Liverpool Season Preview: Returning players key to title hopes

The 2019-20 champions will have some big players to call on again this season as they attempt to mount another title challenge.

Pre-season results

The Reds began their pre-season preparations with some mini-games in Austria, and will have a few more matches to come before their opening day meeting with Norwich City. It’s been an opportunity for players to stake a claim for involvement this season, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kostas Tsimikas among those auditioning for Jürgen Klopp. A 4-3 defeat to Hertha Berlin raises questions about the defensive set-up.

“I absolutely prefer to make these kind of mistakes in pre-season because you can talk about it, it’s easy,” Klopp said of that match. “Yes, we criticise it, but not in the manner where we say on top of that we lost three very important points.”

Transfer business

Liverpool got their first deal done early, with Ibrahima Konaté joining from RB Leipzig, and the centre-back’s fee has more or less been covered by the sale of a handful of fringe players. Marko Grujić and Harry Wilson both fetched eight-figure fees, continuing the Reds’ knack for maximising value from more expendable players.

It may be the case that the return from injury of first-choice centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez is enough to help the Reds bridge the gap to City, but the declining output of some of the front-line remains a concern.

Roberto Firmino’s xG dropped off by more than three goals last season, although his actual goal tally stayed the same, while Sadio Mané had a comparable xG to his 2019-20 return but scored seven fewer actual goals. Could a new attacking recruit help reenergise the pair?

Elsewhere, a replacement for Gini Wijnaldum is expected to be sought after the midfielder joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free. Xherdan Shaqiri has been linked with a move away (though that talk has quietened down) and Divock Origi is available for the right price.

Jordan Henderson and Fabinho should be able to feature more in their preferred midfield roles after filling in at centre-back last season, and Curtis Jones is expected to kick on after a season in which he showed he’s very much part of the first-team set-up.

If Shaqiri leaves, or even if he doesn’t, some are expecting youngster Harvey Elliott to be involved with the first team following a successful loan last season. With other teams strengthening, though, there’s a desire for the Reds to bolster their squad after taking care of some important contract extensions – Fabinho, Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are among those to commit their long-term futures to the club.

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Liverpool are the only team other than Manchester City to win the league in the last four years, and the Reds considered the most likely to deny the reigning champions with the Betfair Exchange pricing them at 7.00. They’re 1.351/3 to end the season in the top four – something which wasn’t a guarantee for much of the 2020-21 season thanks to a defensive injury crisis – but 1.011/100 to end up in the top half, as they have done in every single Premier League season.

If you fancy Liverpool to suffer a first relegation in more than 60 years, the Betfair Sportsbook is offering odds of 500/1. The top scorer market may represent the best value for the Reds, though, with Mohamed Salah available at 5.509/2 on the exchange as he seeks to reclaim an honour he missed out on by a single goal in 2020-21.