The three moves that pushed Liverpool to the top of the Premier League for years to come


Liverpool has long been considered a team that fares well in tournament formats over the past few decades. If you look inside Reds’ trophy room, you’ll find that since 1991, they have racked up three FA Cup titles, four League Cup titles, one Europa League title and two Champions League titles. What you won’t find is any Premier League hardware since 1990. Club legends Steven Gerard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher never got to experience that glory.

The Reds have finished outside of the top four 12 times since 1991 and have an average table position closer to fifth place than fourth place.

Fast forward to the Jurgen Klopp era, and there’s been a steady progression from finishing in eighth place in his first season to being on the verge of winning the Premier League this season. The festivities await the Reds, who are mere points away from clinching a title and snapping a 30-year drought, if and when the season resumes.

There are many reasons why there has been such a dramatic turnaround. Klopp is a fantastic manager who players love to play for, and he gets the most out of his team. They feed off his exuberance and play with such a confidence. It’s helped the Reds win the Champions League last season and it’s carried over into this season by winning the FIFA Club World Club and soon the Premier League. With a 25-point lead over second-place Manchester City, the biggest difference compared to the past has been the prioritizing of defense and hitting the jackpot when it comes to signings and youth products. It’s easy to point at Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up top, but it all starts with defense. That’s what catapults teams to the next level.

Here are the three moves that pushed Liverpool to the top of the Premier League for years to come: 

1. Alisson

The Brazilian has been the biggest difference for this team. The Reds have long had goalkeeper issues, and it’s not a coincidence that he comes in and wins UCL in his first season. 

The lasting images of the pre-Alisson era are those from the Champions League final against Real Madrid in 2018. Two stunning blunders by Loris Karius summed up his tenure at Anfield in the heart-breaking defeat. 

First there was the gift to Karim Benzema:

Then the game was over when he somehow could stop this shot from Gareth Bale, who had scored on a bicycle kick moments before:

That was a time where the flaws of Liverpool were clear, and they were all in goal. Those moments prompted the club to invest in a goalkeeper, and Alisson had impressed with Roma during the 2017-18 season with 17 Serie A clean sheets and five in the Champions League, losing to Liverpool in the semifinals.

Alisson and company conceded seven goals to the Reds in the Champions League semis, but he had done enough over the course of the season to convince the club that he was the man they needed. Liverpool conceded 80 times in the two Premier League seasons (76 games) prior to Alisson’s arrival in 2018. That’s 1.05 goals allowed per game. Here’s a breakdown of how things have changed since the 6-foot-3 Brazilian shot-stopper joined the club.

Loris Karius (2016-18)

49

45

86 (.690 save percentage)

22

Alisson (2018-20)

77

50

179 (.781 save percentage)

38

Save percentages and clean sheets are up while goals conceded are down. Blunders are no longer a concern at Liverpool with Alisson, though the same can’t be said for when Adrian, his reserve, is in goal. 

The Reds brought in one of the world’s best goalkeepers and turned into one of the world’s best teams. At 27 years old, it’s safe to say that Alisson is just beginning to hit his prime years.

Virgil van Dijk

Van Dijk wasn’t a well-known player when he left Celtic for Southampton in 2015, but the Dutch international put in some consistent performances at St. Mary’s Stadium to earn what then looked like an extremely expensive move for Liverpool in January 2018. He joined Klopp for a world-record transfer fee for defender of £75 million ($93.5 million), according to BBC Sport, and he’s delivered on every penny. 

He’s become arguably the best defender in the world, and he’s as sure of a tackler as there is in the game. Add to that the fact that he scored one out of every 10 games, and you have a player who can change the game at any moment at either end of the pitch, which you can’t really say for many. 

His consistency, and the stability he brought to Liverpool’s defense on top of Alisson, saw him take home the UEFA Player of the Year in 2019, becoming the first defender to win the award.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

OK, we cheated a bit. This isn’t necessarily a move since he’s a homegrown prospect. In fact, he’s been with the club since 2004 as a 6-year-old. You have to give credit to the club for nurturing and building a prospect like that for success. Many teams are at times quick to jump the ship and sell a prospect to other clubs.

The world hasn’t seen many players like Alexander-Arnold, and at 21 years of age, it’s clear he’s well on his way to becoming a legend of the sport. In recent years, when you think of legendary full backs with effectiveness in attack, the first that comes to mind is Roberto Carlos. He was out of this universe and had a free kick that struck fear into the hearts of opponents and fans. Nobody got forward like him for 90 minutes, and the most recent example is probably Dani Alves.

If there is a new player taking the throne of all-world full back that can do it for 90 minutes at both ends, it’s Alexander-Arnold. 

He’s been called the best crosser in England since David Beckham, which is huge praise and even more so when you consider his priority is defending. Fast, deadly on free kicks and crosses and just one of the best pure tacklers in the game, it’s hard to point out a weakness. Whether it’s the quick corner kick to Divock Origi to complete the monster comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals or his rocket free kick at Stamford Bridge, the numbers are mind-boggling. He’s averaging double-digit assists each Premier League season … and he’s a right back. 

Alexander-Arnold has 25 assists in 84 Premier League matches. To put that in perspective, that’s the same number of assists as Paul Pogba has in his entire Premier League career with 18 additional games played. 

With Alexander-Arnold’s emergence from the youth teams, to nailing the transfers of Van Dijk, Alisson, Mane, Firmino and Salah, Liverpool has done a lot of things right over the last few years. The realization of the defensive issues, the proper scouting and acquisitions, combined with the instruction of Klopp has transformed what was considered a cup team into one of the most dominant sides in modern soccer. 





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