LEAGUE titles are often won by teams who remain fit, enjoy great team spirit, have their share of luck and, most importantly, have enough boss players.
In 2014 Liverpool were regularly able to field five belter players who are not only good enough to catapult a team to a league title, but are also players that rivals would covet.
That season saw a mature Steven Gerrard revitalised by the mercurial Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, with the devastating pairing of a fit Daniel Sturridge and the unpredictable genius of Luis Suarez up top.
All five of these lads, fitness notwithstanding, would have walked into any Premier League team. The best retention strategy is winning; win the league and it gives more reason to try and convince Suarez to defer his Barcelona dream.
The tragedy was that when Luis left Liverpool were a belter player light and the drop off was incredible. Add to this Sturridge’s fitness problems and the numbers on the stellar bracket dropped to three, with the side largely consisting of squad filler and lads with potential.
The subsequent sale of Sterling further eroded the belter player quotient, as did the pseudo retirement of Gerrard.
You can debate what the tally of belter players has been in the following years and the numbers probably won’t have been static for a full season.
The challenge for Liverpool is retaining players of this level and, if they are sold, replacing them with players of the same calibre.
As The Reds begin their transfer business in earnest with the acquisition of Mohammed Salah and the other names that are being credibly linked with a move, 2017-18 has the potential to see a return to the business end of the table as April turns into May.
But who can be in this season’s top talent bracket that would attract the admiration of our rivals and play the oft quoted piano for the other lads to carry?
Sadio Mane is easily the most exciting of Jürgen Klopp’s acquisitions so far — pace, strength, guile, goals and assists for fun — imagine if he’d been fit and available for 38 league games?
With Salah anything is possible at this stage as the only ball he has kicked in a red shirt has been in front of the snappers at Melwood. His Roma form suggests another in the Mane mould for the left hand side, with the flexibility to play anywhere along the front line.
With Coutinho in a deeper role pulling the creative strings, combined with his eye for the spectacular and his emergence as a deadball specialist in the last campaign, he leads the way for Klopp’s side.
Lallana may be seen as a surprise inclusion in this list but he has stopped merely decorating matches with stepovers and has started making the difference. He’s the architect and key man in Liverpool’s counter press and can play anywhere in the front six. In today’s market he’s fetching £50-60 million and has become another Liverpool player who becomes more appreciated through forced absences.
Honourable mention for the wildman of Instagram Roberto Firmino. His chance creation and goal return are very respectable, coupled with his never ending work rate and perpetual motion. He’s probably a player who Liverpool could double their money on if ever inclined to sell.
If, and it’s a big if, Daniel Sturridge can put his fitness doubts behind him he still walks into any team in the Premier League on the basis of pure talent. Only his suspect limbs and apparent necessity to be 100 per cent fit before taking to the field, cloud the view of his value to the club.
That’s not dissimilar to Jordan Henderson’s injury situation. Again his ability is not in question, just that after two years of poor fitness his role in Klopp’s squad is incredibly hard to judge heading into the new season.
But who else falls into this bracket? Could it be one of the many high calibre signings that have been linked? Virgil van Dijk? (At the quoted transfer price you should fucking hope so!) Naby Keita or the £100m-plus teenager Kylian Mbappe?
Or could it be one of the current crop progressing into that belter bracket? Joel Matip in his second season? Emre Can nailing down the number six role for himself? Gini Wijnaldum has a high ceiling too.
So hopefully you can see why this occasionally curmudgeonly supporter is looking forward to the new season.
Liverpool look to be attempting top bracket signings in areas they were found wanting last term, which is a sensible strategy. Liverpool appear to have more than enough players that could be classed as ‘belters’. If they can align this with a bit of good fortune and strong sports science to limit key personnel losing playing time to injury then who knows what is possible.
As a parting gift just have a little look at how Klopp performed in his third seasons at both Dortmund and Mainz…