Six games, 18 days: The period where Klopp's squad will be acutely assessed
Six games, 18 days. Forget the 100 per cent start to the new league season, this is the period where the bulk of Jurgen Klopp’s squad will be put through the wringer.
The European champions will barely have an opportunity to breathe once the team are reunited following the international break and the return to club football.
Questions were raised over the manager’s decision to not dip into the transfer market for fresh ammunition, and this will be the period whether Klopp’s unwillingness to add further depth to his squad will be proven vindicated or unwarranted.
So far, Liverpool have passed early examinations with flying colours, adding more silverware to the Anfield cabinet and remaining the only team in England with a 100 per cent record still in-tact. However, the craziness of domestic and European football is vastly approaching and the oncoming storm is of a magnitude the players haven’t seen as of yet this season.
With the Reds hoping to make it 14 straight league victories at the weekend when they host Newcastle United in Saturday’s early kick-off, Klopp will be expected to make changes with a number of his players returning late from across the globe following international duties.
One of the players who has patiently been waiting in the wings is Xherdan Shaqiri, who opted to not feature for his national team Switzerland handing the former Stoke City player the opportunity to focus on once again establishing himself in Klopp’s first team.
Shaqiri hasn’t started for the Reds since arguably Anfield’s greatest ever night when Liverpool fought back from three goals down to triumph over Barcelona with an astonishing 4-0 victory to progress to the Champions League final in Madrid and well you know the rest.
The Liverpool forward followed up a rare start by assisting the clinical third goal after Shaqiri’s left-footed cross met the head of the flying Dutchman Gini Wijnaldum to plunder home the goal that put the tie incredibly back in the balance. It was the Swiss international’s second assist in four days following his late contribution at St James’ Park finding Divock Origi in the dying seconds to take the title race to the final day back in May.
Since then, Shaqiri has had to be patient for time on the pitch and has only featured for 15 minutes this season following late cameos against Manchester City in the Community Shield and Burnley in the Red’s previous league outing.
However, Klopp could be tempted to throw Shaqiri back into the starting XI at the weekend with the German manager surely also having an eye on Tuesday’s Champions League encounter in Naples.
There could even be a change of formation with a number of Klopp’s regular starters only returning from international duties as late as Thursday afternoon and only a light Friday morning training session under their belts.
Despite the blistering start from Roberto Firmino this campaign, the irreplaceable Brazilian must be managed cautiously and has surely warranted a rest after starting in both of Brazil’s midweek clashes with Colombia and Peru respectively. Fabinho has also been away with the 2019 Copa America winners following a rare call-up to Tite’s squad but only featured for just under 30 minutes against Peru on Wednesday and will be expected to start against Steve Bruce’s Magpies at the weekend.
Firmino’s potential absence could see Klopp return to the 4-2-3-1 formation we saw in the early stages of last season where Shaqiri was deployed in a more central role to allow Mohamed Salah to operate as the Reds’ main attacking focal point.
Also, Newcastle United like to play with five at the back, so there will be less freedom for the full-backs to function in the opposing half meaning some further dynamism will be encouraged from the midfield which Shaqiri can add filling in through the middle of the three with Anfield cult-hero Origi also thrown into the mix.
Any changes made by Klopp on Saturday could all be in aid of Tuesday evening where Liverpool will be defending their European crown for the first time this season as they face the familiar opponent of Serie A’s Napoli.
Arguably, the inaugural Champions League match of the campaign will be the Reds’ toughest of the group stages and a victory would surely put Liverpool in pole position to win Group E right from the very off. Also, Klopp will want to ensure that his team’s European destiny will not be hanging in the balance until matchweek six, similar to last year, so any attempt to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible will almost certainly be prioritised.
This opens the door for another squad figure who could be fundamental to the team’s success in the coming weeks with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also looking to showcase his recovery throughout the busy schedule.
In the fixture last season in Naples, it was perhaps the Reds’ worst performance of the entire 2018/19 campaign slumping to a 1-0 defeat in Italy and for the only time all season, Liverpool failed to register a shot on target.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who featured for England for the first time in 18 months, could be the man to add some much-needed creativity in the midfield when up against the resplendent Italian side and could be the cog that unlocks the door to inspire a rare victory in Naples.
The third of five competitions the Reds are competing in is, of course, the League Cup. This is perhaps where the game-time for potential youngsters will all but be decided.
Liverpool prodigy Rhian Brewster will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit to make his competitive debut for the Reds and will feel that this fixture is the only certainty he can hope for guaranteed minutes. The same can be said for the likes of Harvey Elliott and U23’s captain Curtis Jones.
The Carabao Cup could be an indispensable competition regarding the development of some of Klopp’s youngest members. The domestic cup competitions last season really failed to question the seniority of the academy players with Liverpool being eliminated in the opening rounds of both competitions following testing draws against the likes of Chelsea and Wolves.
The prospect of a clash with newly-promoted League One side MK Dons will certainly leave many youngsters hungry that this is their time to announce themselves and force themselves in Klopp’s future plans. It also gives much-needed minutes to members of the first-team who have been cast out from the limelight in recent weeks.
With the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip currently in the form of their lives and Joe Gomez seemingly being the future of Liverpool’s centre-back conundrum, Dejan Lovren must look at this fixture on September 25 as his most likely possibility to returning to the starting XI.
The Croatian international was denied a late switch to Serie A after it emerged that Roma were keen to land the experienced central defender but Lovren was denied a move after Klopp made it clear that the 30-year-0ld was very much in the manager’s plans for the season ahead.
Lovren hasn’t featured at all for the Reds this campaign but started in both of his national team Croatia’s Euro 2020 qualifiers and even scored in the 4-0 victory away in Slovakia with a diving header to add acclaim to his already respected importance amongst the fans of his home country.
With football coming thick and fast to Klopp’s European champions, the telling tests will surely be underpinned in the coming weeks. There is no question that the Liverpool manager has constructed one of the most eye-watering squads in Europe but this is the time where every Red’s player must do their bit.
Liverpool still have to compete on five separate fronts this season – including the Club World Cup in December – and this is the time where no one can afford to be seen hiding. Klopp has rewarded the faith of the team that went from to quote James Pearce, from doubters to believers to sky-high achievers by not overhauling the squad during the summer and has trusted his players with the task at operating at the same devastating intensity of last season.
So buckle yourselves up Kopites, because the next 18 days are sure to be one heck of a ride!