Liverpool's UCL run and summer signings have created genuine title expectations at Anfield
Expectations are unusually high at Liverpool ahead of the big Premier League kickoff this weekend. The Merseysiders are being widely tipped for big things this year, and a 5-0 demolition of Napoli on Saturday in Dublin provided further evidence of the great shape Jurgen Klopp's men are in going into the new campaign.
Liverpool were terrific last season, and their fourth-place Premier League finish was perhaps not a true reflection of their performances, but with Manchester City so far ahead at the top, it didn't really matter whether Liverpool finished second, third or fourth. All of their eggs were in the European basket, and domestic results suffered at times because of it.
Klopp's team took the Champions League by storm though. They rampaged their way to the final, breaking all sorts of tournament goal-scoring records in the process, and although they fell at the last hurdle, the manner of that defeat to Real Madrid should do nothing to dent confidence in the team. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Make no mistake: This is the best side Liverpool have had since the glory days of the 1980s. There is top talent all over the park, and they are exhilarating to watch. World-class players are turning down other clubs to sign for the Reds. Anfield is the place to be right now.
Personally, I haven't felt this excited about a Liverpool team since I was a kid. I'm 45 years old now, and this is the best I've felt about a Liverpool side since the late 80s. Back then it was taken for granted that the Reds would win something because it was very rare that they didn't.
Sadly, those days are long gone, and many of the trophies the club have won over the last couple of decades have been somewhat unexpected and often against the odds. If Liverpool win something this year, though, it won't surprise anyone.
Supporters aren't taking success for granted, but the general mood is certainly one of great hope, excitement and expectation. Not an expectation of trophies but a definite belief that the team has what it takes to at least contend for the big prizes.
There is an expectancy from outside too, with most neutrals seeing Liverpool as the only genuine threat to City's dominance. It's easy to see why. The mood at Anfield is certainly more buoyant than anywhere else going into the new season.
Arsenal and Chelsea are rebuilding, Tottenham haven't bought anyone, and at Manchester United, it's unclear who dislikes Jose Mourinho most: the fans or his players. None of those clubs go into the season feeling particularly great about their chances, which is all good news for the Reds.
Unfortunately, though, they still have to get past Pep Guardiola's record breakers. If City repeat what they did last season, it probably won't matter how well Liverpool perform. They'll still come up short.
Liverpool cannot control what City do, and if they top the 100-point mark again, then catching them will be little short of impossible. Liverpool's target should be to get to a minimum of 90 points and see where that takes them. That isn't an unrealistic number, as it wouldn't take a drastic improvement to get there. A little stroke of luck here and there and a bit less carelessness in some of the so-called easier fixtures would probably do it.
As well as Liverpool did last season, there was still plenty of room for improvement. The goalkeeping position was a well publicised problem, but that has been addressed with the world-record signing of Alisson from Roma.
The midfield performed well last season but was another area in which Liverpool needed to get better, and they have. Fabinho and Naby Keita arrived this summer, and suddenly Klopp is spoiled for choice in the middle of the park.
Xherdan Shaqiri might be another option for the midfield three based on what we've seen so far in preseason. The Swiss winger was brought in mainly to provide quality cover across the front three, but he has shown already that he could be a real asset if deployed a little deeper. He could surprise a lot of people this season and might play a much bigger role than anticipated.
Shaqiri's arrival solves a big problem. Liverpool's front three was the most potent in Europe last year, but whenever any of them were unavailable, the drop-off in quality was glaring. Shaqiri's arrival changes that, but so too does the unexpected "rebirth" of Daniel Sturridge, who has been the undisputed star of Liverpool's preseason.
His injury history makes it impossible for Klopp to fully count on him, but Liverpool have so much attacking talent now that anything Sturridge provides can almost be regarded as a bonus. Liverpool's hopes no longer depend on what they get from Sturridge, but if he is available for a significant part of the season, then what he can add to the team could be vital.
Turning draws into wins is the single most important area in which Liverpool must improve, though. It is impossible to compete for titles while regularly dropping points against teams in the bottom half. It can be tough against teams who want only to defend, but successful sides find a way.
Being able to rotate the squad and having game-changers coming off the bench helps a great deal. Liverpool did not have that luxury last season, but they have it now, especially when Sturridge is fit and available.
If Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah aren't having any joy, Klopp can send on Shaqiri to help them. If it still isn't working, then get Sturridge on there too. Keep banging on the door until eventually you kick it down.
Liverpool have addressed all the areas they needed to address, and they still have all of the key players that made them so exciting to watch last season.
Klopp wanted to turn doubters into believers, and he has now done that. Liverpool are better equipped to challenge this year than they have been at any point since they last won the title in 1990.
The hype is definitely justified. Let's just hope they can live up to it.