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Lethal Liverpool Look to Be City's Biggest Title Challenge

With pre-season coming to a close and the new season just 12 days away, could Liverpool be the team to unseat Pep's City?

How things change: Liverpool's starting lineup against Spartak Moskow less than a year ago features the already departed Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can, alongside Alberto Moreno and Loris Karius, who are both unlikely to feature prominently for the club in the coming season.

Liverpool had an impressive season under Jürgen Klopp last time around, and only fell at the final hurdle in the Champions League. But Klopp has been savvy in strengthening the weakest areas of his squad with some intelligent signings. An injury-laden central midfield, combined with a lack of depth up front cost the Reds last season after a deep run in Europe left them exposed at home. And after Karius's unfortunate performance against Real Madrid, it was inevitable that his position at the club would become untenable.

However, even the most die-hard Reds probably wouldn't have predicted their world record acquisition of Alisson from Roma. The £67 million paid for the Brazilian number one was a world record fee for a goalkeeper. For years now this has been Liverpool's weakest position, so the purchase of such a high-quality player has to bee seen as a statement of intent from both the Liverpool board and Klopp.

Liverpool also strengthened their central midfield massively, with Naby Keita's loan-to-buy deal from RB Leipzig coming through at £52.75 million, alongside the seemingly out-of-nowhere signing of Monaco's Fabinho for £44 million. Fabinho provides more than adequate cover for the departing Emre Can in defensive midfield, and will ease the defensive workload placed upon the shoulders of Jordan Henderson. Keita will be key in transitioning play from their much-improved defence to their world beating attack. He can play either, as the pivot for Klopp's side, or even as the more advanced player in central midfield.

There are question marks surrounding who will start alongside these two new arrivals. Henderson is Klopp’s captain, and had a good time of it in Russia under Gareth Southgate, but whether or not Klopp will be willing to sacrifice a creative midfielder to fit in both Henderson and Fabinho will be an interesting scenario to watch unfurl. Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum are his other options, with Klopp’s love for Lallana being well known. This debate has been going on since the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January. It seemed at one point that Nabil Fekir would be coming in to fill the void left by the Brazilian playmaker, and Lyon had agreed an initial fee with Liverpool for the Frenchman. But after his medical at Melwood, Liverpool raised issue with the player’s health, and the talks between the clubs broke down soon after.

To top this all off, Klopp has found cover for their front line in one Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss bottle rocket was a handy pickup at just £13 million, due to his relegation release clause with previous club Stoke. Whilst he has struggled to show the levels of class that he was predicted to possess back in the days of Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, he will provide much needed reinforcement for a front line that will be fighting on four fronts; with the Premier League, FA and League Cups, and Champions League to contend with.

Liverpool fans can also be excited by the performances Daniel Sturridge has put in over their pre-season, earning himself a goal and man of the match award against bitter rivals Manchester United in Michigan. But with Sturridge's previous injury record, even the most optimistic Liverpool fans have their reservations regarding the once-heralded striker.

Sadly, they are not without their injury problems, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to miss the majority of next season, if not the entire thing. Joel Matip is also struggling with a setback picked up during a pre-season game against Klopp's former side Borussia Dortmund. And with self-proclaimed world-class defender Dejan Lovren having played through to the final of the World Cup for Croatia, Klopp would have been hoping he could rely on Matip to start the first game of the season alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

Much of Liverpool's success in the coming season will be reliant on their front three's ability to produce at the same rate as last season. And whilst it would be unfair to expect another 33 goal season from Mo Salah, all eyes are on the Egyptian to continue his record-breaking form from last season. Salah's disappointing group stage World Cup exit with Egypt could have killed some of his momentum, alongside the injury that side lined him 20 minutes into their Champions League final. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane both looked good for Brazil and Senegal respectively in Russia, and they will undoubtedly be eager to emulate their Egyptian colleague’s attacking achievements from the previous season.

Liverpool once again could pose a genuine challenge for the Premier League, and with the squad they have, the mentality their manager brings, and the cohesion in the dressing room, it will surely be a closely run race with title-holders Manchester City. Still, it can't hurt to dream for fans of the Reds, and many of them think that they could be the ones to break City’s title defence.

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