Football is back!
It has been a long, excruciating wait for the return of the Premier League, and the stage looks all set for Liverpool to finally lay their hands on the elusive trophy.
We have five questions here before the first ball is kicked on June 17, and man, do we miss the game.
1. When can we see the Hendo shuffle?
In such times of uncertainty, the only guarantee right now is that the Reds just require two wins from the remaining nine games to be crowned the champions of England.
Liverpool could secure the Premier League title with a win at their local rivals Everton as early as 21st June, if Mikel Arteta's Arsenal can snatch all three points off closest challengers Manchester City. Yes, it will be an empty stadium and we would not exactly witness Jordan Henderson's shuffle till the actual trophy presentation, but is there really a better way right now to clinch the Premier League title?
There is a strong case that securing the title at The Etihad might prove to be the sweeter icing on the cake, with the rivalry shared with Pep Guardiola's charges intensifying over the past couple of years.
Will a victory over the Citizens prove to be a significant shift in the powers of England, a milestone that can see Liverpool be a major force for the upcoming years?
Of course, none of this might actually happen – and Liverpool might just wrap up the title at Crystal Palace in perhaps a pretty dull affair. But tell that to any of the Liverpool fans at the start of the season, and we are betting our last dollar that no one is going to complain.
2. Which Liverpool will show up?
We are in the middle of a crisis of our generation; a pandemic that has claimed way too many lives than it should and impacting the economy in unprecedented ways.
But if we were to find a silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud (football-wise, that is), it is that the break in the campaign came at the perfect time for the Reds. Mind you, Liverpool were pretty awful just before the intermission.
The last five games involved: the extra-time defeat against Atletico Madrid (which still hurts till this day), crashing out of the FA Cup with a whimper against Chelsea and the first defeat of the domestic campaign after the deserved 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Watford.
Two narrow wins against Bournemouth and West Ham ensured that no panic buttons were pressed yet, but it was not exactly what you will call inspiring, title-winning form.
In fact, you have to go all the way back to Boxing Day when Liverpool truly bossed a game and played with the swagger and confidence shown in the earlier parts of the season. The 4-0 trashing of Leicester City was Klopp's men at its finest, displaying all the traits that seen them command the unassailable lead at the top of the table. The Premier League is now back, and there isn't any more motivation required for the swashbuckling Reds to show up when they face Everton, and we are keeping our fingers-crossed as they take on the unfinished business.
3. Will Firmino end his Anfield goal drought this campaign?
17th April 2019.
That was when Firmino scored his last Anfield goal, converting a Trent Alexander-Arnold's low cross in a Champions League quarter-final tie.
It is a pretty remarkable stat - the mercurial Brazilian whose name is surely one of the first on the team-sheet hasn't found the back of the net at Anfield in almost a year.
Of course, his underlying stat paints an entirely different story, and we all know what an integral part of the system the number nine plays. Firmino will have a chance to end the Anfield "drought" against Crystal Palace in the second game of Project Restart, and can quite possibly net the goal that will clinch Liverpool's 19th league championship.
What a story that will be, and Firmino - a player who has been part of the setup even before Klopp's arrival - sure as hell deserves it.
4. Will we see the likes of Red Bull Salzburg’s old boys feature more for the rest of the campaign?
Naby Keita has been looking really sharp so far –we have all seen the viral clip where he sat three players on their bums in a recent training match.
It was a tiny glimpse of the Guinean’s midfielder enormous but unfulfilled talent, and a sight that has been unfortunately rare in his two seasons at Anfield.
His skills and creativity are a much needed asset in the midfield, offering the Reds a different dimension in an otherwise rather conservative department.
Keita turned 25 earlier this year, and we are hoping he gets a good run in the remaining games where perhaps less pressure and expectations are all on his shoulders, giving him the perfect platform to step up for next season.
New signing Japanese international Takumi Minamino will be raring to go after the unexpected halt in the campaign as well. The break should have served as the perfect opportunity for Minamino to settle into his new environment, as well as the chance to get to know his new teammates better – albeit virtually for the most parts.
The Japanese is a signing that will excite many fans, as his versatility can provide much needed cover for the front three. A good run in the final stretch of the campaign will do him a whole lot of good, as the Reds require all the firepower needed to challenge on all fronts next season.
The two former Red Bull Salzburg boys will
be hoping for a chance to impress, and the perfect stage – with minimal pressure and expectations – looks all set for them. 5. Do we really not require any major business this summer?
The Reds were strong favorites to sign RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, but a remarkable u-turn in the transfer story has seen him most likely sign for rivals Chelsea instead.
It is a bitter pill for some of the fans to swallow, with the deal for the prolific forward seemingly in the bag after months of courtship.
The 50 million pounds price tag eventually proved to be the stumbling block in today's transfer market, and if this is an indication of the board's transfer strategy, it will be the second consecutive season for the Reds without a "major" signing. It is a risky strategy - considering the aggressive transfer approaches the rival clubs are taking - and will beg the question if Liverpool have a strong enough squad to mount another title challenge next season?
Perhaps the final few games of this campaign can shed some light, with other squad players given more opportunities should the title be secured early.
The likes of Minamino, Keita, Divock Origi, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Xherdan Shaqiri will be knocking on the manager's door, and might also provide us some clues who will still be at Melwood next season. Perhaps one bright spot in the Werner's saga is that the Reds exciting academy is now surely given a bigger spotlight - the likes of Curtis Jones, Neco Williams and Harvey Elliot having to take on more responsibilities in the next campaign. Will that be enough for the Reds to mount a serious challenge on all fronts? Only time will tell.