Happy Holidays my fellow Reds! Doesn’t it feel good to be back in title contention? At the end of every year, I take the time to look back over the past year at my accomplishments and struggles with an eye to what I want to focus on in the New Year.
I feel the Reds have done some of the same. With a disappointing fifth-place finish last year, we are now playing on Thursdays for the first time since 2016. On the good side, we have a new, revamped midfield that is explosive and exciting. But to bring us back into the realm of the melancholy, our medical carousel at the back keeps spinning. It has been a long year of collecting experiences.
Looking into the New Year, here are some of the goals I think would be best to set so we could collectively knock that bad taste out of our mouths.
THURSDAYS ARE THE NEW TUESDAYS
No one is delusional enough to argue that the Europa League carries the same glitz and adoration as chasing Ol’ Wiggly Ears. However, there is a lot to gain from running a successful European campaign in the New Year. It’s a trophy for one. It also gives the club a chance to give new players on the team time to gel in European competition. Allowing those without those opportunities to cut their teeth now tempers expectations once we return to the top level. Thursdays will allow the Reds 2.0 to iron out the wrinkles.
MIDFIELD REVAMP NOT MIDFIELD OFF-RAMP
Questions have been asked about what’s our best midfield setup. Most arguments revolve around whether Endo, Gravenberch or Mac Allister should be in our holding position. Over the last few games, Endo has seemed to settle in and make that spot his own. He completed 42 of 48 passes against Arsenal and won all of his tackles. Most of all he stymied many a drive forward from the Gunners.
With that being said, Endo’s entry into the XI would allow Dominik Szoboszlai, and more importantly Alexis Mac Allister upon his return, will be able to play more freely in attack. Not having to fret as frequently about what’s happening behind may be the cure for their playing ills.
That return for Mac Allister won’t be for a while leaving Klopp having to rotate regularly. This also means we may have to dip back into the transfer market come January. Out with the old and in with the new for the New Year and whether it is Fluminese starlet Andre or a returning Stefan Bajcetic we are in for tight times in the midfield heading into 2024. In the end, if we can settle things in the middle of the park it will alleviate other areas of concern.
DEFENSIVE INJURY WOES
You can’t say that this defensive unit hasn’t sacrificed their bodies for this club. Both of our preferred left backs have exited with broken bones. Kostas Tsimikas joined Andy Robertson in street clothes after breaking his collarbone against Arsenal. Joel Matip and his marauding runs forward are gone with an ACL tear. Both Trent and Konate have spent time on the sidelines as well.
Obviously, the left-back situation is of the greatest concern heading into 2024. Joe Gomez will provide the cover for now and performed nobly against both Arsenal and Burnley. Behind him are academy products Luke Chambers (19) and Calum Scanlon (18). While Ben Doak, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, and the aforementioned Bajcetic have shown academy players can do a job, an extended run from one at the back isn’t ideal. With that being said, Jarell Quansah has been a revelation in the center as a substitute and in cup competitions. But if we truly want to be title challengers, bringing in a higher caliber defender in January is our best bet to not stumble at the penultimate hurdle of the race.
THE EGYPTIAN KING’S EMPTY COURT
Mohamed Salah has long discarded the “One Season Wonder” title. The Egyptian international staked his claim as not only one of the best players to wear Liverpool Red but also as one of the Premier League’s best wingers of all time. His goal involvement numbers alone show his talismanic importance to the club. Nevertheless, a king without a court leaves a frustrated figure in the final third.
Diogo Jota showed against Burnley how much his presence has been missed the past month and change. Luis Diaz returned from his nightmarish situation with his family in Colombia just to join Kostas at the trainer’s table after the Arsenal tie.
Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez both bring different ingredients to Mo Salah’s kitchen. Nunez’s fire has come out more in clashes with players and opposing coaches (still love him rattling Pep) but we’d all love that heat to come more from goals burning past the keeper. I don’t think out with the old, in with the new means either man should be banished to the bench or exclusively used in that role. But to Jurgen’s point at a recent press conference, we need Anfield’s full voice to return. The best way to do that is for our attack to liven, especially once our Egyptian King leaves for the African Cup of Nations in January.
Now I’m not a greedy person, so let’s round out our holiday goals at a good odd five. Maybe then it won’t feel too overwhelming for the soccer gods to support us.
I mean, where do I start? I already wrote once this year about the struggles that players, coaches, and fans have had in understanding the new handball and offsides interpretations. Yet again against Arsenal, the subjectivity of the laws reared its ugly head.
Martin Odegaard had a clear handball in defending a Mo Salah attack in the Arsenal box. The PGMOL has come out and stated that the action was deemed by the onfield ref and VAR as not an infraction but the reasoning is still murky. Add it to the obvious “glaring human error” of the Tottenham fiasco and we have a mixture of toxic frustration that doesn’t go well with holiday biscuits. Into the New Year, we go with a title very much in play. I don’t know about you, but VAR errors and inconsistency wouldn’t hurt anyone if it was left behind to fade out with the old.
I hope every Red and reader of American Scouser has an excellent Holiday season full of cheer, family, love, and friends! Liverpool put 2023 to sleep and woke up in 2024, top of the table, so I would say last year ended and this year began on the positive, up the Reds!