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Resetting Liverpool's Targets for the 2017/18 Season

International breaks may frustrate the majority of fans these days, but the time away from club football allows the opportunity to assess how your team is faring so far this season. For Liverpool, the opening months have included some wonderful highs and a few woeful lows. Their topsy-turvy form has been a cause of frustration, yet they've still only lost three times in 18 games. During the gap between Premier League games, Bleacher Report decided to assess the early going and, in the process, set out aims for Jurgen Klopp's squad to achieve the rest of the way. We've picked six targets, all well within the realms of possibility, that they can hit before next May.           1. Finish in the top four This one hasn't changed from the start. Understandably, there is a desire from supporters to see year-on-year progression. By finishing fourth last season, Liverpool raised the bar and increased expectations. Klopp's charisma and general positivity gives you reason to believe the club is on an upward curve. Yet anyone who had ideas of a title tilt was thinking a little too far ahead. The new recruits in the summer transfer window were rightly welcomed but never looked enough to move the team to the next level. In contrast, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United spent heavily. Mohamed Salah was the only starter added by Klopp, albeit an attempt to bring in Virgil van Dijk was badly botched by the club. The addition of midweek UEFA Champions League fixtures to the schedule led some to worry about whether Liverpool could maintain their top-four status, never mind make a push to finish further up the standings. Then there were the memories of the last time the Reds competed in Europe's top-tier club competition. Having gone so close to winning the league in 2013/14, they slipped all the way down to sixth the following campaign and never made it out of their Champions League group. It is imperative history isn't repeated. Even though there's been a worrying lack of consistency to Liverpool's league form (they're yet to win three in a row domestically this season), they still sit only four points behind second-placed United. This group of players are capable of producing scintillating performances on any given day. What is crucial, though, is making sure they develop the key habit of grinding out results when not at their peak, particularly on the road. If they can do that, they can secure a top-four finish again.            2. Make a statement in Europe Having fought so hard to get into the UEFA Champions, both last season in the Premier League and also in their two-legged play-off against Hoffenheim in August, Liverpool made a shaky start in Group E. After a kind draw had raised the prospect of reaching the knockout stages, they let slip a winning position against Sevilla in their home opener before somehow failing to win away in Spartak Moscow when they dominated from start to finish. A tally of two points after as many matches was worrying, yet back-to-back fixtures over Maribor helped right the ship. A combined 10-0 aggregate score against the Slovenians has Liverpool sitting pretty at the top of the table. While Sevilla away next will be tricky, beating Spartak at home should be enough to progress to the next round. But Klopp will not just be content to make it to the last 16. This is a coach who took his previous club all the way to a Champions League final—he relishes the chance to take on Europe's heavyweights. While a repeat of Borussia Dortmund's run to the 2013 showpiece seems unlikely for Liverpool, there is no reason to believe they cannot claim a big scalp or two before their run comes to an end. Klopp was at the helm for the last famous European night at Anfield. The Europa League comeback against Dortmund in April 2016, when Dejan Lovren scored in injury time to secure a place in the semi-finals, was a reminder of how special the atmosphere can get inside the famous stadium. Liverpool's Champions League experience this season shouldn't just be about lining the club's pockets—it's also about making a statement that the club are back where they belong.        3. Tighten up at the back This feels like a target so distant NASA don't have a telescope strong enough to spot it. Of course, Klopp is not the first Liverpool manager to be plagued by questions about a supposedly leaky backline. The Reds haven't had a reputation for being defensively sound since Rafa Benitez's days in charge. They've conceded 40 or more goals in the last seven straight Premier League seasons, while 17 have already nestled in their net in this campaign (and we're only 11 games in, too). Yet the numbers don't truly highlight the underlying problem. It's not that Liverpool cannot defend full stop, it's just they seem to occasionally forget how to do it. As Chris Bascombe wrote in The Telegraph: "Those suggesting Liverpool's defence is consistently awful are palpably wrong. The problem is they are occasionally horrific, and nightmares linger." Fans could wipe away the memory of the 5-0 loss at Manchester City due to playing over 50 minutes with 10 men, but the harrowing 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur led to a few sleepless nights in the aftermath. Some still wake in a cold sweat after a horrible flashback to Harry Kane's opener at Wembley Stadium. "The only way to fix it is to stay strong and work on it. That's what we'll do. We have to show a reaction," Klopp said after the Spurs debacle, per Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail. Since that game at Wembley, Liverpool have won three straight by a combined 10-1 score. Unable to sign new personnel until January 2018, Klopp has instead tweaked the team's setup. Notably against West Ham United last time out, he switched to a 4-4-2 system that included two deep-lying central midfielders. The manager can only do so much, though; those on the field have to be smart in the heat of battle (I'm looking at you, Dejan) and also be switched on in key moments, particularly at set-piece situations.       4. Get up for the FA cup Despite a proud history of winning trophies, Liverpool haven't picked up any silverware since 2012. With that in mind, the FA Cup should be a priority in 2018. The Premier League crown already appears out of...


Published By: Bleacher Report - Monday, 13 November, 2017

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