Jurgen Klopp expects Liverpool to return to Champions League final, and here’s how they can do it

After losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid on Saturday, the dust is beginning to settle on Liverpool’s historic season. While the Reds have triumphs in the EFL Cup and the FA Cup to celebrate, scoring zero goals in 330 minutes across three finals isn’t something that Jurgen Klopp will want to see again. The defense only allowed one goal during that time, but it was enough to be the difference in a quest for a treble to put a cherry on top of collecting 92 points in the Premier League, a number usually good enough to lift the title if not for a historically superb Manchester City team.

We’re in a golden age of soccer that features two juggernauts atop the Premier League and a strong pack of contenders that hope to push them. But reflecting on losing in the Champions League final, Klopp was confident in his team’s chances in getting back to the final. 

“I have a strong feeling we will come again,” he said after the match. “The boys are really competitive and are an outstanding group. They will be that again next season. And we go again. Where’s it next season? Istanbul? Book the hotel.”

There is no reason to believe they won’t be back. The Reds are a strong team with an excellent base, and that they should surely make them contenders. But it also figures to be even more challenging. Manchester City are getting better with the addition of Erling Haaland, and Liverpool could be worse while strengthening Bayern Munich if Sadio Mane goes to Germany. With PSG keeping Kylian Mbappe, things may end up changing for the better in Paris. Real Madrid will also be back in the picture because as they showed this year, they can never be counted out. Even AC Milan with the right additions could parlay their Scudetto into a deeper Champions League run.

The road to soccer’s biggest path is a tough one and nothing is guaranteed which is why repeating this season will be easier said than done for Liverpool. In adding Luis Diaz in January, the Reds do have a replacement for Sadio Mane the winger, but they don’t have one for Mane the forward. The recruitment team will need to replace Mane’s 12 goals and two assists while playing as a center forward, and moving for Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski makes a ton of sense. Klopp will also surely do what he can to convince Mane to stay. 

Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino will factor into things but Jota can sometimes be lost in games when space is tighter while Firmino has proven to be a dangerous weapon from the bench. Mane’s transition to playing centrally, holding up the ball, became as important to Liverpool as his ability to ghost into space to score goals. It’s hard to replace that in one player even if a new addition is made.

Fabio Carvalho will join the attacking corps from Fulham after a season in which he scored 11 goals and assisted seven more while helping the Cottagers win the Championship by a large margin. But at 19 years of age and with less than 260 minutes of Premier League experience under his belt, transitioning to Liverpool will be quite an adjustment for the talented youngster. It is a club that is good at using youth players, but Carvalho won’t be expected to play a major role in replacing Mane’s production early on. 

The ways that Liverpool can make a splash are by either adding another top class winger or forward to the roster to keep the fluid front line going. And with Divock Origi looking on his way to AC Milan, a forward will be needed no matter what, and Lewandowski makes a ton of sense as he’s played under Klopp before. 

Another option that can help cure the scoring woes in big games is playing more creative midfielders is deeper positions, offering more options on long balls to speedy attackers. It was clear that Thiago’s ball progression became critical to Liverpool as they struggled to break down teams when the Spanish midfielder was absent. It’s also clear that Liverpool have one of the best defenses in the league and can sacrifice a shuttling midfielder as long as Fabinho is healthy to protect the defense. If not for dislocating his ankle in September, that creative midfielder may have been Harvey Elliott. After a strong season on loan with Blackburn Rovers in 2021, where he scored seven goals and assisted 11 more, Elliott got some time on the right side of the Liverpool midfield three to begin the season. But after his ankle was dislocated, he didn’t return to the squad until February, only playing 95 minutes in the Premier League the rest of the way.

Without the injury, Elliott could’ve gotten the time that he needed to combine with Thiago to take Liverpool’s midfield to the next level. He’ll get preseason to prove that he’s back to that level, but if he isn’t, that’s a position where Liverpool can make more impact by recruiting a new player into the fold. 

Most top teams can roll out a defense-first midfield or an attacking midfield, and Liverpool’s midfield three doesn’t have the same versatility as is. This isn’t to say that they’re bad options as Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita certainly can do a job, but they don’t offer the same line-splitting passes that Thiago, and potentially another, can. Adding that wrinkle into the side can help Liverpool get back to where they want to be, but they are going to have to match the other big boys in terms of bolstering an already incredible squad. 

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