Can’s wonderstrike & Mane’s emphatic arrival – Liverpool FC seal European return in 2016/17

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The first full season at the helm for Jurgen Klopp saw Liverpool make vital steps forward in their development to re-emerging as a threat on the English and European scene.

The summer of 2016 saw the German handed his first real chance of moulding the side to his liking, with a transformative transfer window which would prove significant for the years to come.

Not to mention a full pre-season which would present the opportunity to continue working his Liverpool side into a physical machine capable of fulfilling his tactical ideologies on the pitch.

The Reds would spend the majority of the season entrenched in the top four and by season’s end Champions League football would return to Anfield for the first time since the 2014/15 season.

As part of the club’s overhaul, Christian Benteke, Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, Joe Allen, Mario Balotelli and Jordan Ibe all waved goodbye as a nucleus of handpicked players filled their spots.

And after a 78 goal campaign, Liverpool’s best return since 2013/14, where 12 players found the net, the Reds’ aim of returning to Europe’s premier competition was achieved with flying colours.

 

Signing on the Dotted Line

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 24, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring the third goal against Hull City during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp added six new faces to his side throughout the summer for a combined fee of £63.9 million, three of whom would go on to become pillars of a European Cup-winning side.

But the acquisition of Sadio Mane from feeder club Southampton was the first step in the Reds’ rise, with his pace, finishing and creativity adding a new dimension to Liverpool’s attack.

He would prove to be worth every penny of the £30 million the club parted for him, netting 13 goals and setting up a further five in 27 league appearances – a tally which would have been significantly bolstered had it not been for injury and his absence for the Africa Cup of Nations.

The undisputed player of the season.

Fellow summer addition Gini Wijnaldum also proved key having become a mainstay in the middle of the park, so much so that he ended the season with the most minutes played of any of his fellow midfielders – and was not shy in scoring a goal on the big occasion.

Joel Matip’s move on a free transfer went largely under the radar and he started like a house on fire only to peter out as the season progressed, with injury largely to blame.

But while the aforementioned names in addition to Ragnar Klavan hit the ground running, Loris Karius did not have the same experience as his opportunity to claim the No. 1 role as his own as he failed to hit the right notes – with his disastrous spell in the baffling defeat at Bournemouth defining his season.

On the whole, it was one of the most important transfer windows in recent years.

 

Nothing Short of Remarkable

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Monday, May 1, 2017: Liverpool's Emre Can scores the first goal against Watford with an overhead scissor kick during the FA Premier League match at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We were certainly not short of some truly stunning goals this season.

The two top contenders, however, were easy to crown with Emre Can’s stunning volley at Watford, which proved key int the race for the top four, and Jordan Henderson’s thunderbolt at Chelsea taking the honours.

But then you had Roberto Firmino’s dramatic late goal at Stoke which was both clinical and jaw-dropping, as he and Philippe Coutinho combined to turn the tide back Liverpool’s way.

And then there is Coutinho’s long-range free-kick opener at the Emirates, Mane’s 90+4 minute winner at Goodison Park any and all of the four scored against Leicester at Anfield, Divock Origi’s from a tight angle at Bournemouth (let’s forget the final result…), and countless more.

James Milner also deserves a mention for his remarkable return from the penalty spot having scored seven from eight attempts.

 

Not all Smooth Sailing

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 24, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp hugs goalscorer Adam Lallana after the 5-1 victory over Hull City during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Liverpool enjoyed an emphatic start to the season, they did endure their fair share of trials throughout the campaign.

Most notably, injuries which made it clear that a lack of squad depth existed within Klopp’s ranks with options limited beyond the first-choice options.

Mane and Coutinho’s absences throughout the campaign saw points dropped and Sturridge’s continued injury woes saw the Reds’ attacking stocks take a hit and it ultimately led to a dry January which returned three draws and two defeats.

The 4-3-3 system thrived early doors but as teams began to sit back the Reds’ ability to unlock the defence required a new key and at times Klopp was slow to adapt, and there’s no doubt the underlying need for a bigger squad played its part.

 

Milner on the Left

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 1, 2016: Liverpool's James Milner celebrates scoring the second goal against Swansea City from the penalty spot to make the score 2-1 during the FA Premier League match at the Liberty Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In part, it is what saw James Milner deployed at left-back for the campaign as Alberto Moreno found himself in the cold after a dismal Europa League final performance the season prior.

The Englishman was renowned for being a versatile option throughout his career but few could have predicted the levels of output he was to have on the left side of the defence.

It wasn’t a quick and seamless transition from midfield to left-back but slowly he made the position his own, where his defensive aptitude and game awareness allowed him to have an influence in both boxes.

He made a total of 36 league appearance, joint second in the team, setting up three goals and scoring seven of his own – all from the spot as aforementioned.

While the number of games caught up to him throughout the festive period, as it did the rest of his teammates, Milner was an ever-reliable figure at left-back and prove fundamental to what was a successful campaign.

 

Back on Europe’s Top Table

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho (no. 10) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with team-mates during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.

While it may have only been a little over three years since Champions League action was part of Liverpool’s season agenda, it felt significantly longer such was Brendan Rodgers’ remarkable ineptitude in 2014/15 where the Reds failed to progress beyond the group stage.

You had to look as far back as the 2008/09 season to see Liverpool quality for the knockouts and so it was a long time between drinks for a club whose history is steeped in success on the continent.

While it required a final day victory over Middlesbrough to secure a qualification spot, a 3-0 would follow and Klopp and Co. had achieved what they set out to do at the start of the campaign.

It was a vital step forward in Liverpool’s development on and off the field under the tutelage of Klopp and few could have predicted what was to follow.

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