If there is one thing Jurgen Klopp has done this summer, it has been improving our strength in depth.
Whereas last season we were regularly relying on the likes of Skrtel, Toure, Allen, Ibe and Benteke when things weren’t going well, this season will be a different story. This season, it will be the new signings or even those who were nailed on starters last year who will be coming off the bench.
The general concencus seems to be that last year Jurgen Klopp took that squad as far as it could go. I’d agree with this. We ended up in Europe and in the league without the squad to deal with it. We’d be able to field a strong team in one of the two games we had in a week and we chose to do that in Europe. The likes of Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were all nailed on starters when fit. This time out isn’t that simple.
In goal, Simon Mignolet will start against Arsenal due to the injury to Loris Karius. This year, as it is for a number of players, is massive for Mignolet. With him being the most error prone keeper in the division since the 2013/14 season, another year of inconsistency and howlers will see him leave Anfield you would expect. Unlike last year in which Mignolet had no real threat, Loris Karius is desperate to become our Number 1 keeper and I fancy he will do that.
At the back, the signings of Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan have given us real competition for places at the back where last year there was not. A prime example of this would be that horror show 3-2 defeat to Southampton last year. Many of us in the away end grimaced when Skrtel came on for Lovren at HT and were proven right. Skrtel was even worse.
Lovren suffered a shaky first half and was on a yellow card. Due to the unbalanced nature of the squad Klopp took over, his only option was Skrtel who let the side down. This time out we have 4 genuinely decent centre backs, 2 right sided and 2 left sided. For the Arsenal game I’d expect to see Lovren and Klavan given Matip’s injuries and Sakho’s pre-season behaviour.
Personally, I believe a central defence of Matip and Sakho going forward would be the way to go. On the right side of the back 4, Nathanial Clyne’s place is unthreatened realistically. The main threat to that side is Joe Gomez however Clyne was superb last year and showed that he can handle the expectation that comes with being Liverpool’s first choice right back.
We have an obvious problem on the other side with Alberto Moreno. Fantastic going forward, it’s obvious to see why Klopp wants to keep him around. However, countless defence brain lapses means it really is do or die with Moreno this year as far as the LFC fans are concerned. His main competitor is Milner, who I would play before him initially in 2016/17 to see how he does there. He seemed comfortable in the role last term, most noticeably against Man Utd in the Europa return leg.
Presuming Klopp goes with the 4-2-3-1 formation he likes, there is also major competition for those two central midfield roles. Marko Grujic and Gini Wijnaldum have also ensured that Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and James Milner are not certs to start for the Reds next year. Lucas Leiva also offers competition for these spots however it has been speculated that the Brazilian is on his way out of Anfield.
Grujic and Wijnaldum offer a significant upgrade to Allen and Lucas you’d imagine, with Grujic almost equalling Allen’s goal tally for LFC in pre-season alone and Wijnaldum offering a physical presence and versatility Lucas cannot. Initially, I’d be tempted to stick with Can and Henderson.
Jordan Henderson has received plenty of stick from Reds fans in the past year or so after an uninspiring first year as captain. However, after seemingly being over his heel injury that clearly hampered him last campaign (even when he played), hopefully the skipper can get back to his best this campaign. Emre Can got better and better last year and hopefully carries this on this time out. It is positive for Reds fans knowing that if either aren’t cutting it for us this year, we have two good prospects to come in for them.
A lot was made when we signed Sadio Mane this summer. Social media was rife with comments along the lines of ‘do Liverpool really need another number 10?’. The answer, simply put, is yes. In the 4-2-3-1 formation you have 3 attacking midfielders or 3 ‘number 10s’. In Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana we had 3 number 10s in total last year.
If one of those three under performed, there was no other number 10 of the same quality who could come in. Sadio Mane offers that alternative. If one of Firmino, Coutinho or Lallana aren’t cutting it this year, there is a real threat of being dropped with Mane around.
This threat simply wasn’t there last year with Ibe or Milner being the only alternatives. For the Arsenal game I can see Klopp going with the three attacking midfielders from last year with Mane up top, personally, I would like to see Firmino, Coutinho and Mane behind a striker (especially at home).
Up top the Reds haven’t really spent big on a striker as many would have liked. However, the newly-fit Danny Ings and the way in which Klopp has developed Divock Origi now means we have 3 very good options for the lone striker role where at times last year it seemed to only be Benteke, Firmino or a permantely injured Daniel Sturridge. Saido Mane also offers competition for this role, with his pace and mobility potentially tempting Klopp to start him there against Arsenal in the opener.
Personally, I’d love to see Origi carry on developing as he did towards the back end of last year. At the start of last year I’d of had Christian Benteke and Moreno as certainties for my best XI for the season, so it will be good to see how this one turns out!
My Best XI (when all fit):
Karius, Clyne, Matip, Sakho, Milner, Can, Henderson, Firmino, Coutinho, Mane, Origi
Written by Jack Mitchell (@)