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How much has Liverpool closed the gap on Manchester City?

The 2018-19 Premier League season is upon us. Kickoff, believe it or not, is just days away. To get you set for the planet’s most enthralling 38-game soccer circuit, Yahoo Sports’ Premier League XI will delve into the 11 most compelling questions ahead of the coming campaign. Next up is Liverpool’s expensive but ambitious quest to reclaim the English top flight.

So how much has Liverpool really closed the gap on Manchester City?

Like many questions, the answer is the question itself.

The Reds finished fourth a season ago — a full 25 points behind City in the Premier League. Tottenham and Manchester United both finished above Liverpool as well, so even being asked to compare Liverpool to Manchester City provides the evidence of how much Liverpool has already succeeded in the transfer window.

On the heels of the club’s first Champions League final since Athens in 2007, Liverpool in 2018-19 is a respectable shout for the Premier League title.

With a healthy Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino trio up front, along with Virgil Van Dijk in the back, Liverpool was one solid goal keeper away from, literally, saving enough points to finish above Spurs and United.

Enter Alisson Becker, who is known far better by his first name. Concussion or not, Loris Karius hasn’t displayed the class of Alisson, who has simply been a class above Simon Mignolet. Alisson is a leader, as the best goal keepers often are, and Liverpool is undoubtedly better with his addition.

For perspective of Alisson’s quality, the Brazilian No. 1 kept Manchester City’s Ederson from playing a single minute in the 2018 World Cup, and Ederson made a legitimate case as the best keeper in the Premier League a season ago — with only Man United’s David de Gea making a strong enough case to sway the audience.

Alisson alone could have been enough to improve the Reds, evidenced by the fact that he was the priciest purchase of a busy transfer window for Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp bought 24-year-old Fabinho from Monaco to soften the blow of oft-injured Emre Can’s free move to Juventus. The German’s move was notably less celebrated than Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus, but Juve’s gain is greater than Liverpool’s loss in Can’s case. His Turin jump is eerily reminiscent of fellow oft-injured German defensive midfielder Sami Khedira arriving in 2015 at age 28.

Can is 24, and Juventus is a good fit, but Fabinho is an upgrade in the middle of the park and solidifies Liverpool’s midfield to a far greater extent than the German midfielder provided.

Furthermore, Liverpool’s summer purchases of Fabinho from Monaco, Naby Keita via RB Leipzig and Alisson from AS Roma would all have been club-record signings had the Reds not coughed up $100.5 million to finally secure Southampton’s Van Dijk in late December of 2017, soiling the idea of the January transfer window beginning in January.

Just 14 months after Salah arrived on Merseyside for a club-record fee, the star attacker now ranks only fifth on the list of Liverpool’s most expensive transfers.

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool are prepared to go right at defending Premier League champion Manchester City. (The Independent)

But how much has Liverpool closed the gap on Manchester City?

Well, that’s a bit more complicated, because that depends on Manchester City.

Based on trajectory and quality, Liverpool is Manchester City’s top external challenger because Pep Guardiola’s team is coming off the first-ever 100-point Premier League season. No team has ever dominated the Premier League like that before. Then, the Citizens added Riyadh Mahrez to help a team that scored 106 goals (which is a Premier League record of course) score more goals.

Everything considered, Liverpool is Manchester City’s best competition, and head-to-head only plays a small factor when it comes to winning the league. After all, Liverpool beat Manchester City in three out of four meetings during the 2017-18 campaign before beefing up the squad in the summer. A Premier League split and Champions League quarterfinals sweep still meant the Reds lost the league by a massive margin to the Citizens.

The truth is that Manchester City’s ability to dominate the Premier League like Juventus steamrolls Serie A and Bayern Munich burns the Bundesliga makes it difficult to directly find a competitor if City replicates its dominance.

Still, Liverpool has stepped forward where the other usual suspects are still standing back and waiting to have their names called. Jose Mourinho and Manchester United matched Leicester City’s points total from 2015-16, but Brazilian midfielder Fred arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk and 19-year-old right back Diogo Dalot joining from FC Porto don’t seem to shout dramatic improvement at Old Trafford.

Mourinho keeps talking about one more signing, but a single player wouldn’t likely match Liverpool’s activity. Traditionally, Spurs like to leave their business late, but Tottenham has legitimately signed zero players in the summer of 2018.

One should take a moment to mention that Liverpool even added Xherdan Shaqiri, who is a dynamic difference-maker.

Klopp’s energetic pressing and pushing philosophy, referred to by the clichéd term “heavy metal football”, nonetheless leads to goals. The defensive improvements, along with depth in the middle third of the pitch, only reinforces that Liverpool is the clear challenger should the Citizens stumble.

Manchester City may still be clear favorites on day No. 1, but Liverpool looks like the best bet to challenge the Citizens. And that’s a start — which is, fittingly, what the Premier League season is about to do.

Shahan Ahmed is a soccer columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow Shahan on Twitter: @ShahanLA.

The rest of the 2018-19 Premier League XI

Monday: What could derail Man City’s title defense?
Monday: Can Sarri revolutionize or stabilize Chelsea?
Monday: Who’s getting relegated?
Tuesday: Who, if anybody, can break up the top six?
Tuesday:
Is Liverpool closing on City?
Tuesday:
What to expect at Arsenal post-Wenger?
Wednesday: Is a Mourinho flameout already underway?
Wednesday: Is Spurs’ trophy deadline approaching?
Wednesday: Wolves: Shady, brilliant, or both?
Thursday a.m.: Predictions
Thursday p.m.: Transfer window winners/losers

(Image via Amber Matsumoto)