Liverpool are on the verge of securing a place in the Champions League for only the second time in seven years.
Having emerged as surprise title contenders in the first half of the season results tailed off at the turn of the year to leave them fighting for a top-four spot.
Manager Jurgen Klopp considers this campaign to be a success and represents progress but he is already planning for the additional requirements next season will bring and there are a number of areas he has to focus on.
There can be no argument that Klopp’s squad is well short of matching the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City when it comes to its suitability to fight on two major fronts. As displayed at the beginning of the campaign, his first-choice XI is more than a match for their top-four rivals but scratch the surface and the cracks begin to appear. Nine matches in January required Klopp to call up a number of players from the Under-23s and while some undoubtedly have potential it is misguided to think they can fill the gaps adequately. Liverpool require quality reinforcements in every department with possibly the exception of goalkeeper, where Klopp is adamant he does not need a change.
Support up front
Liverpool have played most of the season without a recognised striker with Roberto Firmino Klopp’s preferred choice in the central attacking role. Goalscoring is not the Brazil international’s strength but he has scored 11 Premier League goals. However, heading into the final match of the season Sadio Mane remains their leading scorer with 13 and he missed all of January on African Nations Cup duty and then had his season ended by a knee injury on April 1. Philippe Coutinho’s dozen goals represents his best league tally for Liverpool but, again, it is not his primary quality. Daniel Sturridge is the best goalscorer at the club but his issue is staying fit and it remains to be seen whether the England international has a future at the club. The best option for Klopp, irrespective of whether Sturridge stays or goes, would be appear to be to bring in a genuine striker who can play every week.
Bolster the defence
While breaking down deep-lying teams did become an issue towards the end of the season, Liverpool’s Achilles heel has been in defence where they have looked shaky at set-pieces and struggled to close out games when on top. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren are Klopp’s preferred first-choice centre-back pair and while they have been successful, injuries have limited his ability to select the two regularly. A fit-again Joe Gomez offers potential to develop but another senior centre-back is required as Ragnar Klavan is not up to the job as first replacement. Midfielder James Milner’s stint as stand-in left-back has been solid but his limitations have been exposed when offering attacking options.
The Brazilian is set for a deeper role dropping back into midfield next season, which is only likely to pique Barcelona’s interest more as they look for a long-term successor to Andres Iniesta. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract in January, making him the club’s highest earner on £150,000-a-week, and appears happy at Anfield. With Coutinho having fulfilled his part of the bargain, Klopp now has to deliver silverware, having lost two finals in his first season in charge, and keep the club in the Champions League to ensure his playmaker is not tempted by offers elsewhere.