We’ve already given Liverpool a full seven days to bask in the glory of being crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years, so it’s probably about time we scrutinise how on earth they intend to do it all over again next season.
The Premier League title has been successfully defended on eight occasions in the league’s 28-year history, most recently by Manchester City during the 2018/19 side. However, Pep Guardiola’s side were the only team to win back to back top flight titles during the 2010s, giving an indication of just what a big ask it will be for the Reds.
Winning successive Premier League crowns requires an unbelievable amount of motivation and an unrelenting winning mentality – traits Liverpool have already had to dig in and demonstrate this season after failing to win the top flight in 2018/19 despite collecting a ridiculous 97 points.
So just how do Liverpool go about retaining their Premier League title next season?
Assembling a squad to defend a league title is a delicate business. It’s a balancing act of strengthening the side – as every other title challenger will be doing – while attempting to not disrupt the team that won the league in the first place. The latter is particularly true of Liverpool, given the tight-knit squad Jurgen Klopp has created.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the absolute master at refreshing and rebuilding a Premier League winning side, bringing in Carlos Tevez in 2007 and Dimitar Berbatov in 2008 as Manchester United won a hat-trick of top flight titles.
Liverpool‘s hopes of lavishly spending their way to a second title have been dealt a blow by the coronavirus outbreak, with their unwillingness to splash in excess of £50m on Timo Werner suggesting that the Anfield purse strings are going to be pretty tight this summer.
Instead, the Reds will have to spend thriftily to strengthen the squad. The imminent exit of Adam Lallana, plus the likely departures of Xherdan Shaqiri and Dejan Lovren should free up the wage bill, and bringing in cover at left back for Andy Robertson and recruiting another forward to reduce the weight on the shoulders of the current front three should be the priority.
Maintaining motivation after putting in such a shift to win the league in the first place is often a struggle for sides attempting to retain a league title, and this could be doubly true for Liverpool.
The club have already had to pick themselves up after losing in the 2017/18 Champions League final, and after coming so agonisingly close to winning the Premier League last season. They then had to preserve this drive for three months when the season was derailed by a global pandemic. Liverpool’s 2019/20 title winning campaign has not just been a normal nine month affair. It has been an exhausting two-year effort of picking themselves back up time after time.
It was also Liverpool’s maiden Premier League title, and for a large majority of players it was their first ever league triumph. These were major motivating factors.
To maintain the hunger – which would sometimes be compensated for by bringing in a new big money signing – Klopp can introduce a selection of talented Liverpool youngsters itching for a taste of first team success. Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Ki-Jana Hoever have proved capable of making the step up during cup appearances, while Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster could well be integrated into the first-team squad after returning from their loan spells at Bournemouth and Swansea.
Klopp has an uncanny knack of squeezing the absolute maximum out of players. As Gary Neville put it, he’s turned £30m players into £130m players.
Jordan Henderson is the prime example, having undergone an American high school movie-esque glow up since Klopp took the reins at Anfield. The 30-year-old has transformed from the heavily mocked scapegoat (lonely science nerd) to an instrumental Premier League title winning captain (prom queen).
Henderson is one of many – Andy Robertson, Sadio Mane, Joe Gomez – to have come on leaps and bounds during the German’s time on Merseyside. Klopp just makes players better.
There are other players at Liverpool who are still to have their Klopp inspired glow up. Naby Keita is yet to live up to his £50m plus price tag and could be like a new signing once the Reds get the best out of him. January arrival Takumi Minamino has been restricted to limited game time thus far and could thrive once he’s had a full pre-season with Klopp.
With a lack of big money arrivals predicted this summer, the importance of fringe players fulfilling their potential is more important than ever.
Key to Liverpool’s success over the past three years has been their home form. They have not lost in the Premier League at Anfield since the deadly combination of former flop boss Roy Hodgson and former flop striker Christian Benteke masterminded a 2-1 victory for Crystal Palace on 23 April 2017.
The Reds’ recent victory over Crystal Palace on home soil was their 23rd in a row in the top flight, while Klopp’s lot have gone 56 games without a loss at Anfield.
Anfield has long been one of the most daunting places to visit in the Premier League – but the fear factor could diminish if fans continue to not be let into the ground at the start of the 2020/21 season due to the coronavirus and social distancing guidelines.
It did not prove to be an issue as the Reds confidently swept aside Palace, and Liverpool need to find a way to ensure that if the raucous home crowd is lost, home advantage is not.
Liverpool have lost the same amount of games this season as they did when they finished runners up during the 2018/19 season. Manchester City have not been as outstanding this time around, but the greatest difference has been that the Reds have turned their seven costly draws from last season into victories.
Liverpool’s ability to dig in and grind out a result at whatever the cost has been remarkable; the two late goals to sink Aston Villa in November, the comeback win over West Ham in February, the narrow victories over Norwich, Sheffield United and Wolves.
Such a winning mentality and ability to take all three points even when not at their best is what wins league titles. It’s what Ferguson’s United were so good at for so many years – and it’s part of the reason Brendan Rodgers’ side fell just short in 2014. They were sometimes too nice.
The Reds must maintain their ruthlessness and win at all costs mentality to retain their Premier League title.