Liverpool begins their campaign for the League title in less than two weeks. Having started their preparations, with 2-game swings into Asia followed by central Europe. The dress rehearsal for the season opener will be the Community Shield. This season it is being held at the King Power Stadium against Manchester City.
Citizens Manager Pep Guardiola once explained that he sees the Community Shield as an opportunity to see where his team is at. It’s a fairly competitive game except that nobody carrying even the remotest injury concern is likely to be risked. Those short of fitness will expect to play for limited minutes. But with City having the back of the larder picked during the offseason, it will be interesting if they have the depth and rotation to compete on all fronts as the season develops.
A month ago I laid out my broad predictions for the final Premier League standings and that hasn’t really changed. 1st / 2nd – City & Liverpool; 3rd / 4th Arsenal and Spurs; 5th / 6th Chelsea and United. How does the Liverpool squad stacks up now that we’ve seen some training camp time and pre-season action? Let’s take a look.
Formation Talk and the Defense
You can only tell so much from pre-season games. Klopp’s side frequently works on fitness and timing. Tactics can wait until August for him, he wants players though who will be playing together to build familiarity. One thing we can tell (so far) is that where the 4-2-3-1 formation has received a lot of fanfare, it seems Liverpool will stick primarily with their 4-3-3.
Alisson is one of the best keepers in the world. Liverpool is in his safe hands for the foreseeable future. Budding star and deputy Caoimhin Kelleher is set to become an increasing conversation piece. Set to play the #2 role this season. The club has revealed to journalists that a decision will have to be made regarding his future next summer. Add to the mix that the young Irishman seems to pick up a lot of small injuries and Liverpool must have question marks about if they should, or even can, hold onto him in the longer term.
The Reds are solidly positioned in defense with a nice mix of young and old. Matip, Robertson, and Van Dijk all ooze experience and quality while younger talents like Alexander-Arnold and Konate are just coming into their prime. We can only hope that Joe Gomez can stay healthy and compete for a spot across the backline.
Midfield is the most interesting area to analyze! With Henderson looking more comfortable now in the central holding position he seems more confined to backing up Fabinho in the 6, coupled with a variety of utility roles that he could fulfill. With Thiago only starting 60% of all games in both of his Liverpool seasons, it seems there are holes to fill in the midfield.
There are plenty of options to consider! Carvalho, new in from Fulham, comfortably plays on the left and may well be Thiago’s heir apparent. Keita is negotiating a new contract so we expect him to stay long-term but he’s a very gifted player with large patches of extreme averageness. His situational availability will likely open the door to the extremely talented Harvey Elliott on the right side of midfield.
Read More: Adam Beattie looks at “The Midfield Puzzle
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The club would still like to add another option though. Tchouameni was pursued only to see him choose Real Madrid, and Bellingham was courted with Dortmund uninterested in entertaining a release this summer. Indeed Bellingham was believed to be keen himself to stay at the less demanding Dortmund till after the World Cup. (Dortmund played 46 games last season v Liverpool’s 63). Depending on the progress of others, Liverpool may go big for him or another midfielder next summer.
All Eyes on the Forwards
The forward line is probably the most exciting area to talk about. Sadio Mane will be missed but the pieces do seem to fit better with his replacement. Diaz seems to own first dibs on the left side and Salah on the right. That leaves the versatile Jota available to slot in across the front line! Firmino meanwhile will have to earn his way back into first-team minutes given the competition, but he’s looked sharp and fit so far this month.
Then there’s Darwin Nunez. This kid reminds me of the character of Angel in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver played by Lou Diamond Phillips. Except that unlike the scowling homey portrayed in the film, Nunez seems to be happy and positive about everything, even seen bantering with Klopp and getting a laugh out of him during a training session. He looks like a natural, ghosting into the box and getting on the end of things with some clinical finishing. If everything clicks he could give Premier League defenses a torrid time.
Where does it leave us?
All in all, the club is well positioned for the future! Consider this team that Liverpool could start a Premier League match with: (age by years and months in parentheses)
Kelleher (23.6); Trent (23.9), Gomez (25.2), Konate (23.2), Tsimikas (26.2);
Elliot (19.3), Fab (28.9); Carvalho (19.11); Jota (25.7), Diaz (25.6), Nunez (23.1)
Subs: Ramsay (19.0), Jones (21.6)
Only Fabinho and Tsimikas are over 25 meaning the side has a lot of tread on the tires. And whereas the monster performers like Salah and Van Dijk will need to be replaced in 3 years or so LFC have time on their side to find the right replacements.
The future, therefore, remains bright! And Liverpool appears just about ready to go for the new season.