In many ways, it’s difficult to know how to judge the 2016/17 Premier League season for Liverpool. The joy of the players as the goals went in against Middlesbrough and the reaction of Jurgen Klopp when the game was over, suggests the club can be happy with their campaign.
Anfield was very nervous during the opening 30 minutes of the match, as the early goal everyone in the Kop was praying for did not materialise. As news started to filter through that both Manchester City and Arsenal were winning their games comfortably. This was not how things were supposed to happen.
The attack was not performing and defensively, the team looked shaky. The forwards were blunted by Middlesbrough’s deep lying defence, a problem which has persisted throughout the season. A soft defence was almost punished when Patrick Bamford got on the wrong side of Dejan Lovren and should have been awarded a penalty, and further punishment should have been handed to the Croatian defender.
Thankfully, with little time remaining in the first half, Georginio Wijnaldum delivered the all-important goal, breaking into the box and finishing at the near post with a powerful shot. The relief was evident, both in the stands and on the pitch. The significance of the Dutchman’s goal cannot be underestimated.
If Liverpool had gone in at half-time level at 0-0, the fans would have been talking about how often they have seen this before against bottom half teams. A negative vibe would have built up around Anfield and would have transmitted to the players. It wasn’t the first time Wijnaldum has popped up with a big goal this season and there should be more to come from the midfielder next term.
In the second half, the joy of having a one goal lead was evident as Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana started to play the great football everyone knows they can produce. Coutinho delivered a low curling free-kick six minutes into the second half to double Liverpool’s lead and Lallana slotted the ball home to extend the lead and make the final 35 minutes very comfortable for both the players and fans.
Fourth place and a spot in the Champions League play-off round was secured. Next season will see Liverpool compete in the Champions League for the first time since the 2014/15 season. Liverpool were eliminated in the group stages that season and investment is required if the team are to go further in the competition.
In terms of this season, at the start of the campaign, it was difficult to place Liverpool in terms of whether the team should be challenging for the title or if a top four place was the best Klopp could hope to achieve. Liverpool did finish in fourth place and there is much discussion as to what this means for the club in terms of progress.
Fourth place was considered by many as being the minimum requirement for this season, yet for others, to finish in the top four was the main aim and anything else would be a bonus. So, anything other than top four would have been a failure, that much is clear but in terms of actual success, where does this season rank?
Next season will be only the second time this decade Liverpool will take part in European football’s premier competition. That statistic shows this season has been good for Liverpool, as Klopp has taken the club back to the Champions League in his first full season in charge.
However, if you assess how the season ended given the club’s position in January, you can forgive if there is a little disappointment.
Heading into week 20 of the season, Liverpool were second in the league and well poised to challenge Chelsea for the Premier League title. With four league wins on the bounce, another was expected at Sunderland. Having taken the lead twice, Sunderland fought back for a point, which was a poor outcome for the reds.
Another draw followed at Manchester United, having led the match going into the final 10 minutes and in February there were defeats to Hull City and Leicester City. Between matchday 20 and 26, Liverpool won one match and that is where the title challenge faded. Home draws against Bournemouth and Southampton towards the end of the season also highlight the need for improvement.
The first two results of the season can be used to summarise the whole campaign. A great win at Arsenal followed by a disappointing defeat at Burnley. There is a sense of what could have been this season but at the same time, to have finished in the top four, above Arsenal and Manchester United, is an achievement and should be celebrated as such.
In terms of individual performers, the importance of Coutinho cannot be underestimated and Liverpool are not the same team without the Brazilian, as was proven in his absence. Sadio Mane can be pleased with his first season at Anfield. He was another player missed during his time at the Africa Cup of Nations and on the treatment table. The Senegalese forward should be a major player for Liverpool in the years to come.
Injuries were one of the main problems this season, there were too many sustained by crucial players at important times. Players injury is part of football and the majority cannot be avoided but the intensity of Klopp’s style may also have an impact, so more players are required next season, to share the workload across several competitions.
There were not many disappointments regarding players individual contributions but Loris Karius must be the biggest regret. The German was expected to take over the number one position this season but failed to establish himself in goal, allowing Simon Mignolet to return to the starting XI, with little pressure from the new signing.
However, having claimed that all-important fourth place, playing some superb football along the way, Liverpool have momentum. It’s been a good season and with the momentum gained, Liverpool have a chance to build and become stronger in the summer by adding quality world class players to the squad.