Klopp abandons principles to help Liverpool challenge City
LONDON (AP) — Even before the unexpected run to the Champions League final, Liverpool was planning how to keep challenging for titles.
“We can … outspend other clubs throughout Europe,” Liverpool owner John Henry said just before the loss to Real Madrid in May’s final.
Henry more than delivered, spending about 170 million pounds ($220 million) on new signings and only generating 12.5 million pounds from departing players. Liverpool even kept English soccer’s player of the year, Mohamed Salah, from the grasps of Real Madrid by persuading the Egypt forward to sign a new contract.
Even if the 18-time English champions cannot win the title for the first time since 1990, the lavish outlay means the team has to be more than challenging for the Premier League. Reaching the European final masked how Liverpool barely scraped back into the Champions League with a fourth-place finish, 25 points behind champion Manchester City.
Now Liverpool’s Boston Red Sox ownership group has even managed to outspend a City side with the financial backing of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It has required manager Juergen Klopp to compromise on his own principles after pledging to “do it differently” while grumbling about Manchester United’s big spending two years ago.
The 72.5 million euros (about $84 million) required to sign Alisson from Roma as a response to blunders in the Champions League final by goalkeeper Loris Karius seems to suggest otherwise. So does the $120 million forked out on central midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita. Don’t forget the $100 million in January to make Virgil van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender.
“I’m happy, to smile and to see that you can change your opinion and change as a person,” United manager Jose Mourinho said. “It’s funny.”
When it comes to his own team, Mourinho has adopted a sullen stance through a pre-season where preparations have been hampered by the Premier League starting less than a month after the World Cup final.
Complaints have been targeted inward at Old Trafford about the lack of transfer activity to build on last season’s runner-up finish — United’s highest placing since Alex Ferguson retired after delivering a 20th title in 2013. Mourinho even complained about Anthony Martial leaving the pre-season tour of the United States to attend the birth of his second child.
“Everything is really bad,” Mourinho said.
Hardly the optimistic rallying cry fans want to hear before opening his third season at United against Leicester on Friday. Mourinho is now characterizing last season’s second place as “one of my biggest achievements in the game,” although the 19-point gap underscored just how far City has pulled ahead of its Manchester neighbor.
City won the title with a record Premier League points haul of 100. City is now seeking to become the first team to defend the title since United in 2009, having fallen short themselves after triumphs in 2012 and 2014 before Pep Guardiola took charge.
“There was a feeling when we’ve won the league (previously) … everybody was a little bit less (intense),” City captain Vincent Kompany said. “A little bit more smiles and happiness, but a little bit less committed. Teams that actually wanted it more could hurt us. I came in (training) this time and it’s completely different.”
And yet very familiar surroundings, with minor tweaks to the squad. Winger Riyad Mahrez, the league’s 2016 player of the year, joined from Leicester for a club record 60 million pounds. But City did pull out of a bidding battle with Chelsea for midfielder Jorginho, who was swiftly reunited with former Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri at Stamford Bridge.
Sarri is entering his first Premier League season as Chelsea’s ninth permanent manager during 15 years under Roman Abramovich’s ownership. But the protracted firing of Antonio Conte, who lost his job despite following up the Premier League title with an FA Cup success, has unsettled Chelsea’s preparations. So, too, has the uncertainty surrounding the status of Abramovich, who currently cannot work in Britain after authorities stalled on a new visa for the Russian amid diplomatic tensions between the countries and he withdraw his application.
But Abramovich has still paid a club record 80 million euros ($93 million) for goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga as a replacement for Real Madrid-bound Thibaut Courtois.
Premier League clubs have spent about 1.2 billion pounds in a transfer window that has been curtailed for the first time to close before the season starts. Adopting the change in a World Cup year has made trading even more problematic.
It hasn’t prevented eight of the 20 teams from breaking their transfer records. Tottenham was the only club to spend nothing and add no players. It has a new stadium but even that won’t be ready until the second month of the season. More significantly, Mauricio Pochettino is still manager and Harry Kane leads the attack after they signed new deals. There is also a third straight season in the Champions League after finishing third — again above Arsenal.
It’s has been a summer of change at Tottenham’s neighbor after Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign ended. The priority for manager Unai Emery, a title winner with Paris Saint-Germain last season, was strengthening Arsenal’s defense and he went for experience with Stephan Lichsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Emery’s priority — like Sarri at Chelsea — is ensuring there isn’t another season out of the Champions League. The target for so many teams, particularly the promoted trio of Cardiff, Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers, is just staying in the Premier League.
Wolves, though, should be aiming far higher after the Chinese ownership spent about 70 million pounds after promotion, tapping into the contacts’ book of super-agent Jorge Mendes again to give the squad a strong Portuguese flavor.
“It’s all about helping this club grow,” said Wolves captain Conor Coady, who has spent much of his career in the second division.