Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 this season under revitalized

There’s a word Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has used a few times when he talks about the upcoming Premier League season.

Fire.

His players? “You can see the fire in their eyes.”

Klopp himself? “I’m on fire.”

It’s what having a bad season — no trophy and a fifth-place finish in the league — does to a big club. It shakes people, invigorates them.

That’s certainly the case with Liverpool amid its first major overhaul in Klopp’s nearly eight years at Anfield.

There’s a completely new midfield. A much-changed forward line (still, though, containing Mohamed Salah). The repositioning of right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a hybrid defender-midfielder. There’s even a new captain, in Virgil van Dijk.

The question, now, is how quickly Klopp can bring this new Liverpool together. Can the Reds once again become Manchester City’s biggest threat in the Premier League?

“We try to raise the bar again and again and again,” Klopp said. “For that, you need to make changes and we have obviously made now a lot of changes. That opens the door for a lot of other players.”

The overhaul has been coming for a while because of the way Liverpool had neglected to refresh a midfield that once was the team’s heartbeat, only to quickly become its shortcoming.

Out, first, went James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita because their contracts expired. Then, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were lured by the riches of the Saudi Pro League — two departures for which Liverpool certainly hadn’t planned.

In has come Alexis Mac Allister, Argentina’s World Cup winner from Brighton, and Dominik Szoboszlai, the captain of Hungary and a star of the Bundesliga at Leipzig. Klopp also wants — and needs — a defensive midfielder and three bids for Romeo Lavia, who plays for relegated Southampton, have reportedly been rejected so far.

Up front, only Salah remains from that devastating front three which led Liverpool to the Champions League in 2019 and a first English league title in 30 years in 2020. Sadio Mane left last year and Roberto Firmino departed — also for Saudi Arabia — this offseason when his contract at Liverpool expired.

Klopp used to field the same front three nearly every match. Now he has a selection headache with four players — Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez — competing for two spots alongside Salah.

Meanwhile, there are also changes at the back, with Alexander-Arnold undergoing a positional switch at the end of last season which Klopp is likely to persevere with. Alexander-Arnold now uses his fine passing range from a deep midfield role, while reverting to right back when Liverpool doesn’t have the ball.

In Henderson’s absence, Van Dijk has taken the armband and Alexander-Arnold is vice-captain.

It’s quite the turnover as Klopp heads into his eighth full season in charge of Liverpool with the club having spent more than 100 million pounds ($130 million) on new signings in a single transfer window for the first time since 2018.

Klopp said he still feels that tingle of excitement about what’s around the corner, especially because he is desperate to make up for last season when Liverpool didn’t even qualify for the Champions League.

In the 2021-22 season, remember, the Reds narrowly fell short of winning the quadruple.

“Sometimes you need to get a knock to realize, ‘Ah, there is a problem,'” Klopp said. “And I would really say we got a proper knock last year. I got one for sure, so I’m on fire. The players understand as well and so far I like the response, a lot.

“Yes, I want to put things right. And that gives me the extra edge as well, if I’m 100% honest. The fever, the power, the excitement is bigger when last year was not great.”

Even last season, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola maintained Liverpool was his team’s biggest rival, fueled by his memories of their seismic title battles in 2018-19 and 2021-22 when the two clubs raised the level of the Premier League to previously unforeseen heights.

City has remained at that level, while Liverpool has wavered — first when squeezing to a third-place finish in the league in 2020-21 and then again last season when finishing outside the top four for the first time since 2015-16.

Liverpool’s season will be disrupted somewhat by having to play in the Europa League, necessitating many Thursday-Sunday turnarounds.

Anfield also is set to be operating at a reduced capacity, down to 51,000 from its previous 54,000, early this season because work hasn’t been completed on the construction of a new stand that will eventually take the number of seats in the stadium to 61,000.

Nothing, though, is dampening Klopp’s enthusiasm heading into the season and he said he could see from the first day of preseason that his “boys mean business.”

“I’d really love to be that team,” Klopp said, “where everybody thinks, ‘Oh God, Liverpool.'”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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