Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday.
The league was postponed for three months with the Reds agonisingly sat inches away from their first Premier League title in 30 years.
Jurgen Klopp leads his team with nine matches remaining, starting with a Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park.
The Reds need just two victories to win the title for the first time in 30 years.
However, despite their historic success this season, Klopp and his team are not without issues that they must face over the coming weeks.
As the Premier League returns, then, here are five problems that the German will have to navigate.
It goes without saying that Liverpool will be Premier League champions by the end of the season. They are 25 points clear of Manchester City in second place. They need to win just two of their remaining nine matches – or amass a total of six points.
You would expect any team to win two of nine matches. Liverpool, given their immense quality and relentless form throughout the season, should have no difficulty.
But as Klopp and his players have protested throughout the season, they will not look too far into the future.
They are on the verge of history, yes, but they will take each game as it comes, focusing on the next three points and the next three points until they have mathematically secured the title.
“We just focus on the next game,” captain Jordan Henderson told Liverpool’s official website after his team beat Norwich City in February.
“Everybody is bored of us [saying that], I know, but that’s the way we have approached it for a long time and there’s no need to change.”
This relentless, one-game-at-a-time approach has been integral to Liverpool’s mechanical success this season. Even with the title assumed by many, they cannot grow complacent and lose their focus. One game at a time, starting against Everton.
Given that Liverpool are out of the FA Cup and Champions League and have essentially tied up the Premier League title, the team’s focus will unquestionably turn to the future.
Indeed, even Jurgen Klopp has allowed his thoughts to shift towards what is to come.
“We had the rest we needed. And we have now preparation,” Klopp told the Anfield Wrap. “Yes, we prepare, by the way always, but now specifically, for the future.
“There will not be 500,000 transfers this summer, nobody knows when it starts, nobody knows when it ends. We just have to make sure we are ready.”
His comment on transfers is pertinent.
Liverpool have already seemingly missed out on Timo Werner due to a lack of funds and, like last summer, they will rely on internal solutions and the continuity of the squad to carry them through next year. This raises a crucial role for Naby Keita.
Keita arrived two years ago and has struggled to reach expectations. He has played just 1875 Premier League minutes across his two seasons at the club and missed large portions of this current season with a groin injury.
Despite his limited availability, however, in spurts, he has shown why Liverpool spent £52million on him, and why he is still highly thought of by Klopp and the coaching staff. He was excellent in a recent intrasquad friendly and has consistently produced encouraging underlying statistics that suggest there is more to come.
Per Wyscout, Keita averaged 1.57 chances created per 90 minutes, eighth for midfielders in the Premier League, 3.59 through passes per 90, the leading figure for midfielders, and 6.73 counter-pressing recoveries per 90, ninth for midfielders.
There is more to come from Keita. Liverpool, though, are yet to unlock it.
Perhaps, prior to a 2020/21 season in which Klopp must lean on the players already at his disposal, a run of matches in the Premier League is just what the midfielder needs to find his best form.
The Premier League’s plans to conclude the season will see games squeezed into a six-week period.
Like during the winter months, it is set to be a hectic schedule, with many teams, especially those in the FA Cup, playing a weekend-midweek-weekend schedule throughout the period.
Having lost to Chelsea before lockdown, Liverpool will not have to contend with FA Cup matches. That will aid their fixture congestion slightly.
But Klopp and his players must still navigate nine matches in six weeks, all while coming off three months without kicking a ball in anger.
Overplaying stars and risking long-term injuries will be an issue for every manager, including Klopp.
The Premier League approved the FIFA-suggested rule amendment which allows teams to name nine substitutes to the bench and make five changes per match.
This illustrates the concerns of those involved regarding potential fitness problems.
Moreover, with next season set to start shortly after the current campaign, any long-term absence could extend well beyond the end of this season.
“We have to start as quickly as possible after finishing the season.” Klopp told the Anfield Wrap. “They will have to try to find some space, which I think is rightly so, for the FA Cup, Champions League, all that stuff. But two, three, four weeks, I don’t know.
“Start of September, mid-September I do not know. But it will not be long.”
Liverpool have eight players who featured in at least 25 of the 29 league games so far this season.
Virgil van Dijk has played in every single Premier League minute, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijaldum and the entire front three have all played more than 2,500 minutes already.
Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino have played in every game.
Three months’ rest will help, of course, but there is the potential to overplay and overwork the key players in the team.
Liverpool’s success has been built on continuity and consistency throughout the squad and starting XI. Klopp will be keen to not lose any for an extended period of time.
One of the unique elements of Bundesliga play thus far has been the lack of a crowd. This has impacted games more than many people envisaged.
Most notably, home teams have won less frequently. Per ESPN, of the 46 matches played since the restart, only 10 home teams have won. That equates to 21.7 per cent. This is down from 43.3 per cent before play was suspended in March, a huge drop.
Teams at home have scored fewer goals, dropping from 1.75 per game to 1.28 per game, while away teams’ win percentage has also risen from 34.83 per cent to 47.8 per cent. Away teams have also been given 0.5 yellow cards fewer per match.
“I don’t think that [the change in fortunes at home] is a coincidence,” Leverkusen boss Peter Bosz said. “It’s easier for the away teams when there are no fans in the stadium. Without spectators, it comes down more to the quality of players.”
It remains to be seen how this will impact Liverpool and the Premier League. Of course, Liverpool have a sensational home record and feed off the raucous atmosphere at Anfield, and the Kop especially. This will no longer be present.
That said, there is also reason to believe that the better teams will now win more comfortably due to their superior quality.
This is the viewpoint of Eintracht Frankfurt boss, Adi Huetter: “Teams with a high level of technical quality are less dependent on support. This disadvantages some teams more than others.”
Whether it is an issue or not, then, is up for debate, but it will be something new and strange that Klopp and his players must deal with.
Klopp and Liverpool are on the verge of the title, but they are also close to making history. At their current pace, they will smash Manchester City’s points record in an individual season.
They will also set the record for the most points over two seasons, again set by Manchester City from 2017/18 to 2018/19.
If Liverpool secure the championship in their first two games, there is still some motivation to continue winning matches.
Certainly, the fans’ growing rivalry with City demands that the team try to set a new mark of perfection in the history books.
And yet, while this is very much true, Klopp may be keen to provide younger and reserve players with precious game time.
Might Curtis Jones start in midfield for a game or two. Harvey Elliott is hugely thought of and could be given crucial minutes in competitive Premier League games, something that has been hard to come by thus far.
Similarly, the aforementioned Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Divock Origi might all warrant more playing time, especially if Klopp sees them as taking on a more prominent role next season with transfers tight.
With five substitutes per match, Klopp will have the opportunity to introduce several players from off the bench. If games are wrapped up early, introducing the likes of Jones, Elliott and others could be invaluable for their long-term development and preparation for next season.
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Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday.