LONDON, Aug 14 – Liverpool lived up to their billing as the biggest threat to Manchester City retaining the Premier League title as both sides shone on the opening weekend of the season.
So often outgunned by the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi backed City or commercial giants Manchester United in recent years, Liverpool were the biggest spenders from the world’s richest league this summer with a reported £170 million (US$217 million) splurge in the transfer market.
The first return on that investment came in Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of a limited West Ham that even Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted “are not the Uniteds or Citys.”
City showed just what a task overturning a 25-point deficit last season will be for Liverpool in outclassing Arsenal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates despite a far more disrupted preparation for the campaign due to the World Cup commitments of most of their squad.
On the contrary, Liverpool has benefited from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane’s early exits in Russia with Egypt and Senegal as they returned in time to join the club’s pre-season tour of the United States.
Salah started where he left off from an incredible 44-goal debut campaign at Anfield by opening the scoring before Mane struck twice and Daniel Sturridge added a late fourth.
Klopp conceded it had been impossible to ignore the excitement and expectation among the club’s fans that a near three-decade wait to win the league could come to an end in May.
That hype is because Liverpool have built from a position of strength. After reaching the Champions League final last season, key areas of the team have been bolstered.
Midfielder Naby Keita was a bundle of energy and the star performer of the new boys that showed why Liverpool was willing to shell out £52.75m and wait a year for the Guinean after agreeing to a deal with Leipzig last summer.
“You can only imagine how good he’s going to be with more time,” said Liverpool midfielder James Milner.
Finding the net is nothing new for Klopp on opening day. His side scored four at Arsenal in 2016 and three at Watford last season, but also conceded three on both occasions.
As he was quick to point out, the clean sheet was just as pleasing as his side’s attacking play.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker, signed for £65 million from Roma, was rarely troubled, but looked assured in starting attacks from the back, while Virgil van Dijk was imperious in sniffing out any sense of danger.
Liverpool beat City in three of their four meetings last season, but the key to a title challenge will be a consistency Klopp has so far failed to nail in nearly three years in charge.
The German, though, now has a wealth of options never previously afforded to him as evidenced by the sight of new signings Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri plus England internationals Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana on the bench on Sunday.
“I am not blind. I can see them and I can read the line-up and see then who is on the bench,” said Klopp when quizzed if he will have a difficult balancing act to keep all of his squad engaged over the campaign.
“The plan is they are all happy because they played an important part in our season, so from my point of view all good.”
Despite the positivity and investment, Klopp has insisted Liverpool remain just the challenger to champions City.
“We are still Rocky Balboa, not Ivan Drago,” he said on the eve of the season, invoking the underdog spirit of the fictional American boxer.