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How Liverpool can close the gap on Man City next season

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The Reds ensured a nightmare campaign ended on a high with Champions League qualification – but they’ll be setting their sights higher next term.

Farewell then, 2020-21.

You were unique, for sure. Horrible at times, in fact. Hard to predict, and definitely hard to enjoy. A slog of a season, which tested hearts, tested hamstrings and tested patience. 

A campaign to forget, for the most part.

They prayed for fourth and finished third, as it turned out. They did their job on the final day while Chelsea and Leicester failed to do theirs. They finish the season on a 10-game unbeaten run in the league; eight wins and two draws, top-of-the-table form when it was needed most.

Jurgen Klopp’s side looked dead and buried just a few weeks back. They were eighth in the table in mid-March, as far as 10 points behind Leicester and playing like a team that had forgotten how to win. Like a team that had forgotten everything, to be perfectly honest.

Between December 19 and March 15, they played 14 Premier League games and won only three. Somehow, having been unbeaten at Anfield in the league for nearly four years, they managed to lose there six times in a row. Even Everton, who hadn’t won there since 1999, turned up and enjoyed themselves.

That they managed to pick things up from there, that they were able to salvage something from the wreckage, reflects incredibly well on this group of players, and on Klopp.

They were battered and bruised, and deservedly questioned as a bright start unravelled during the winter, but they proved a thing or two during those final weeks of the season. Don’t doubt their mentality or their hunger. The fire still burns bright.

“Next year we’re coming back for trophies,” tweeted Trent Alexander-Arnold on Sunday evening, and you can believe him. They might have been smiling this weekend, but after waiting 30 years for a league title, it will have hurt to have had to hand it back so soon. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City should be wary of the wounded red beast.

Klopp says Liverpool will emerge stronger after their struggles this season. “In the harder moments you can learn the most, and you can show the most,” he said. “It’s the best lesson you can learn from life.”

His side finished 18 points clear of City last season, when they won 32 of their 38 league matches, but they ended 17 adrift this time around. They’ve done it before, but to chase down Guardiola’s team again will be some task.

Here’s how they can do it…

Sign a forward

While there is no question that it was a defensive crisis which truly undermined Liverpool’s title defence this season, their struggles at the other end of the field cannot be ignored. 

Indeed it was those, as much as anything else, which stood out when things started to go badly wrong in January and February.

They finished the season with 13 goals from five games, but memories of those blanks against Newcastle and Southampton, Brighton and Burnley, Fulham and Chelsea and Manchester United will linger. It was painful to watch.

Klopp may argue that form is temporary and class is permanent, and it was certainly nice to see Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane contributing during those crucial final weeks, but there are legitimate concerns about how much longer the Reds’ trusted front three can go on. 

They actually only finished with one goal fewer than they managed last season – 56 compared with 57 – but this was their fourth season together. Not many forward lines stay together so long, and there were times this season when Liverpool looked better with Diogo Jota providing something new, something fresh.

Jota, who finished the season with 13 goals despite missing nearly three months with a knee injury, has been a fine signing, and should get even better next season, but if Liverpool really want to worry City, they need another addition to their striking stable in the summer.

Who that could be, well that’s another matter. Don’t expect Erling Haaland or Harry Kane or Kylian Mbappe, but the Reds should have the means to bring in someone, especially if, as expected, the likes of Divock Origi, Harry Wilson and perhaps Xherdan Shaqiri are sold. 

Get that right, as they did with Jota last summer, and they’ll have taken a huge step forward.

Credit: goal.com

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