We spoke to David Lynch, Liverpool correspondent for the London Evening Standard, who talks to us about THAT European victory in Madrid, gives his overall verdict on the 2018/2019 season and discusses Liverpool's plans for the summer transfer window in our latest exclusive interview.
How would you summarise the magnitude of what Liverpool achieved last season - accumulating 97 points and winning their sixth European Cup?
After what we saw last season, I don't think it would be pushing it to say that the current crop genuinely deserve to be placed alongside the all-time great Liverpool sides. Were it not for the anomaly that is Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp and his players would have a fully deserved league and Champions League double to show for their efforts in 2018-19 - as it is, they've had to settle for just being European champions. This is an absolutely unbelievable team and you just hope that this first trophy is a catalyst to more because it's no less than the performances - should they stay at this level - merit.
What impressed you the most about Liverpool’s 2018-19 campaign?
It felt like the first three years of Klopp's time at Liverpool were characterised by a complete inability to manage games but the ruthlessness shown this season has been remarkable. This team doesn't look flustered when searching for a goal late on or when the opposition are launching an aerial assault trying to nick a late equaliser. I'd say that's the biggest reason for their huge improvement on the campaign before.
The bookmakers have got Manchester City as odds on favourites to win the title next season with Liverpool a close second and nobody else really in contention - do you see it that way too?
Definitely. It's not just that Manchester City and Liverpool are so good, which they obviously are, it's that the teams below them don't look like they'll be much different next year. Manchester United have zero transfer strategy and a manager who is completely unproven at this level, and you could say much the same about Chelsea should they go on to appoint Frank Lampard. Meanwhile, Arsenal's lack of spending power in the absence of Champions League football is starting to tell, and Tottenham seem like a club who have pushed their model as far as it can go - even if Daniel Levy, Mauricio Pochettino, and a fine collection of players deserve huge praise for what they've done. City and Liverpool look untouchable for now.
The consensus has been that there will be minimal transfer activity as far as incomings are concerned at Anfield. Do you believe that to be the correct approach for Liverpool to go one better than last season?
I think everyone who has followed Liverpool's journey in the past few years has learned to trust that Jurgen Klopp and his staff tend to take the correct approach! Of course, I do think there is additional depth needed in attack and at full-back, but so do the club from what I've been told.
However, we shouldn't expect these to be big-money additions and for one reason: there is so much potential already in this squad. I know some supporters want to see a Nicolas Pepe-type brought in for £60m, but do they not expect more from the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri or Naby Keita next season? Both players did not feature in huge amounts of games and neither showed what they are truly capable of - that needs to be rectified in 2019-20.
Liverpool will also hopefully be able to use Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster consistently after their long-term injury struggles - again, do people want these players bombed out of the squad to make room for a huge signing? I'm not sure that's how Klopp sees it.
Are there any players you would particularly like to see move to Liverpool this off-season?
I'm too busy following Liverpool about these days to think I've got any sort of worthwhile insights into who they should sign! Not sure I'd make much of a scout...
Do you envisage any youngsters making the breakthrough to the first team during 2019-20?
As a result of the huge strides Liverpool have taken under Klopp, it's getting harder and harder for youngsters to make the step up unless they are truly special. Thankfully, there are a couple of talents who could well be considered in that bracket. Brewster is the obvious one for next season, of course - he's guaranteed to get minutes.
Ki-Jana Hoever could also get chances to build on last season's debut when the cups come around, too, given he's very highly rated at Melwood. Beyond that, you feel it could be time for the likes of Adam Lewis and Curtis Jones to look for loan moves that would be more beneficial to their development than sitting on the bench for the first team.
Where do you stand on the Dejan Lovren situation? Would now be a good time to move him on, or would losing him, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno all in the same summer risk upsetting the dressing room?
A lot depends on what AC Milan do and what Dejan Lovren actually wants. If either Milan fail to bid enough or Lovren indicates he does not want to leave, Klopp won't resort to forcing out a player he trusts. However, Lovren's decision could well be swayed by the fact that he is likely to start the new season as fourth choice in his position, while Klopp wouldn't turn down big money for a player approaching 30 whose injury record leaves a lot to be desired. This is a good example of why transfers are so hard to 'predict' - there are too many variables at play to say how this one is going to turn out.
Which players do you think could agree new contracts with Liverpool in the coming months?
Three players who are relatively close to the end of their deals, Joel Matip, James Milner and Divock Origi, will all be offered fresh terms by the club after playing a key role in Champions League victory. And two who have plenty of time left on their contracts, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Virgil van Dijk, are also expected to be given the opportunity to extend their Anfield stay. That would leave Georginio Wijnaldum as the only regular starter with any degree of uncertainty around his future but surely he will be tied down soon enough.
How difficult do you think Liverpool will find it coping with all the additional games they have this term?
It'll be a new test, that's for sure. It's not just the League Cup and FA Cup should Liverpool get beyond the first hurdle in those competitions this time, but also the Club World Cup in December. The aforementioned tweaks to the squad and returns for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Brewster will have a huge impact on how the Reds cope, but they could also do with some good fortune in terms of injuries, as ever.
Do you think Jurgen Klopp will be happy with how Liverpool’s Premier League fixture schedule has turned out?
I'm not sure managers think about these sorts of things as much as supporters, to be honest. If you were to ask me, though, I'd say it looks pretty well balanced throughout. Unlike Manchester City's schedule, there are no overtly easy or difficult periods apart from a tricky looking final three games. And if Liverpool are in a position to win the league at that point then I'm not sure they'd let anything stand in their way.
How seriously should Liverpool take the Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup this season and are they all trophies Jurgen Klopp will be determined to win?
With the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup being one-off opportunities to put silverware in the cabinet, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that they should take both seriously. There'll be no fatigue at that point of the season and the recent loss of the Schalke friendly should mean that the Reds can go full pelt to win those trophies. The Club World Cup is slightly trickier given the timing, but Klopp should be able to make changes for both games given the level of the opposition should be slightly lower than what Liverpool are used to facing. We know the German can rotate successfully; this is just another chance to show it.
Which players are we likely to see leave Anfield this summer and is the reported £100m Liverpool could generate in sales realistic?
Simon Mignolet will be allowed to leave after a season that marked him out as a fantastic professional despite a lack of playing time. Potential departures Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne could also help boost the coffers, while the fee from Danny Ings' permanent move to Southampton can be factored into this summer. I would have said that offers for Adam Lallana would be listened to, but judging by those recent quotes, he is determined to stay put at Anfield. Regardless, the likes of Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent are likely to attract interest even with the hefty fees being mentioned and, if they are willing to accept a permanent move, they will be sold.
In Mo Salah’s first year at Liverpool, he broke lots of scoring records. Last term, he didn’t score quite as many but still managed a great total and a shared golden boot. How would you assess his second season, and how do you see his third panning out?
You could see in the early part of the season that a combination of crazy expectations and that troublesome shoulder were stopping Salah from performing at his absolute best. That he bounced back to claim a second straight Golden Boot says everything about the strength of character that underpins the world-class talent he possesses. Salah will have learned a lot from going through those difficulties and I think that might help him to relax in the trickier moments of the next campaign. As such, I reckon we could be looking at a goal return closer to the one we saw in his debut season next time around.
Do you think Virgil van Dijk will, and should, win the Ballon d’Or?
I think Virgil van Dijk is the best defender in the world, a worthy European Cup winner, and probably one of the most transformative signings in recent football history - but I'm still not sure about the Ballon d'Or. The Dutchman is a dead cert to be nominated and should probably earn a top-three finish but, in my humble opinion, Lionel Messi should have the award stitched up every year until he decides to hang his boots up.
I think we've grown so used to his brilliance that we now actually underrate him, and the fact that Luka Modric beat him to the prize last year was a reflection of that fact. Anyone who watched Messi against Liverpool that night at Camp Nou knew they were witnessing the best player of all-time in action, and he proved it again at Anfield even though it went under the radar because his teammates couldn't finish off the string of chances he created from nothing.
If Van Dijk finishes second to a man who scored 51 goals in 50 appearances this season, I doubt he'll have any complaints. That would be my ideal top two, in fact!
What are your realistic expectations for 2019-20 across the board?
Klopp has won 11 two-legged European ties on the bounce since joining Liverpool, so I don't think it's asking too much to expect that he might oversee another run to at least the semi-finals of the Champions League next season. In the league, the target has to be getting 95+ points again and then see how the chips fall, there's not much else you can do with Manchester City around.
Beyond that, adding one of the early-season trophies would be nice, as would a run in one of the domestic cups, but the Club World Cup should take priority in terms of the *other* competitions, for me. It's crazy that a club of this size has never been crowned champions of the world and it would be nice to put that right before the tournament changes to a new format.