against Everton. The Dutch center-back was taken out by an ill-advised challenge from Everton’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, who has developed a reputation as a reckless player. Van Dijk suffered a torn ACL and was forced to miss the rest of the season, which caused the team to unravel at its seams.
The former champions of the league lost their entire starting back-line at one point and were forced to start midfielders in the defense, while injuries to players like Jordan Henderson and James Milner removed even more experience and industry from the lineup.
The COVID pandemic also proved especially harsh to two members of the Reds— goalie Alisson Becker and manager Jurgen Klopp— both of which lost parents but were unable to return home due to travel restrictions.
The team made a mid-season play for Diogo Jota from Wolves, and he added extra attacking flair to the starting XI, but he could not shore up all of the loose ends in the defense.
After falling as low as eighth, Liverpool took 24 of 30 possible points and went unbeaten over the final 10 match days in what was an improbable surge back into Champions League qualification, even though their squad was still not intact.
Mohamed Salah’s 22 goals were second in the league (one off of Harry Kane for the top spot) and was primarily responsible for dragging the club back into the top-four; rumors of a move during the offseason came and went, and he will be back in red this year.
Little Financial Activity
Liverpool’s only signing during the off period was Ibrahima Konate of RB Salzburg, a 22-year-old center-back who was secured for $47.4 million. Whether he starts ahead of Joe Gomez alongside Van Dijk remains to be seen, but he is a quality player that will boost the squad’s depth as they aim to compete on multiple fronts.
He’s a ‘keeper… 🤩@Alissonbecker has signed a new long-term contract with the Reds 😁🙌
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 4, 2021
The club took a hit by losing Georginio Wijnaldum on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain after he made appearances in all but one match in the last two Premier League seasons, and Curtis Jones will be tasked with filling the vacancy. Harvey Elliott, a natural winger that was recently on loan, has been playing some midfielder during the preseason, and he could try his hand in the regular season as well.
Liverpool’s Title Hopes
Liverpool will still back themselves as the best team in Europe despite their third-place finish last year; they closed the season in impeccable form and won the Champions League in 2019 and Premier League title in 2020, and will be back at full strength.
The task for the Reds will be keeping all of their players healthy and reintegrating the familiar faces without disrupting the chemistry that had formed in their absence. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino must also play themselves back into their usual selves, as their poor performance left Salah to carry the brunt of the offensive load last season.
Other title challengers have made huge offseason splurges, but Liverpool is largely the same team it was a few years ago— whether or not they can dominate the league as they once did will be found out soon enough.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.