Earlier in the week I wrote a piece that had a look at Liverpool’s goalkeepers and defence now that the transfer window has closed and we’re no longer able to add to it. I originally intended to cover the whole squad in the same post, but I had so much to say about the goalkeepers and the fact that most fans seem to be unaware of just how much they’re a part of the defence that I ran out of time. Instead I decided to say what I had to say and then cover the midfield and attack in a separate post, which you’re now reading. If you want a more conclusive sense of how I feel about the squad as a whole, therefore, it’s worth having a look at that first piece that I wrote.
I’m writing this introduction before I’ve actually written the full piece itself, so it’s entirely possible that I might be wrong in the prediction I’m about to make. Yet I can’t help feel that if looking at the defence and goalkeeping situation is a time when I’m likely to be full of doom and gloom then a chat about the rest of the team will surely fill me with happiness. After all, we’re just three games into the league campaign and Liverpool have already registered 55 shots on goal, 28 of which have been on target. Our front three has started two league games together and all three of them have scored both times, so if there are any concerns about Liverpool heading into the season then surely they are not regarding how we’re likely to line-up in the middle of the park and at the top, are they?
There’s one big question mark over Liverpool’s midfield as we head into the season proper: Philippe Coutinho. How will the Brazilian be reintegrated into the squad following his attempt to force his way out of Anfield during the summer? Yes, it’s totally fair to point out that Barcelona is a big draw for South American players and no one can blame the Little Magician for having his head turned. Yet Jürgen Klopp is a man for whom trust is the most important thing. Is he really expected to just forgive and forget everything that has gone on over the past couple of months? He completely bombed out Mamadou Sakho for less, of course.
The reality of football is that it is full of hypocrisy and the manager would likely have found a way to forgive Sakho had the Frenchman actually been worth the fuss. Coutinho very much is worth the fuss, with the idea of him pulling the strings from the middle of the park and playing through balls to our front-three enough to bring on palpitations. There’s no question that he’s an exceptional talent and it’s also worth mentioning that Brendan Rodgers forgave Luis Suarez for far less. The Uruguayan, lest we forget, bit Branislav Ivanovic before essentially downing tools and then doing a newspaper interview declaring that he wanted to move to Arsenal. Coutinho’s been naughty, but he didn’t go that far. Klopp isn ’t Rodgers, however, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Moving on from our want-away star and the rest of the midfield can be, broadly speaking, split into two categories: the workhorses and the flair. Into the former pile go Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and the newly reformatted James Milner. Having spent last season operating purely as a left-back, it now appears that the manager has decided that he’s a midfielder again and Alberto Moreno has improved enough to be brought in from the cold. I’m ok with that, broadly speaking, though I’d like James Milner to be called upon as little as possible when we’re playing teams that need speed and precision to be broken down. When West Bromwich Albion show up at Anfield, for example, the last thing I want to see is Milner looking as though he’s running through treacle.
Jordan Henderson is such a curious player. That’s not because he isn’t very good – quite the opposite in fact – but because he seems to divide opinion so completely. Those that don’t rate Henderson appear to be taking their opinion from how he played when he first arrived at the club as a fresh-faced twenty-year-old and was played on the wing by Kenny Dalglish, despite the fact that he’s very much a midfielder. There is a man behind me on the Kop who might well keel over before the season is done, such is the anger that he directs at the club captain every time he touches the ball. Despite what his haters might think, he’s an excellent player who I rate incredibly highly.
Perhaps some of the split in opinion comes from the fact that supporters seem to prefer either the former Sunderland man or Emre Can. The German was quite poor at the start of last season, though most fans were happy to forgive that once it was revealed that he had been nursing a knock. Certainly his form towards the end of the season proved what a talent he is, with news that his contract negotiations have stalled because of a desire to have a release clause in his contract causing concern amongst most of the fanbase. The more time he’s getting on the pitch the more it’s becoming apparent that Can is a Rolls Royce of a player, giving us a slightly different option to both Henderson and Wijnaldum. The Dutchman is more than a luxury player, but he does need to develop the ability to influence games even when he’s not playing well.
The Flair Players
Someone who perhaps bridges the gap between the workhorses and the flair players is Adam Lallana. Liverpool’s excellent start to the season, which has been made manifest in the shape of its midfield, has fortunately over-shadowed the loss of Lallana to injury before a ball was even kicked. He is often credited with ‘starting the press’, but he’s also a player who can chuck in a Cruyff-turn and score a worldie with the best of them. He, perhaps more than any other player, personifies what Jürgen Klopp wants his team to do, closing down the opposition with aplomb one minute and then turning on the style the next. One of the biggest questions for the manager is who, exactly, Lallana will replace in the first XI when he returns from his injury.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t being seen by many as a first-choice starter for Liverpool but he’s certainly a welcome addition. He can compete with everyone for a place in the middle and I’m keen to see how hoe develops under Klopp as the months go by. Marko Grujic and Ovie Ejaria are two players who might fancy their chances of getting a game when the League Cup comes around, with Ben Woodburn doing his best whilst on international duty to remind everyone that he might be young but he’s got bags full of talent. One thing you can say about Klopp is that he’s not afraid to turn to youth from time to time, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see all three of those players compete with Oxlade-Chamberlain for a place on the bench once the games start coming thick and fast.
The other week I heard a bloke on Radio Merseyside complaining that we weren’t in the market for a twenty-goal-a-season striker. This complaint would have been ridiculous at the best of times, but I heard the call when I was on my way home from Anfield after watching the Reds smash four past Arsenal. Much like when talking about the abilities of Jordan Henderson, some supporters are stuck firmly in the past. This Liverpool team has evolved from the days of Rush, Aldridge and Fernando Torres. It’s not about having one out-and-out striker any more but rather sharing the goals around the attacking players. That’s how you cause defences nightmares.
I have, reluctantly, got on board with the idea that Harry Kane is actually a very good striker, yet I’m not sure where he’d fit into this Liverpool team. Would Sadio Mané, arguably our best player right now, be happy working with someone who can finish but is quite static in comparison to Roberto Firmino? I don’t think so. Firmino is another player that some supporters don’t appreciate, perhaps because he isn’t as clinical as the likes of the Tottenham man. Jürgen Klopp wants his players to do so much more than just score, however, so I’d take the Brazilian over the England forward any day of the week. He is a sensational player both on and off the ball, never letting up and giving defenders an absolutely torrid time.
At the close of the transfer window I wrote a piece explaining why I thought the signing of Salah was our most important business and I absolutely stand by that exclamation. The Egyptian gives us yet another option in the final third and allows us to rest Mané from time to time without feeling the need to panic. José Mourinho has a habit of getting one of his players to go into our best player hard early in a game when he knows the referee won’t do anything about it, but who’s he going to get them to injure this time? Mané? Coutinho? Firmino? Salah? All of them stake a claim as being our best player when they’re in top form.
All of which fails to even mention the actual strikers that we’ve got on the pitch. Daniel Sturridge might not have the same burst of pace as he did when he first arrived at Liverpool back in January of 2013, but just because he isn’t super speedy any more doesn’t mean that he’s useless. He has only recently turned 28, so any suggestion that the striker is long in the tooth is extremely misguided. He’s a wonderfully intelligent player who can combine being decent on the ball with a killer finish. You can’t tell me that a defender will be relieved to see Mané leave the pitch and be replaced by the former Chelsea man. There’s barely a centre-back in the league who’ll relish going up against Dan the man.
Then there’s Dominc Solanke. What an acquisition he looks. Proof, were it needed, that Liverpool’s scouting department are giving Jürgen Klopp options of players to bring in, Solanke ousted Divock Origi from the side easily enough. The Belgian might go on to be a top-class striker in the mould of his countryman Romelu Lukaku, but he doesn’t do enough of what Klopp needs from a forward player to keep his place in the side. Solanke, meanwhile, is quick, powerful and knows that his manager wants. He’ll get far more game time than some people suspected when we signed him and he’ll take his chances when he’s presented with them. Klopp might favour 4-3-3, yet the two former Chelsea players will allow us to go to a more traditional two-up-top when the occasion calls for it.
Whether you think Liverpool had an amazing summer or a mediocre one, the reality is that the manager has options in his squad for the first time since he arrived back in 2015. He’ll be able to rotate players out and know that the ones he’s bringing in to replace them aren’t kids or bit part players but rather lads who are determined to to prove their worth and stake a claim for a place in the first-eleven.
At the time of writing the Reds are in four competitions and I genuinely think that we’ve got the talent and depth to have a bloody good go at all of them. I’ll be amazed if we don’t finish the season with at least one piece of silverware. Yes, the defence could have done with strengthening, but I’m honestly not sure which player we could have brought in that Klopp would have felt was better than Klavan or Gomez. Will we live to regret it? Possibly, but one thing’s for sure right now – no team in the league will fancy going up against our strikeforce.