What Is Liverpool’s Strongest Team?

The season is now just a few days away. Marco Bielsa’s Leeds United is the club that many Liverpool supporters would have rather not seen gain promotion, but instead we’ll be kicking off the new campaign against them on Saturday evening. It’s going to be an odd season. Getting underway a month later than usual but finishing at around the same time, the fixtures will be compressed in such a manner that teams will be playing a game every three days or so. On top of that, there won’t be any supporters in the grounds for at least the first month. Personally I’m struggling to believe that fans will be back in stadiums until next year, unless the Premier League decides to invest in mass testing of people. The cost to do so will be significantly less than clubs will gain from ticket sales, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it mooted in the coming weeks. Even if it happens, it’s not like that will be less weird than what we’re currently faced with.

in line with the campaign to come, the pre-season has been compressed too. When the Reds went 2-0 down to Blackpool over the weekend, more than a few people were panicking about us not being ready. Any panic seemed to ignore the fact that we had an awful pre-season last summer before winning the title at a canter. Such friendly matches are a chance for the manager to take a look at a host of different things, on top of getting the players fit and firing. We know how this team plays at its best, so seeing that against a League One team doesn’t help the manager as much as figuring out what went wrong in the first forty-five minutes. He’s certainly got plenty to think about, not least of which is what his strongest team will be for the opening encounter. How much will he be thinking about what Bielsa’s Leeds can do? What use is thinking about how they played in the Championship when it comes to the top-flight?

Defence & Attack Picks Itself

There are two areas of his team that Jürgen Klopp won’t need to think too long or hard about. Whilst it was good to see Joël Matip back and getting some minutes under his belt against the Seasiders, he’s always going to be most people’s second-choice when it comes to a central defensive partner for Virgil van Dijk. The manager might wonder whether giving him more minutes against Leeds will be beneficial in the long-run, but I’m not convinced he starts. Joe Gomez is, for me, the best partner for the Dutchman and Matip is an excellent third-choice to have on the books. Whilst there’s question marks over the fitness of Trent Alexander-Arnold, there’s no doubt that he’s the best right-back not only in the squad but arguably in the world. Equally the signing of Kostas Tsimikas adds some solid competition to Andy Robertson, but the Scot will know that he’s the current incumbent of the left-back slot and will take some shifting to lose the manager’s faith.

It’s a good thing that the front three works as one the best attacking units in world football and virtually picks itself. If that weren’t the case then there would be slim pickings in terms of alternatives from the rest of the squad. I’ve long suggested that Liverpool should have sold Divock Origi after his exploits in the 2018-2019 Champions League campaign. Whilst the Belgian striker has scored some massive and iconic goals for the club, his general ability is lacking and he always feels like a square peg in a round hole. Even during the Blackpool friendly he got his goal but looked out of place alongside faster, more intelligent forwards. After that, Harvey Elliott & Rhian Brewster are great prospects but still young and untested in the top-flight. It will be a front line of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, not only against Leeds but in as many matches as possible once the campaign is in full swing. There are no real options to do otherwise.

Midfield Isn’t So Straightforward

If things are relatively easy for Jürgen Klopp when it comes to either end of the pitch, the opposite is true in the middle of it. Presuming there are no injuries, the manager will have the ability to pick from a decent number of players. Injuries, though, are a constant blight when it comes to Liverpool’s midfield. The captain will be one of the manager’s first picks, but we don’t know whether he’ll be back in time for Leeds and his increasing age means that he’s unlikely to have fewer fitness problems moving forward. Fabinho is a curate’s egg of a player, world-class when he’s at his best but well off the pace when he’s not, with seemingly no in-between. Gini Wijnaldum is an excellent player not just in terms of his ability but because he’s virtually always available. Rumours of his departure to Barcelona will be a massive shame, even if it is the catalyst for us to bring in Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich.

James Milner is the definition of a utility player, but he is also getting older and is not one that I’d want to be turning to for fast-paced games against the likes of Manchester City. I’m desperately hoping that Naby Keita can stay fit this season because he’s an incredible player when he makes it onto the pitch. So far during his time in Merseyside he hasn’t exactly shown himself to be Mr. Reliable, however, so I won’t be depending on it. Then there’s Takumi Minamino, who I’m classing as a midfielder because I think he’s best operating behind the front three. He seems to have settled now, which is great news given his obvious ability. How the manager uses him moving forward will be interesting to see. The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri will also want to be part of the conversation, but that fitness issue once again rears it’s ugly head. There’s a long season in store, so fitness of the midfield men might well be key to any success.

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