Liverpool will begin the 2017-18 season as a Champions League team, but what must they do to get through one last qualification campaign to show they are capable of challenging Europe's very best and what lessons can Jürgen Klopp's side learn from their impressive 2016-17 campaign?
Reds bully the big teams
With the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich being potential opponents for Liverpool next season, one thing we learned about Klopp’s team this year is that they perform at their best against the big teams.
No team had performed better against the top six than the Reds this campaign with five victories, five draws and zero defeats. This is an encouraging statistic to have when lining up against some of Europe’s very elite and it shows Liverpool can do it on the biggest stage and may even fancy themselves to beat anyone in the competition next season.
With encouraging eye-catching performances such as victory at the home of eventual league champions Chelsea, a dominant performance against Spurs at Anfield and an encouraging double over Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal, it comes under no surprise that the Reds are capable of beating anyone on their day. But, the Champions League is a different story and Klopp will be looking to add depth to his squad if Liverpool are going to be real contenders in the competition next season.
Liverpool being sceptical of dropping key points
The Reds have shown evidence that they have it in their locker to beat anyone in the league, but this obviously wasn’t enough for them to stake a genuine title challenge this campaign despite being top of the table for some periods.
This is certainly down to dropping key points in important parts of the season and not being able to take advantage of sides struggling in the bottom-half of the table.
This became evident even at the very start of the season with Liverpool going to the Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the season and blowing Arsenal away and claiming a 4-3 win on a ground they had not tasted victory at since 2011. But, this win was diminished by the defeat the Reds suffered at the hands of newly-promoted Burnley the following week. The cracks were still not covered up going into important parts of the season.
Fast forward to December 4th, Liverpool sat in second a point behind leaders Chelsea and awaited a trip to Dean Court against Eddie Howe’s at-the-time-struggling Bournemouth. A win was needed for Liverpool to continue their momentum and keep the pressure on their title rivals, but this turned out to be far from the case. Cue drama as Liverpool led 3-1 with 15 minutes remaining looking to take a crucial win back to Merseyside with important goals coming from Sadio Manè, Divock Origi and Emre Can. However, the Cherries had other ideas as three late goals including Nathan Ake’s 93rd-minute winner meant Liverpool left empty handed showing further signs of failing to capitalise in key moments of the season.
Liverpool seemed to get their mojo back and pull together important victories against Merseyside rivals Everton as well as fellow title challengers Manchester City to keep them in the hunt. However, Antonio Conte and his Chelsea side were showing no signs of slowing down with a dogged ruthlessness to grind out wins after grabbing their 13th-straight victory before the turn of the New Year, indicating qualities the Reds simply did not possess this season.
The next four games summed up Liverpool’s season perfectly and highlights the important lessons the club must learn if they are to see success next year. After conceding late at Old Trafford to be denied victory in January, Liverpool welcomed bottom-of-the-table Swansea City to Anfield and the Reds had still not learned from previous misfortunes. After being embarrassed 4-0 by Arsenal the previous week Paul Clement had finally earned his first victory as Swans boss and of course it came at the hands of Liverpool as Klopp’s side lost 3-2, suffering their first home defeat of the season in typical Liverpool fashion as they failed to show character and fight when it was most needed.
It did not end there as the following fixture came at the worst time for the Reds as a mid-week fixture against Conte’s leaders loomed over Anfield with confidence being at its lowest point in the season. But of course, Klopp’s side turn up in the big games as they fought back from a superb David Luiz free-kick and a Gini Wijnaldum header to earn a point and lift the gloom that lurked over Anfield after a dreadful January.
February could not have come quicker as Liverpool were still without a league win in 2017 and a fixture against struggling Hull seemed the perfect place to get it. This was far from the case as Hull rallied a cut-throat performance against Klopp and his team to earn themselves a deserved 2-0 victory. Suddenly, not only did Liverpool’s title challenge seem all but over but their top-four prospects looked under threat as Liverpool dropped out of the Champions League spots for the first time since September.
Forgettable performances but memorable wins
Liverpool this season have been able to send Anfield into pure ecstasy with dazzling performances that have had their German boss running down the touchline on more than one occasion, but sometimes the Reds needed to win ugly to get themselves over the line.
Nothing comes more to mind than a dogged 2-1 over Sean Dyche’s Burnley in March. The Reds looked far from their usual energetic selves but Liverpool still got themselves over the line with a winner from a rejuvenated Can, who went on to score important goals that helped get Liverpool that final Champions League place.
An away day to the Bet365 Stadium also sparked scenes for celebration as a dismal first-half display, that showed an unfamiliar Liverpool line-up, saw the side trailing 1-0 to Stoke at half-time. But Klopp’s introduction of Brazilian duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino stole the show as both players got on the scoresheet to earn Klopp and his side maximum points on a day that belonged to the goalkeeper. Simon Mignolet performed one of the saves of the season to deny Saido Berahinho a late equaliser which showed positive signs for the team as big players were beginning to step up to drive Liverpool over that final hurdle.
Pressure fails to crack Liverpool at the biggest moment
In recent years Liverpool have had their fair share of falling at the pivotal moment. Losing the Premier League title with three games to go in 2013-14 as well as defeat in the 2016 Europa League final both come to mind, having also lost a number of domestic cup semi-finals.
However, on the final day of the 2016-17 season Liverpool did the job at hand when it most mattered. A nervy first-half was overshadowed by a dazzling second-half display against Middlesborough to earn the Reds a 3-0 victory that finally confirmed their Champions League status.
Liverpool had finally achieved the task at hand when it mattered and this is surely the characteristic that must be taken into next season above all else if Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool team are going to have success come the end of the 2017-18 campaign.