Has Klopp built a stronger back-up squad to the XI he inherited?

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This summer’s been a bit of a whirlwind, hasn’t it? We’ve had the highs and lows of England’s World Cup campaign, with ironic jeers of ‘it’s coming home’ appearing more and more realistic as the Three Lions reached the semi-final. The dramatic use of VAR to keep pulses racing as modern technology enlarges its grip on football. The widespread appreciation of Jordan Henderson and his importance to the national side in Russia.

I could go on.

As far as the club are concerned, the summer has also seen the highly anticipated arrival of Naby Keita alongside the snatch and grab signing of Fabinho. We also nearly bought Nabil Fekir, although fears of poor rehabilitation to his knee scuppered the deal.

It remains to be seen whether a player of the same ilk, or even the Frenchman himself, will arrive in the weeks that remain of the transfer window, but it’s hard to see Klopp beginning the new campaign without an adequate replacement for the departed Philippe Coutinho.  Although the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino seemed ill affected by the Brazilian’s departure in January, his creative ingenuity is a necessary requirement for Liverpool to deliver a four-pronged attack for silverware.

A goalkeeper is the other priority high on Klopp’s list given Simon Mignolet’s likely departure and Loris Karius’ continued battle with confidence following two high profile errors in Kyiv. AS Roma’s Alisson, Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak and Stoke City’s Jack Butland have all been linked with a switch to Merseyside as the manager searches for some security in between the sticks in a bid to reduce his side’s goals conceded tally.

Mårty Lōughran, a member of AI Pro’s Subscriber Facebook group posed an interesting question that I thought would be worth exploring.

Have Klopp and Edwards delivered a stronger back up squad than the first team squad he inherited?

This article discusses such a proposal based on the notion that Liverpool secures a goalkeeper and attacking midfielder this summer. Firstly, delving back into the past I’ve taken a look at the starting eleven that played in Brendan Rodgers’ last game at the helm. A 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park, the XI that featured were:

Starting XI: Mignolet; Sakho,  Skrtel,  Emre Can, Moreno, Clyne; Lucas, Milner, Coutinho; Ings (41 mins), Sturridge.

Bench: Joe Gomez, Lallana, Allen, Origi, Ibe, Bogdan, Rossiter

The 2015/16 season saw Liverpool slump to 8th place as Leicester City surged to a fairytale title win, scoring 63 goals and conceding 50 to achieve a goal difference of +13. For context, five of the seven teams that finished above Rodgers’ side scored more goals while the top six conceded at least nine goals fewer. A poor season in the main, Liverpool’s squad was largely bereft of quality, particularly in the defensive areas where Moreno, Sakho and Skrtel were all considered liabilities.

Compare that to the potential backup squad Jurgen Klopp could have at his disposal for the 2018/19 season and the progress the club has made is overwhelming.

For instance, a Plan B could be:

Karius, Moreno, Matip, Gomez/Klavan, Clyne; Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Shaqiri, Sturridge.

Bench: Mignolet, Gomez/Klavan, Grujic, Wilson, Brewster, Origi, Solanke

That’s some improvement on Rodgers’ first eleven.

You’ve got Karius coming in for the maligned Mignolet, who has experienced a rollercoaster career at Anfield while Joel Matip and Gomez/Klavan present a more solidified centre-back partnership. Despite failing to impress in the way many expected him to when he first arrived on Merseyside, Matip still possesses all the physical attributes to be a raging success in the Premier League. So too Joe Gomez, who has a bright future ahead. Ragnar Klavan is then able to float in and out of the side, using his experience when called upon.

From a midfield perspective, the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho alongside Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marko Grujic gives Klopp a plethora of options for the new campaign. Given the money spent to bring Keita and Fabinho here, you’d think they’d both be mainstays in the side, thus leaving one place up for grabs in the starting eleven – a spot likely to be filled by a Nabil Fekir style player.

That leaves a whole host of options for Klopp, reflecting the monumental increase in quality and quantity from the 2015/16 campaign. After all, the trio of Henderson, Milner and Gini did brilliantly against Roma following an injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Lastly, the final three likewise reflects strong quality in the ranks. Despite a huge dependency on Mane, Salah and Firmino last season, the recent arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri will lighten the burden on the exhilarating trio, enabling Klopp to rotate his options as he looks to keep his players fit and firing on all cylinders. Adam Lallana’s rehabilitation from injury appears to be going well, with the Englishman featuring in pre-season as he looks to prove he can retain an important part in Klopp’s long-term project at Anfield.

As for the strikers, Danny Ings looks set to move elsewhere in the coming weeks in a bid to find more regular first-team football leaving Divock Origi, Dominic Solanke and Daniel Sturridge to battle it out to be Firmino’s understudy. All three players have their own unique traits, but should Sturridge be able to maintain his fitness on a carefully managed training regime, he too represents a strong option for Klopp to utilise when the fixture list gets a bit more gruelling.

Much has been said this summer about Liverpool’s need to buy quality rather than quantity and with just two further incomings to add to Fabinho, Keita and Shaqiri, the Reds will have a stronger back-up squad than the starting eleven of 2015/16. You could even argue that to be the case now; a goalkeeper and new No.10 would boost things further, but Klopp has already made huge strides at the club, propelling Liverpool back to where they belong, instilling confidence and optimism for the season ahead.

Should Liverpool add a quality goalkeeper, an attacking midfielder to replace Coutinho, and a centre-back, to immediately partner Van Dijk, to their squad without losing any of the first team squad from last season you could argue that they will challenge on all fronts next season. If that does indeed happen it might be worth heading on over to the bookies, there are even some good betting sites to bet on Liverpool winning the 2018/19 Premier League title!

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