Liverpool have spent the last generation in a strange state, a sort of high-end irrelevance. They’ve remained, for all but the topmost tier of players, a destination club—one with plentiful resources, a winning tradition, and one of the strongest fan bases in world soccer. The problem, though, is that even this relatively prestigious position is a woeful drop from where they once were, and where many of their fans believe they should still be. In the past ten years, 6th, 7th, and even 8th place finishes have been more common than Champions League qualification, let alone actual titles. It’s a sorry state of affairs for what—historically speaking—is England’s second-most decorated club.
When manager Jürgen Klopp arrived from Dortmund in 2015, he brought with him the promise of revamping Liverpool into a modern, exciting outfit that could once again challenge for Premier League supremacy. There have been many false dawns in the club’s recent era, of course, but Klopp’s infectious enthusiasm, confidence, and proven track record of success has given fans more and more reasons for optimism, especially as the on-field talent begins to catch up with the manager’s ambitions. This could be the start of a brand new Liverpool, one that finally lives up to the Liverpool of the past.
First of all, this team is fun. In the past week, they’ve dropped eight goals on high-level competition, beating Hoffenheim in the play-in round of the Champions League, then embarrassing Arsenal into an existential crisis with a 4-0 clobbering on Sunday. The chemistry between Liverpool’s offensive players is transcendent, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can, Sadio Mane, and even Daniel Sturridge all selflessly combining to slice up defenders and score beautiful, perfectly drawn-up goals. I mean, this movement is just breathtaking:
What’s more, there seems to be an unprecedented increase in talent at Anfield ready to arrive in the near future. It looks just about confirmed that Leipzig’s 22-year-old midfielder Naby Keïta will be joining the club in 2018, in a move that would break Liverpool’s transfer record. Meanwhile the Reds have also been linked with the even younger French stud Thomas Lemar to give the squad even more attacking quality and depth. Both of these players—already proven contributors with sky-high ceilings—would be the kind of signings that could push Liverpool from fun and dangerous outsiders into legitimately scary trophy threats.
The English media is still insisting that none of these impending transfers are tied to any imminent departure of Philippe Coutinho, whom Barcelona have been clamoring for all summer. That’s a little hard to buy, though. Sure the club has stuck to its guns by refusing to sell thus far, but with all the talk about Coutinho’s anger at not being allowed to leave, the totally insane money Barça would be willing to throw around to make it happen, the great performances of the team in Coutinho’s absence in matches like this weekend’s, and the readymade replacements that Keïta and Lemar represent, it’s difficult not to see Coutinho leaving town sooner or later.
At a glance, that would be a tough loss. When Liverpool have played well over the past few years, Coutinho has almost always been at the center of the action, and he still has room to improve, especially as deployed in the central midfield role Klopp set out for him this year. And when Liverpool have struggled in the past and this season especially, it has mostly been down to the midfield’s lack of possession instincts—which the ball-hungry Coutinho would almost certainly solve were he on the pitch. But it’s really hard to turn down such staggering amounts of money for so long, especially when the player is desperate to leave and the club has already circled around a couple very good replacements. Maybe Coutinho doesn’t leave this summer, but next year looks certain.
As they’ve shown at times already, Liverpool are a true force to be reckoned with this year, even without Coutinho and Adam Lallana or any new faces to fill those two players’ boots. But if they can add Lemar to this bunch, and integrate Lallana back into the fold once he gets healthy, and maybe even keep hold of Coutinho for another year before turning over the reins to Keïta, then this team will be legitimate title contenders now and for a while yet. Liverpool have already been “back” to on the path to returning to the halcyon days of yore for a couple years now. A smart conclusion to this transfer window could make sure that they stay there for good.