“I still think next season, they will be the team to beat.”
Paul Merson believes Liverpool are joint-favourites for next season’s Premier League despite currently being in fifth position in the table, 13 points adrift of Manchester City.
Merson was speaking after Liverpool suffered another Premier League defeat, this time losing 3-1 away to Leicester City, despite going 1-0 up.
The former Arsenal midfielder strongly feels like Liverpool will be the team to beat next season, once Vigil van Djik and all their injured players return.
“They will be back, 100 per cent,” Merson wrote in his Sky Sports column.
“As soon as Van Dijk is back, this is a different team. I have no doubt about that. I still think next season, they will be the team to beat. If everyone is back fit, it’s 50-50 for me, heads or tails with City for the title.
“It’s the biggest points drop, but you have to remember the figures they were putting up last season. They were out of this world.
“I know they haven’t been great, and they’ve had a load of injuries, but at half-time against Man City at home they were still in the title race, which I think is a phenomenal feat given the players they’ve had out.
“If you asked us how Liverpool were going to start each week last season, we’d get the starting XI right nine times out of 10. It picked itself, it was such a machine. They suffocated teams.
“When Van Dijk is in the team, Liverpool are playing on the halfway line. They win the ball back 25 yards out, then it’s one pass and they score.
“Now they’ve playing with a central midfielder at centre-back and they’re playing in their own half. This year I don’t think they’ve had a lot of luck at all.
Liverpool’s summer signing Thiago has largely struggled this season but the 52-year-old is convinced that we will see a different Thiago next season, if Van Djik is back in the team.
“Bayern Munich have the ball 99 per cent of the time,” Merson continued.
“Now all of a sudden, he comes into this league, gets booked in virtually every game, then he’s walking a tightrope and the intensity has to go.
“He comes over here, and it just proves that this is the hardest league in the world by a million miles. But he’s coming into a team that is struggling. He thinks he’s getting time on the ball, trying to make things happen, but it’s just hard.
“When Van Dijk comes back, I think we see a better Thiago. He can see a pass like Kevin De Bruyne.
“But at the moment he’s having to run around, get the ball back, and that pass is 40, 50 yards away from his own goal.
“He needs to get the ball on the edge of the box and thread it through the eye of a needle.”