The transfer window has shut (in England at least) and the new Premier League season is upon us.
Liverpool’s opening match saw the Reds face a new-look West Ham United at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, and the return of Manuel Pellegrini to England.
Two of the Premier League’s highest spenders both have lofty ambitions for the season met, Liverpool marking their title ambitions with a 4-0 win.
But can they do it? Jürgen Klopp’s side have improved year after year and look exciting and formidable, but Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City casts a large and ominous shadow over any title aspirations on Merseyside.
City are almost unbeatable, and that is before taking into account Liverpool’s other Premier League rivals, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal – even if two of them experienced mixed summers and the other two are rebuilding.
Liverpool have added Naby Keïta, Fabinho, Alisson and Xherdan Shaqiri to their talented squad, improving both the quality of their starting eleven and the rotation options underneath. Though both are not quite perfect and would be rated below City’s, Liverpool have enough to mount a serious assault on the Premier League crown.
Klopp will have to rotate his squad throughout the long campaign to ensure his players avoid injury and fatigue, while his teams will also be set up depending on the opponent.
Who does Klopp pick?
Regardless, with the summer transfer market now closed, who would start in Liverpool’s strongest eleven?
Starting from front to back instead, there is no doubt which trio will be leading Liverpool’s attack for the coming campaign.
As encouraging as Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge’s pre-seasons have been, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah arguably represent Europe’s most threatening front three.
Individually, they are not the three best attackers in Europe, but their chemistry, combinations and understanding produce a fast and fierce fluidity that most defences struggle to contain.
Sturridge and Shaqiri improve the firepower at Liverpool’s disposal – an issue that was brutally exposed against Real Madrid in Kiev – but Liverpool need Salah, Mané and Firmino to hit the heights again for a nineteenth league title.
In midfield, Liverpool have again improved the quality of their options in Keïta and Fabinho. However, in contrast to Shaqiri and Sturridge, Liverpool’s new midfield duo will surely be first-choice starters.
Klopp has spoken highly of Keïta since the 2016/17 season, adamant that the 23-year-old can transform Liverpool’s midfield, especially since the loss of Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool beat a number of Europe’s giants including Barcelona to sign Keïta a year in advance, such was the clamour for the Guinean’s signature. As Liverpool’s new number eight – the first since Steven Gerrard left Anfield – Keïta will start.
Meanwhile, Fabinho became one of the best defensive midfielders in France with Monaco, with Liverpool having finally found a successor to the likes of Dietmar Hamann and Javier Mascherano.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson will provide competition for Fabinho at times, but the versatility of both players gives them an advantage to play alongside Keïta in Liverpool’s new-look midfield, alternating during matches if need be.
Both Fabinho and Henderson have played in a number six role of late, but can perform as a number eight, while Henderson could operate even further forward and Fabinho could cover at right-back and centre-back.
Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner and Adam Lallana are truly wonderful alternatives, emphasising the strength in depth in the middle of the pitch for the Reds. Marko Grujic and Curtis Jones have not even been mentioned yet.
Wijnaldum’s drive and tenacity are especially effective in big games at Anfield, while Milner’s industry and experience and Lallana’s creativity will need to be called upon to manage difficult matches and break down difficult opponents respectively.
Finally, for the defence, Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk appear set to continue the promising relationship that they have built since the latter joined in January from Southampton.
Lovren’s form in 2018 has been unrecognisable to the inconsistencies and calamities of the Croatian’s early years in a Liverpool shirt, and the 29-year-old has just enjoyed a wonderful run to the World Cup final with Croatia.
Alongside the centre-backs, Andrew Robertson has proved himself a level above the popular but error-prone Alberto Moreno, while Trent Alexander-Arnold has the greater all-round game and potential compared to Nathaniel Clyne, though the latter could start against West Ham following a full pre-season.
Oh, and Alisson will be in goal. Period.
The Brazilian has all the tools to become one of Liverpool’s best ever goalkeepers, and solve a problem position since the decline of Pepe Reina in the early 2010s.
Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet are good goalkeepers, but Liverpool now potentially have a great goalkeeper – which they need to stand any chance of taking down Pep’s City and end what would be a 29 year quest to be champions of England again.