Champions Squad Evaluation: Forwards

What do you consider to be a forward when it comes to a Jürgen Klopp team? I would have written about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in last week’s piece about the midfield, for example, but the manager regularly asks him to play as part of the front three. The Fantasy Premier League classes Mohamed Salah as a midfielder, but I don’t think any Liverpool supporter would put him into that bracket. Roberto Firmino is our number nine, but he only scored one goal at Anfield last season and even that was on the final day of the season. Gini Wijnaldum arrived at the club as a number ten but has played pretty much every position apart from that. The point being, it’s not easy to figure out how to talk about the forwards for Liverpool, except to say that whatever system the manager has got them playing has done the job. As a team we scored eighty-five goals in our title-winning campaign, so does it matter how you classify a forward?

Regardless of how you classify the players, the reality is we all know Liverpool’s front three. If it’s not Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané in the starting line-up then it is a drop-off to whoever comes in. That, more than anything else, is what concerns me heading into the new season. Unlike some, I’m not even remotely willing to write off Takumi Minamino at this stage, given he’s barely had a chance to unpack his boxes whilst coping with learning how a new team works and what the world during a global pandemic will look like. When we played Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League, he was described as the Pokemon before it develops into Firmino, which is a take that I still think we need to remember. This is a consideration of Liverpool’s forwards for the season ahead, so I won’t be over-thinking Minamino’s place in the squad and will instead be looking at where we can look to strengthen.

There Is No Strength In Depth

The key criticism of Liverpool’s forward line is that the drop-off when any of the ‘traditional’ front three can’t start is just too great. Takumi Minamino’s ability to cover for Roberto Firmino will be most keenly demonstrated in the months ahead, but given that he’s only made ten league appearances and most of those were as a substitute, I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. The same cannot be said of Divock Origi, who I have described on social media as being a player for moments, not matches. There are vast swathes of Liverpool supporters who would happily see a stand named after Origi, largely thanks to his exploits against Everton, his goals against Barcelona in the 2018-2019 Champions League semi-final and his goal against Spurs in that season’s final of the same competition. The issue I have is that his moments often come when his all-round play has been quite poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s a bad footballer. If the likes of Aston Villa were to sign him this summer then I’d be putting him straight into my Fantasy Football team because I think he’ll get twenty plus goals if he’s played as a conventional striker. The issue is that we aren’t going to use him like that and he is too often found wanting when he plays on the left. I’m far more interested to see what Rhian Brewster can do during pre-season and I’d far rather see him kept around and Origi sold or sent on loan than the other way around. What Brewster lacks in experience he makes up for in fitting our style of play better, being much more likely to come in and do a job as part of the team than the Belgian will. Some people will always be about the numbers and on that front Origi doesn’t disappoint, but Jürgen Klopp has built his success at Anfield on the team, for which Origi is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

We Need A Reinforcement

The talk at the moment is that Rhian Brewster will be given a chance to prove himself during pre-season, with a number of teams sniffing round and looking for a loan. What happens from here will depend on what Jürgen Klopp thinks is best for the twenty-year-old’s development. Will he get the game time to mean it’s worth keeping him around? Or will a loan at an exciting Premier League club be more likely to see him grow into the sort of player that we need? Whether we like it or not, there are still question marks over him and Takumi Minamino, with Divock Origi not being up-to-scratch as far as I’m concerned. Add into that the fact that I really dislike seeing either of Xherdan Shaqiri or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing in the front three combined with the manager’s seeming reluctance to mix up the formation and you can see why bringing some else in is really important this summer.

Could that come in the form of Ismaïla Sarr? He’s a player that we’re being strongly linked with this summer and would definitely tick a few boxes. We know that he’s friendly with Sadio Mané and that the Reds love buying players from relegated clubs, so it wouldn’t be the most surprising move there’s ever been. Regardless, for me it’s important that we bring in someone that can offer us cover in the final third and I obviously trust Michael Edwards and company to figure out the best balance of budget and desirable skills on that front. It’s not that I think our current front three isn’t good enough and that’s why I want cover, but rather that the games are going to come thick and fast once the season gets underway and the ability to give one of them a break to take the pressure off could be all the difference as we look to defend our title. Salah, Mané, Firmino, Minamino and Sarr as the main lads with Brewster in reserve would do me very nicely.

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