2018 was a bit of a rollercoaster for Liverpool but there were plenty more high moments than low ones. Despite not winning any silverware through the course of the year, the Reds have shown a remarkable improvement, and find themselves nine points clear at the top of the league at the start of 2019.
The year started on a high, as the club announced the arrival of Virgil van Dijk for £75 million (technically the deal was announced on the 27th December 2017, but the window wasn’t open). The Dutch colossus has proved to be worth every penny, with many fans and pundits alike suggesting he could well be the best centre-back on the planet.
The difference he has made to his new club should not be understated. At the heart of the defence, he has led Liverpool to the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues, as well as an unbeaten start to this Premier League season.
The Road to Kiev
The Champions League campaign was another high-point. After ending Manchester City’s unbeaten record in the league in a 4-3 thriller at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp got the best of Pep Guardiola’s side once again over both legs of their Champions League quarter-final.
A blistering first leg in the semi-final against Roma left the Reds with one foot in the final. Despite a late surge by the Italian side at the Stadio Olimpico, the Reds triumphed to progress to the final in Kiev and face Real Madrid.
The loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the first leg certainly hurt Liverpool. The in-form midfielder suffered multiple ligament damage and was given a spell of 12 months out of action.
With focus switching to Europe the Reds’ league form took a dip. However, following a win over Brighton on the last day of the season, they managed to secure a top four finish for consecutive seasons, the first time in nine years.
Then came the lowest point of the season: Kiev. So much about the game went against Liverpool, and there are so many what-ifs that could be taken account. What if Mohamed Salah didn’t go off injured? What if Loris Karius hadn’t made those errors?
It’s best not to focus on the negatives – and simply remember the joyous journey to Kiev, rather than the disappointing ending.
Klopp and Co. quickly made strides in the transfer window, with the announcement of Fabinho arriving just days after the UCL heartbreak. Naby Keïta finally arrived from RB Leipzig and then came Alisson who – much like van Dijk – has been a revelation in Liverpool’s backline.
The signing of Xherdan Shaqiri has proven to be a masterclass by Klopp once more. The Swiss international has performed above and beyond expectations.
The 2018/19 season started well, with seven consecutive wins. However, a difficult period sprung over the space of a month. The Reds faced Tottenham, Paris Saint Germain, Napoli, Chelsea (twice) and Manchester City…
This culminated in losses against Napoli and Chelsea, and draws against Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool have since recovered from that difficult period though, and other than a draw against Arsenal, have won every league game.
Away form in the Champions League however became a cause for concern. Losses in all three away group games left the Reds needing a win against Napoli in their final game of the group.
It was one of the newest recruits who proved to be the hero of the day. With the game at 1-0 – a scoreline guaranteeing Liverpool progression – the ball fell to Arkadiusz Milik with a superb chance in the box. Only for Alisson to pull off a magnificent point-blank save – securing their place in the knockout stages, to face Klopp’s old nemesis Bayern Munich.
There has been some moments of significance throughout the first half of the season. Moments that we may look back on in May as season-defining.
First, Daniel Sturridge’s last-minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge, at a moment in time when Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City were all unbeaten in the league.
Then came Riyad Mahrez’s penalty miss in the dying moments of the clash against City earlier in the season. The result kept all three of the aforementioned sides level on points, still unbeaten.
More recently, the Merseyside derby came around and once more the Reds left with the bragging rights. Following Jordan Pickford’s calamitous error, Divock Origi scored in the 96th minute and secured all three points for his side.
A change in dynamics
Seasons are often defined by moments. For Man City last season, it was their late goals early in the campaign that gave them the confidence to go out and win every week. These moments could well have done the same for the Reds.
2018 has also seen a shift in tactics by Klopp. In a recent interview with Sky, Klopp said: “I always think about how to win and defence is the basis for all of it.
“If the team gives us the opportunity to do it — we will still be there with the counter-press, but very often it is not possible.
“It means that now we have to control more games. We have to keep the ball, especially against counter-attacking sides.
“That may change in the second part of the season when opponents who are down the table need the points and so they will need to open up a bit more. But at this moment we have to control games and be patient but in a very lively way.”
Rather than blowing teams away as they had for much of last season, Liverpool showed grit to grind out hard-fought wins. Something they have lacked for a long time until now.
No doubt the additions of van Dijk and Alisson have helped with this change – you simply can not win things without a top-class goalkeeper and defence.
Klopp has also revisited his 4-2-3-1 formation – which he often deployed at Dortmund – to get the best out of new signing Fabinho. Roberto Firmino has been operating deeper into midfield, with Salah now the focal point of the attack.
This allows Shaqiri to start on the right of the front three – a decision which fans will be happy with given Big Shaq’s impressive start to life at Anfield.
All in all, it has been a successful 2018. Liverpool reached a Champions League final for the first time in over a decade, finished in the top four and ended the year at the top of the Premier League.
Without silverware rival fans will continue to poke fun at the Reds, but the changes that have been made this season have taken the club to another level. Klopp’s side look ready to challenge for titles and compete with the world’s very best.
What will 2019 bring?