Liverpool’s result against Cardiff has put them in good stead for the second half of the season, buoyed by a transfer window that saw the arrival of Luis Diaz, while Liverpool almost added rising star Fabio Carvalho (who promptly netted against Manchester City) as well.
The team labored against a tough Bluebirds defense in the first half, and Kelleher came dangerously close to a Red Card early in the second before subs Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott introduced some shine to the attack and began to break their opponents down.
The strain of the AFCON has yet to be seen. Not only did Sadio Mane and Mo Salah both play seven games including the final, but they also have to go at it again in World Cup Qualifying in March as their respective nations square off for the final World Cup spot granted to their federation.
A Look at the Squad
The Reds can do little else now than hope that the players they have will be enough to continue to challenge on all four fronts, but whereas there is no doubt that Liverpool has enough players to rotate, finding enough quality players to play twice a week and keep winning may yet be slightly too tall a hurdle to clear when it comes to chasing down Manchester City for the Premier League title.
Liverpool is rock solid in goal with both Alisson and Kelleher and barring unlikely injuries to both at the same time they should be able to carry the side as far as the rest of the players can take them!
Defensively they are left with seven senior defenders after seeing Nat Phillips and Neco Williams go out on loan! With Gomez being able to play across the back four there is depth in every position, plus there are midfielders available for emergency cover, although everyone is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year when both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson were called into emergency action at the back.
Midfield Quality or Midfield Limitations?
Fabinho and Henderson should be featuring heavily in the midfield, hopefully with the oft ailing of late Thiago Alcantara. There are other options available but each has limitations! For all his apparent talent Naby Keita struggles to be the complete package, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lack sufficient defensive nous for what is being asked of them, while James Milner is – well – getting old and it shows. We haven’t seen enough of Harvey Elliott yet to know how he’s really going to fit in, only that he looks exceptionally good and should emerge as a major contributor quite soon.
The midfield is really critical for Klopp’s Liverpool since it’s where they control the game. Without sufficient creative threat, the Reds can become two-dimensional and much easier to stop. Without the right defensive reads, the defenders become exposed or the assist-rich full-backs have to stay home. Expect Liverpool to address the need again in the summer since Henderson is nearing the land of limited minutes while Thiago’s availability remains a question mark. Fabio Carvalho’s potential arrival in the summer may go a long way to alleviating this as could the further development of Elliott and Jones.
Leading From the Front
No immediate problems upfront where the arrival of Diaz will take the number of world-class attackers to five, supported by Gordon, Minamino, and Origi. No doubt the summer will see at least one departure, but Liverpool is beginning to build the replacement pieces for the thirty-year-old trio of Firmino, Mane, and Salah.
Regardless of what happens with the trio as far as new contracts, they are all approaching the age of reduced minutes and performance. If Diaz has as much impact as Jota, then the Reds are two-thirds of the way to replacing them with players who are five years younger.
Shift in Tactics or New Formation?
The boys on the American Scouser podcast have been speculating that Diaz, the developing Elliott, along with candidate for arrival Carvalho; suggest a longer-term formational shift to a 4-2-3-1. Klopp did start at Liverpool using this in his first season (from October to May) but had abandoned it by the following summer after figuring out Coutinho was too much of a defensive liability. Occasionally in the last few minutes of games, we have seen this reemerge, but it seems unlikely to me that he would suddenly make that switch after five years of another successful philosophy.
More likely the formation will become fluid to adapt to the individual strengths of newer players breaking into the first team, such as Elliott and Diaz emerging as two wingers more recessed than Mane and Salah. Arguably that takes you closer to a 4-2-3-1, but only if you have two midfielders who are committed to playing from deeper as their primary role.
The Next Wave of Change
Good teams are always in a degree of transition! And a lot of supporters have been worried about replacing an aging core squad. But Liverpool’s front office seems to be ahead of the game! Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Konate, Tsimikas; Elliott, Jones; Jota, and Diaz are all 25 and under. Add in the potentially arriving Carvalho with the very promising looking Gordon and you have a viable starting XI while only using one/two (Alexander-Arnold/Jota) automatic starters.
Questions have been asked about Mane’s future with the arrival of Diaz. Some supporters with very short memories have forgotten that he came in and played as a right-sided forward in his first season with us. Upon the acquisition of Salah, it was Mane who publicly stated he could go to the left.
Mane in fact has been the positional roamer of Klopp’s forwards, taking over from Firmino! He has changed his role to accommodate Salah and did it a few times for Coutinho. Then again with Jota’s rise in the team Mane has taken on a slightly deeper role as Jota moves into more forward spaces than the other members of the front line. I expect Mane to be asked to stick around at least till 2025 with his versatility being a needed asset.
Liverpool is on to the 5th Round of the FA Cup with a very winnable tie against Norwich, Mane and Salah are on their way back from the AFCON, and the Reds are still chasing silverware in all four competitions. The next wave might already be here, but let’s not overlook the ride this group can still take us on over the final 4 months of the campaign!