With last year’s title race coming down to a single point, the finest of details can make the greatest of differences.
When asked after the Manchester United game at the weekend regarding who could challenge for the title this campaign former Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho claimed there are four teams in the running, “Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City’s ‘B’ team”.
That tells you all you need to know about the strength in depth that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal at the Etihad Stadium.
The Spanish tactician was able to leave out City’s player of the season last year in Bernardo Silva as well as first choice striker Sergio Aguero and still record a 5-0 thrashing away from home against a team that will have ambitions to finish in a European spot at the end of the Premier League campaign.
That is a luxury that arguably Jurgen Klopp does not have, especially as his famed front three were all involved in lengthy summer tournaments for their respective countries.
Although Divock Origi stepped up with some important goals at the end of last season on Liverpool’s road to European glory it remains to be seen whether he can deliver those sorts of performances and match winning moments consistently throughout an entire year.
The same can be said of Xherdan Shaqiri, although he impressed initially after his move from Stoke last summer, often playing behind the front three, his appearances were few and far between post Christmas even if he did start on that famous night against Barcelona due to injuries.
Liverpool released back-up striker Daniel Sturridge this summer after he failed to find the form that nearly fired Liverpool to their first Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers several years ago and although not many tears in Merseyside would have been shed when his departure was announced the decision not to replace him or to capture another top level wideman may have raised a few eyebrows.
Of course there are high hopes for academy graduate Rhian Brewster this year with Klopp saying in pre-season, “he has an important role this year – but how important? Again, it depends on him and we will see.”
Brewster is almost certainly one for the future but whether his is one for the present and can make a significant contribution to a title winning campaign we are yet to find out.
Midfield may be the only area where Liverpool are particularly well stocked with a variety of options, especially with the return of Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the side after lengthy injury lay-offs.
The defence, however, despite being laden with talent, possibly lacks the depth to cope with a season that sees the red half of Merseyside compete for six trophies this year due to their extra Community Shield, Super Cup and Club World Cup fixtures.
Star goalkeeper Alisson has already picked up a calf injury that will see him sidelined for ‘several weeks’ after an extremely short summer break due to his successful exploits with Brazil in the Copa America.
The extra burden surely requires extra bodies but that does not seem to be the approach the enigmatic German at the helm is adopting.
Much like the release of Sturridge, the exit of Alberto Moreno would not have upset many in Liverpool but combine that with Nathaniel Clyne’s injury keeping him out until the new year and the fact that Dejan Lovren has recently been strongly linked with a move to Roma and the five time European champions could be left with only five senior defenders available until January.
Whilst Clyne may have been sold in the summer anyway had he not picked up his injury during pre-season after his loan spell at Bournemouth in the second half of last year, partly because James Milner can cover both full back positions so well, does not hide the fact that the lack of a replacement for one of Moreno or Clyne could come back to haunt Klopp.
This fear could become a nightmare if Lovren leaves as Joe Gomez, Klopp’s preferred partner for Van Dijk, has had rotten luck with injuries throughout his career, including a broken leg last campaign that ruled the young English defender out for four months.
It would only take one bad injury or a couple of suspensions at key times throughout what will almost certainly be a 60 plus game season for the Reds, for them to look desperately short and vulnerable at the back.
Compare City’s second string to Liverpool’s and there’s only one winner every time.
The likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez all regularly missed out on a starting berth in the League during 2018/19 but when they were called upon they stepped up to the mark.
City have just spent £60 million on a second choice right back, albeit with Danilo moving in the opposite direction for £35 million, but the ambition and attitude of not settling for anything other than perfection that exists in the blue side of Manchester is obvious for all to see.
Combine this with Liverpool’s lack of quality depth and you can envisage another ‘so close’ season in Liverpool’s pursuit of their maiden Premier League title.
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