By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final and their impressive three wins over Manchester City in the last campaign have raised hopes on Merseyside that they could be the closest challengers to Pep Guardiola’s side this season.
Their work in the transfer market has also added to the positivity around the club after German manager Juergen Klopp made some major moves that have clearly strengthened his squad.
The most glaring weakness in last year’s team was in goal, where Loris Karius’s nightmare performance in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid exposed their lack of a reliable top-class keeper.
Klopp responded by signing 25-year-old Brazil international Alisson Becker from AS Roma, smashing the world record for a goalkeeper in a deal worth up to 72.5 million euros ($84 million).
The departure of Emre Can to Juventus and the long-term injury absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left Klopp short of options in the centre of midfield.
Yet the arrivals of Brazilian Fabinho from AS Monaco and Guinea international Naby Keita from RB Leipzig have provided plenty of additional quality.
Liverpool’s strength last season was their attack, which remains unchanged, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane a potent trident that will trouble any defence in the Premier League.
The surprise purchase of Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City offers some cover and flexibility, rounding out what has been an impressive transfer window for Klopp.
As well as the close-season signings, the arrival in January of Virgil van Dijk brought much-needed solidity and stability to the centre of defence and with Joe Gomez and Nathianel Clyne back to fitness, there are increased options at fullback.
While City start as title favourites, Liverpool know they are capable of outgunning Guardiola’s side — they beat them 4-3 in the league at Anfield in January before a 3-0 victory in the Champions League quarter-final, first leg.
Klopp is well aware that Liverpool need to eliminate some of the sloppy performances, which left them trailing City in the league last season, and while he is not promising silverware, he expects to see progress.
“Improvement, development, using our football last season as a basis and make the next steps. More consistency – we were not inconsistent, but we can be more consistent,” he said.
“The mood in the club at the moment is really good and we want to build on that, we want to come even closer.”
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(Reporting by Simon Evans,; Editing by Toby Davis)