Analysing the Liverpool Squad: Post-Summer Changes
One of the most interesting things about the coming campaign is how the defence will fare after all the summer’s changes. They’ve leaked a lot of goals in the friendlies and, while pre-season games can be more or less discounted, there are a few concerns.
The unexpected departure of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho removed a ton of defensive cover. Over the past five years, Jurgen Klopp’s midfield confounded traditional ideas of what was expected in the middle of the park. The central three didn’t score many goals but they provided balance, filled space, pressed when necessary and freed up the full backs to attack without worrying about what was going on behind them.
Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai do not appear to be suited to that sort of game. Their talents would be wasted. Both are better on the ball than their predecessors. We can expect more goals from the midfield but that might expose the back four.
The preferred defence – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson – are a reliable group but there will be a considerable dropoff in event of injuries. They also got used to relying on Fabinho and Henderson to help out.
There’ll be plenty of challenges ahead for them as the shape and tactics of the team evolve. Klopp was critical of the back line after the Bayern Munich game but these problems will not be sorted overnight. The Champions League and title winning sides defended at times as six and seven-man units. We’ll see less of that this season.
It may be a busy time for Alisson. Again. Good job the forward line’s so strong.
New Stars at Anfield: Liverpool’s Best Attack Ever
If the defence have their hands full, then the team will need more goals. The strikers are an exciting prospect. Liverpool have had better individuals up front but this is probably the best group and the most strength in depth in the club’s history.
To be able to choose between Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, Mo Salah, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota is sheer luxury for Klopp.
Nunez is the wild card in the group. We know what we are going to get from the others. When they bought the Uruguayan last summer, the club made it clear that they knew he wasn’t the finished article. He still isn’t, but he’s a lot closer to where he needs to be.
His contribution when the opposition has the ball is still lacking and, for that reason, Gakpo will probably get the shout over him on the opening day of the season against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Dutchman is a much cleverer player and will be aware about when he needs to reinforce the new-look midfield.
There’s still a disconnect between Nunez’s footballing brain, his physicality and his ability. This set up should give him more time to develop. There are plenty of cynics – including a number of former players – who think buying the 24-year-old was a mistake.
The feeling inside the club is that he’s going in the right direction. He’ll have to up his game considerably to elbow his way into the team against this sort of competition.
Van Dijk as Captain: Liverpool in Safe Hands
Do captains matter? Sometimes.
Steven Gerrard is regarded by some as the greatest captain in Liverpool history. You have to frame the argument in a certain way to make that work. He is one of the legends of the club but he led by example rather than geeing up his team-mates. Jamie Carragher showed more of the traditional characteristics of a skipper in the teams that featured both Scousers.
Graeme Souness was the classic leader. He was the sort of player who showed no fear and, if he felt anyone was not pulling their weight, he was all over them.
There was another side to Souness that people didn’t see. When colleagues were giving 100 per cent but things were still not going well, he encouraged them. He took Michael Robinson, who was insecure of his place in the side, under his wing and protected him from some of the rougher treatment you could get in the dressing room of the 1980s.
Henderson was a good captain. He took responsibility, galvanised the side and was vocal off the pitch. Virgil van Dijk is the obvious replacement. The centre back has the stature to take over the leadership group and has the respect of the squad.
The Dutchman will take a lower-key approach to the role than, say, Robertson, who does the job for Scotland. Van Dijk’s appointment makes the most sense and it’s a good idea to make TAA his deputy.
If the defence does come under pressure it will be fascinating to see how three of the main leaders in the squad will cope with it and how they impose their authority on the team. Weak leaders fingerpoint, great captains inspire. It looks like Liverpool are in good hands with Van Dijk.
Transfer Crisis: Who’s to Blame at Liverpool?
I feel sorry for Jorg Schmadtke. Brought in on a short-term contract, the German suddenly found himself having to deal with the Saudi raid on the established leagues. He’ll be one of the scapegoats if things don’t turn out well in the remaining weeks of the transfer window.
Actually, Schmadtke is a symptom of the issues behind the scenes that led to last season’s difficulties. There have been a number of problems, particularly in the recruitment and medical departments.
FSG Under Fire: The Real Reason for Liverpool’s Woes?
Invariably, the other easy target to blame is FSG. The owners have made plenty of mistakes but the reason Liverpool are in the Europa League this season is not just down to the Americans not putting up the cash to buy players. John W Henry and his partners across the Atlantic have become a useful lightning rod to deflect away from deficiencies closer to home.
Henry can provide cash to buy players but he can’t stop unhappy employees wanting to leave if their working relationships have broken down. When things are going wrong, the blame rarely lies with one or two individuals.
Let’s hope everyone learnt from last season. In Kirkby even more than in Boston.