Is Liverpool’s ‘Strong’ Squad Already Being Tested

During the international break, it is always tricky trying to decide what to write about. When there is no football worth discussing taking place, you can find yourself wondering what on earth it is that you might want to say. As a result, I briefly considered writing about referees. I have noticed lately the discourse around them when it comes to the decisions that are being made is immediately couched by people with the suggestion that of course there’s nothing dodgy going on with them. Given the fact that we know that the ‘Calciopoli‘ scandal in Italy involved the refereeing body giving favourable officials to certain teams and that Barcelona are currently denying that they benefitted from systemic corruption, why is it that so many people refuse to acknowledge that England could fall foul of the same thing? It is, of course, far more likely to be incompetence than corruption, but I do think a sensible conversation should be had.

I think there is an extent to which some people think that referees being ‘corrupt’ involves the entire organisation of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, as opposed to just a few people. Even if there is no corruption, and I’m certainly not suggesting that there is, talking about it should be seen as so entirely off-limits. We should be having a grown-up conversation about whether it is appropriate to allow referees to fly to the likes of the United Arab Emirates, a country that de facto owns 115 Charges FC, and be paid by them for some work during the week between Premier League fixtures. Even if it is entirely above board, which I’m sure it is, might they not then be a little bit more inclined to referee favourably towards the people that paid their salary for a time? Similarly, referees from Greater Manchester will have been brought up to hate Scousers and vice-versa, so should they be refereeing matches involving clubs from rival cities? The PGMOL might not be corrupt, but it should do more to help itself.

A Couple of Defensive Injuries Piles On The Pressure

Rather than write about referees, I thought I would instead take a look at the state of the Liverpool squad. At the start of the season, I was feeling quietly confident that we actually looked to be in a decent position for once. Yes, we would all have loved to have seen another defender arrive at the club, but the emergence of Jarell Quansah during the early stages of the season suggests that we might be ok there. If we’re able to use Joël Matip and Joe Gomez sparingly, there is no reason why we can’t get a good number of games out of them between now and the end of the season. Of course, an injury to Virgil van Dijk at the same time as Ibrahima Konaté is out and we might start to question the wisdom of that. Yes, any team would struggle if their first choice defenders got injured, but we have actively chosen to head into the campaign with backup defenders that we know have had injury problems in the past and can’t play more than a game a week.

Then there’s the fullback situation. When Trent Alexander-Arnold was injured before the last international break, we all hoped it was something of a ploy to ensure he didn’t have to take part in some pointless internationals. Instead, it turned out he really was injured and we had to play Gomez and others in the right-back slot. He is back now, but another long-term injury to him and our main creative outlet will be missing from the squad with no obvious way to replace him and square pegs being put into round holes instead. That is also what we’re likely to see in the coming weeks thanks to Andy Robertson’s injury picked up playing for Scotland. Whilst I like Kostas Tsimikas more than a lot of Liverpool fans, it is clear that he is only a stop-gap to be used when Robbo needs a rest. If we’re going to have to play him for several weeks then we might soon see the deficiencies over there. He’s recently been given a new contract, so it’s clear the manager likes him, but is he strong enough to cover for a long-term absence?

Attack Looked Light Against Brighton

When the season got underway, Liverpool’s attack looked to be one of the strongest in the Premier League. Being able to choose from Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz is a great problem for the manager to have, to say nothing of Ben Doak waiting in the wings. When Gakpo was injured scoring the equaliser against Tottenham, it was still ok because of the riches we have in attack. That Jota also ended up having to miss the Brighton game on account of the nonsense sending off that he endured was far from ideal and meant that we were suddenly looking light in attack. Jota’s absence was only a short-term one, of course, and hopefully Gakpo’s injured isn’t too bad, but it was a brief insight into how quickly things can start to unravel. We had no real options off the bench to change things once the front three had started to tire, so we were left wondering whether midfield changes might be our best option.

Again, any club will look lighter if two of their first choice players in a position are absent, but it is just a glimpse into how quickly what appears to be a strong squad can suddenly start to look a little on the weak side if you get hit with injuries and suspensions at the same time. Given the manner in which referees seem determine to send off our players any chance they get, we can’t rule out the possibility of that happening again this season. Even using the midfield to mix up how we play isn’t a nailed-on possibility when you consider how much less control we seemed to have against Brighton in the absence of Curtis Jones. Obviously all of this could just be my in-built paranoia around how this season is likely to pan out. Having seen Man City lose two games back-to-back, it isn’t out of the realms of the possible that this is another 2019-2020 for them and I’ll be gutted if it is Arsenal or Tottenham that manage to take advantage rather than us, so I want all options available at all time.

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