Liverpool have previous when it comes to muddling through the majority of the season only to finish strongly in the run-in. Two years ago, they were eighth in the Premier League table with 10 games to play. A top-four finish was looking precarious after six straight home defeats, but Jürgen Klopp’s team went unbeaten in their last 10 games of the season, winning eight of them, and finished third.
Klopp is hoping for something similar this season. Having been off the ball throughout the campaign, Liverpool suddenly look formidable. They have won their last six matches and, with three games to play, are now just one point behind Manchester United and Newcastle, albeit having played a match more than the two teams above them. The maths are against Liverpool, but they have the momentum.
Manchester United have wobbled in recent weeks, with their away form a cause for concern. They have lost their last two league matches and have only won two of their last eight in all competitions. Newcastle are also coming off a defeat and lack experience in this situation. Having spent the entire season out of the top four, Liverpool can now see a narrow path to Champions League qualification.
Securing Champions League football is the best way to attract the big names and the club’s power in the transfer market will be weakened if they are not participating in Europe’s elite club competition. Competing with clubs such as Manchester City and Real Madrid in the transfer market is tough enough without having to sell the idea of the Europa League – or Conference.
Take Jude Bellingham. The England international has been Liverpool’s top midfield target for some time, but he is close to joining Real Madrid – the same Real Madrid who beat Liverpool to Aurélien Tchouaméni last summer, even after Klopp’s side ran City the distance in the title race.
Liverpool will have to look elsewhere for a central midfielder this summer, but the good news is that their midfield is already improving. Klopp’s decision to move Trent Alexander-Arnold into a right-back-midfielder hybrid role has opened up new potential for his team.
Since pushing the 24-year-old upfield, Liverpool have been far more effective in the final third. Alexander-Arnold’s new position maximises the creative side of his game, while also masking his defensive shortcomings. Klopp adopted the approach for Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal in early April. Since then Liverpool have been unbeaten and Alexander-Arnold has registered more assists (six) than any other player in the Premier League.
Liverpool have also been boosted by the return from injury of Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota. Díaz was out of action for six months with a knee injury but has played in each of Liverpool’s last six games, all wins, and Jota – who scored 21 goals for the club last season – has missed half the season.
Unable to call upon two of his reliable forwards, Klopp has been forced to use Darwin Núñez and Cody Gakpo more than he would have liked. The manager tends to be patient with new signings, easing them into the team, but that has not been an option this season.
Liverpool’s recent form bodes well for next season. Núñez and Gakpo have had time to settle, there is no winter World Cup to worry about, and Klopp will have a full preseason to work with his five core attackers and, hopefully for Liverpool fans, a new midfield.
Given the midseason World Cup, this was always going to be a gruelling campaign for a team that plays with Klopp’s style. He wants his players to press high up the pitch to force mistakes from opponents, but keeping up that intensity this season was too big an ask – especially after the comedown of nearly winning four trophies last year.
Liverpool players have peaked during the run-in, but they had already lost too much ground to be title contenders. Without the added distraction of a major tournament this summer, Klopp can build on their current form and focus on having his players fit enough to be consistent next season. If Liverpool can maintain their winning run it will give them a platform on which to build in August.
We saw two years ago how important a strong end to the season can be. Liverpool raced into third place in the 2020-21 season with a 10-match unbeaten run and then followed that up with a remarkable 92-point season in 2021-22, losing out to Manchester City in the title race by a single point.
This summer will be a crucial one for Liverpool as they seek to re-establish themselves as contenders in England and Europe. With Manchester City, Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester United all expected to be active in the market, Liverpool need to invest properly to maintain a sustained title push. But their impressive end to the season shows they are still a force to be reckoned with – and they may even sneak into the top four after all. – Guardian