As we hurtle toward the 2016/17 season, there is plenty for Liverpool supporters to be optimistic about.
Liverpool continue their pre-season preparations throughout the summer, as Jurgen Klopp plots for success in his first full term as manager on Merseyside.
The Reds begin the season with an away trip to Arsenal‘s Emirates Stadium, kicking off a Premier League campaign that will hopefully end with an improvement on 2015/16’s eighth-placed finish.
Despite there being no reprieve from football this summer following the Copa America Centenario and the European Championship, the return of club action will be a welcome one for Liverpool supporters.
Here are 10 reasons for optimism as Klopp’s side head into 2016/17.
New No. 1 in Loris Karius
The £4.7 million signing Loris Karius from Mainz sees Klopp address a long-standing problem position at Anfield, with the 23-year-old poised to take up the role of first-choice goalkeeper.
Karius took up the No. 1 shirt, last worn by Brad Jones, on his move to Merseyside, and while the Australian was little more than a backup during his five seasons with the club, this is a signal of intent from his successor.
Simon Mignolet‘s flaws have been exposed throughout his time at Liverpool so far, with his shrinking presence in the penalty area spreading nerves throughout the Reds’ defence.
Karius serves as an upgrade in this regard, and provides Klopp with a more front-footed option between the sticks—and at such a young age, can be moulded into a top-level goalkeeper.
Emre Can’s Continued Development
German midfielder Emre Can enjoyed a breakthrough season under Klopp in 2015/16: liberated from his restrictive defensive duties under Brendan Rodgers, he thrived in his natural role in midfield.
Like Karius, Can is still in the embryonic stages of his career, but has already shown the ability to dominate the midfield battle in both the Premier League and in Europe.
While his long-term midfield partner is still unclear, Can will play a key role under Klopp this season.
A powerful young talent with age-defying maturity and world-class potential, Can will be preparing to take the next step with Liverpool in 2016/17.
Roberto Firmino’s Second Season
Roberto Firmino scored 11 goals and laid on 11 assists in his first season with Liverpool in 2015/16, underlining his potential after a £25 million move from Hoffenheim.
Joining his compatriot, Philippe Coutinho, in Klopp’s strongest forward line, Firmino made himself a key player in the German’s high-intensity attacking system.
That he produced such a strong run of form in the second half of the season, with 10 goals and six assists coming in 2016, should serve as an encouraging sign for the new campaign.
Settled into life on Merseyside, and adjusted to Klopp’s tactical outlook, Firmino’s second season with Liverpool promises to be even more prolific.
Goals From Sadio Mane
Firmino, Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge were the only players to score over 10 goals for the Reds in 2015/16, with Christian Benteke and Divock Origi the only others to reach double digits.
A lack of goals from elsewhere proved to be a major problem for both Rodgers and Klopp last season, and this is something the German has moved to tackle with the signing of Sadio Mane from Southampton.
For all of Adam Lallana‘s defensive quality and creative guile, the Englishman’s lack of end product—seven goals and eight assists from 49 games last season—will likely see him replaced.
Mane has averaged 17.5 goals per season over the past four seasons, with 13 and 15 in his two campaigns with Southampton, and his contribution from the right flank could be invaluable.
Fit and Firing Daniel Sturridge
Despite spending much of last summer in recovering in Boston following surgery on his hip, Sturridge endured another injury-hampered campaign in 2015/16, making just 25 appearances for the Reds.
Klopp took a sensitive approach to the striker’s recovery, resolving not to rush him back into action in fear of provoking another frustrating setback.
This seems to have paid off, with Sturridge’s last major injury problem coming in January, and his cameo display in England’s 2-1 win over Wales at Euro 2016 provided a reminder of his quality when sharp.
It remains a big ‘if’, but having Sturridge fit and firing again in 2016/17 would be a major boost to Klopp’s side.
More Progress From Divock Origi
Along with Sturridge, Firmino, Coutinho and Mane, a key player in Liverpool’s in attack in 2016/17 will be Belgian 21-year-old Origi, who cemented his status as a hugely promising talent last season.
The former Lille striker went from strength to strength following Klopp’s arrival in October, finishing the season with 10 goals from 34 games in all competitions.
This included strikes in both legs against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter-finals, and it was Origi’s performances against Klopp’s former side that hinted at his immense potential.
Bulking up during a spell on the sidelines over the turn of the year, Origi now looks capable of performing at the top level of English football, and this progress will continue in 2016/17.
Healthy, Competitive Squad
Sturridge and Origi can expect to be challenged for a starting role in 2016/17 by last summer’s centre-forward signing Danny Ings, with the No. 28’s return from injury a positive step.
Along with Ings fleshing out Klopp’s forward ranks, the signing of Joel Matip from Schalke adds competition for places at centre-back, and Karius’ emergence as a rival for Mignolet should prompt a healthy rivalry.
In midfield Klopp will likely be able to call upon Can, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Marko Grujic, Cameron Brannagan, Lucas Leiva and Kevin Stewart, while Mane’s arrival will see him vie with Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Sheyi Ojo for a starting berth on the right.
Klopp’s squad now looks to have competition for every starting role, and this can only be a positive, with strength in depth required to challenge in the Premier League and domestic cups.
Streamlined Focus on League and Cups
Failure to finish in the Premier League‘s seven last season saw Liverpool miss out on qualification for both the Europa League and the Champions League.
Defeat to Sevilla in the final of Europe’s second-tier competition was a bitter blow to Klopp in his first season with the Reds, but as he prepares for 2016/17, he can now streamline his focus.
As with Rodgers in 2013/14, Klopp is now able to go full-tilt for the Premier League, and while there is more competition than ever in the English top flight, Liverpool have something of an advantage.
While the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City will be pushing for success in both Europe and on the domestic stage, Liverpool can look forward to just one game a week for much of the season—it is far from the ideal situation, but it must be embraced at this stage.
Blossoming Youth Programme
As Liverpool’s pre-season exploits so far have highlighted, Klopp is able to call from considerable banks of quality from the club’s youth.
Brannagan, Grujic, Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria, Ryan Kent and Trent Alexander-Arnold have all impressed this summer, providing a small sample of the talent at the German disposal in the future.
With Adam Phillips and Toni Gomes among those to make the step up from Liverpool’s under-18s to the under-21 squad this summer, too, this conveyor belt is set to continue.
It remains to be seen whether a reformatted U21 league will be of benefit to Michael Beale’s young side, but the development of Liverpool’s academy talent is certainly encouraging.
Jurgen Klopp’s First Full Campaign
By his own admission, Klopp was not able to implement his tactical vision in 2015/16 due to a lack of time on the training field.
Arriving in October, during a packed fixture schedule that saw the Reds fight for success in the Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and the League Cup, Klopp’s side averaged a game every 4.14 days.
Hampered by injuries, this gruelling campaign saw Liverpool struggle, but utilising pre-season to ensure his squad can reach peak fitness, 2016/17 should be a different story for Klopp.
A world-class manager, finally able to spend a summer of preparation with his new squad, Klopp can hope for success in the Liverpool dugout this season.