The argument against - Adam Drury


Six into four doesn’t go.

It was prophesised in pre-season that two of the top-six clubs were going to suffer this season, and that two managers were going to come under intense pressure.

Half a dozen different teams sculpting their seasons around Champions League qualification was a recipe for disappointment and outrage.

And, admittedly with some benefit of hindsight, but also based on the majority of pre-season predictions, it seems obvious that Liverpool were likeliest to prop up the other five.

Just 17 months ago, Jurgen Klopp took charge of a club that had forgotten what it was to consistently challenge at the top.

The Reds have finished inside the Premier League’s top five just once in the last seven campaigns, finishing no closer than six points away in any of those six disappointments.

So the evident improvement instigated by Klopp at the back end of last season and start of this one has papered over the long-term cracks.

Namely, the quality of the squad.

How many of the other top-six sides are really envious of Liverpool first-teamers Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino?

Tottenham’s squad depth is equally as unimpressive, but none of the above would get into their first XI.

That was the reality facing Klopp when he arrived.

He, understandably, wanted to move on those players he knew would not suit him long-term – Martin Skrtel, Joe Allen, Jordan Ibe and Christian Benteke were shown the door last summer – and has been left with a squad not consistently able to compete with the best in the country.

The German has to field a variation of a similar XI every week, knowing that three or four key players must all perform at once.

When he was unable to do just that, throughout a barren January, results suffered.

Liverpool’s six-year-deal for their manager suggests that they, too, understand that this is a longer-term fix than Klopp has been afforded so far.

Of course, their campaign is not over yet – victory over Arsenal on Saturday could breathe new life into them.

But if this season results in Europa League qualification, and an advancement in a clear style of play, then the promise of further summer recruitment could see them offer a firmer challenge next time around.

Liverpool have hardly been an elite Premier League club for the last decade.

When pitted against their currently stronger rivals, it would be naïve to believe that this season had to be Champions League or bust.

The argument for - Tom Bowles


No, Liverpool weren’t especially expected to finish in the top four at the start of the season.

That was despite Jurgen Klopp, who’d managed more than 50 matches in his debut campaign, having a full pre-season to implement his ideas and sign his own players.

According to lots of people, that is exactly what Klopp needed in order to be successful at the club.

Turns out they were right.

Liverpool started the season brilliantly, with a thrilling win at the Emirates on the opening day.

And while there was no reason to get carried away, that result in north London wasn’t a one-off.

The Reds beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Everton at Goodison Park respectively, before clinching what felt like a significant victory at home to Manchester City on New Year’s Eve.

Never mind Champions League qualification, Klopp’s buccaneering side – nestled second in the table and six points behind leaders Chelsea – were title challengers.

So, at what point are pre-season expectations, which are predictive and not based on anything tangible, replaced by cold, hard evidence?

Because for half the season, Liverpool were one of the best two teams in the country.

As a supporter of a team that have aspirations of finishing in the top four, it felt pretty much inconceivable at that point that, given their excellent form and absence of European football, Klopp would not get his side there.

And even though their form since the turn of the year has been miserable – three draws and three defeats in seven league outings – Liverpool still managed to roast Tottenham Hotspur, a side that will almost certainly qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.

It feels a little revisionist, then, to look past their capitulation by saying they were never supposed to finish in the Champions League places in the first place.

They are clearly good enough, but factors that a manager can influence – like selecting midfielders in defence and not strengthening the squad in January – are hurting them.

If Liverpool fail to make the Champions League, it will be as a result of some of the decisions Klopp has made.

That constitutes failure.

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