No longer reliant on one player
As times have gone by over the years, Liverpool have always been able to call upon a real match winner within the ranks. Fowler, Owen, Gerrard and in recent years, the foreign contingent in Torres and Suarez teetered on the verge of ‘legend’ status before prematurely leaving the club a season or two early to cement that ‘legend’ tag in my opinion.
Last year, when Klopp and Liverpool Football Club splashed £34m on Sadio Mané, many eyebrows were raised at the huge lump sum that was offered to Southampton, the team who have jokingly become known as our feeder club. 25 goal contributions (16 goals, 9 assists) in just 34 games has gone a long way towards paying much of that fee back already. His electric pace and direct runs, both at defenders and in behind, have made him one of the most feared attackers in the Premier League.
Mané does indeed come into the category of ‘match winner’ but he’s not alone, not this time around. Since Klopp’s appointment back in November 2015, he inherited a squad which already included our samba boys Coutinho and Firmino, the latter, he had known from his time in Germany and already predicted a bright future at Anfield for our ‘false nine’. Outside of Liverpool, you often hear rival fans dismiss the impact of Roberto Firmino; “he’s not a striker”, “he’s not prolific enough” are common shouts. You have to remember Firmino doesn’t play as an out and out striker in comparison to the likes of Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku etc. He’s played many games from either flank or a second striker, dropping deep to link play between midfield and attack. Yet our new number 9 has completed 43 goal contributions in just 69 league games (23 goals and 20 assists). His role in the Liverpool team is highly valued, no less than the boss himself. On the back of the second-leg demolition of Hoffenheim in the Champions League Play-off Klopp asked;
“Who was in doubt about Roberto [before Wednesday]? Sorry, anyone who was, lost my respect one-and-a-half years ago already. He is an unbelievable player”.
Joining the dynamic duo in that front three is newcomer Mohamed Salah. Klopp identified the issue which arose at the backend of last season. Sadio Mané missed the end of season run-in, leaving the side in dire lack of pace. Salah possesses that attribute in abundance and Reds fans have seen this to devastating effect most recently in the 4-0 win vs Arsenal, dispossessing Héctor Bellerín inside his own half before sprinting the rest of the field and cooly slotting past Petr Čech. Salah increases the balance within the side and addresses the need for speed in the potential absence of Sadio Mané.
Klopp unafraid of making the big decisions
Klopp’s personality is one that precedes the man himself. Animated on the touchline, charismatic in front of camera and partial to an on-field Klopp hug, it is fair to say Anfield is home to one of the games most colourful characters. A big persona, equally matched by an unwavering manner in which he approaches circumstances of importance; enter Mamadou Sakho. Arguably The Reds most talented central defender in the run up to the Europa League Final in 2015/2016. Even after the incorrect decision made to charge the defender with a failed drug test, the Frenchman was key to Jurgen Klopp’s plans. The former PSG captain had endeared himself to Kopites with determined and committed performances, but saw his stature within the first XI quickly diminish after a series of fallouts were reported in the following pre-season. Sakho was banished to the U’23 team and never came close to making a return under the German before sealing a return to Crystal Palace after a successful loan spell last season.
The goalkeeper situation has also been one of change during Jurgen Klopp’s reign. Loris Karius was brought in with the intention of becoming Liverpool’s number one. His early games lacked assertiveness and were peppered by mistakes and rookie errors that had dogged Simon Mignolet’s time at Anfield and thus the reason behind acquiring a new goalkeeper. Karius was relinquished of his first team duties not long after he was given the chance and the short time out of the limelight appeared to reinvigorate Mignolet, as the Belgium stopper regained his place between the sticks. The goalkeeper situation has appeared to fade into the background as the left back and central areas of defence continue to be the topic of discussion and show no signs of slowing down with the failure to add Virgil Van Dijk to the ranks. More recently, Karius came in to replace Mignolet in the thumping win over Arsenal, leading fans to believe the young German would again be given a prolonged chance to establish himself as the main man in goal. This was quickly rubbished by Jurgen Klopp, insisting the Belgian is indeed the number one and was just rested. A goalkeeper, rested, just four games into the season. A strange decision yet one Klopp deemed as necessary.
It was announced yesterday that want-away Phillipe Coutinho would not be part of the squad that travelled to the Etihad stadium. A decision that may have shocked some, who probably expected the Brazilian to at least take a place on the bench. Klopp explained the lack of match fitness was the driving factor, perhaps it was, perhaps it was necessary to show that a player can’t expect to walk straight back into a team after miraculously recovering from a back injury and mystery illness that kept him out of the Reds opening fixtures. Our little number 10 will of course come back into the lineup, he’s simply too good. All will be forgiven eventually, a process that may happen quickly if O Mágico plays a part in taking the three points in Europe on Wednesday.
Rotation will be key
For the first time since the 2014/2015 season, Liverpool will compete on all fronts as Champions League football has returned to Anfield. As aforementioned, we’ve already seen our goalkeeper rested as well as changes made on both sides at full back. TAA has traded places with the returning Joe Gomez as well as new signing Andrew Robertson providing the resurgent Alberto Moreno on the left flank. Competition for places is much healthier now. Oxlade Chamberlain made the move from rivals Arsenal on deadline day to provide further cover in at least four positions. Highlighted by Klopp;
“He can play in both number 8 roles and in both wide roles, a wonderful player”.
Looking at the midfield alone, even with Lallana injured our midfield options include; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Grujic, Coutinho as well as the impending arrival of Naby Keita. The bench will now hold both quality defensive and offensive midfield options that can be called upon depending on the game situation. A much improved scenario opposed to having to rely on youngsters with little to none first team experience.
If The Reds are to remain competitive this season, the squad will need to be used in it’s entirety. The luxury of selecting fresh players with just one game per week is now a myth with a raft of midweek games coming thick and fast. Added to this, the style in which Liverpool play, fast, high intensity, pressing and counter-pressing football will be sure to sap the energy of this team and the likes of Sturridge, Solanke and Milner will all be looking to stake their claim for a place in the first XI when the chance arises.
Curse of the early kick-off
Four league games played, two wins, one draw and one heavy, albeit controversial defeat. A mixed bag, much like Klopp’s record in the early kick-off games. During his tenure, Klopp has overseen 20 of these fixtures (up until 1:30pm). The record so far; played 20, won 7, drawn 5 and lost 8. Of course there are many factors we could over analyse; injuries, suspensions, travel after the international break etc. Yesterday’s encounter saw Liverpool take on Manchester City in their second early fixture of the season. The second time leaving the game without a victory. The fact is The Reds were more than a match for Manchester City in the opening twenty minutes, Salah the man guilty of spurning opportunities in front goal after terrorising Nicolás Otamendi. Without my Liverpool tinted glasses on, I feel the referee missed a blatant foul on Gini Wijnaldum prior to De Bruyne unleashing Sergio Aguero on goal. What happened next will long be open to debate. The high foot of Sadio Mané connected with the Manchester City goalkeeper as he rushed out of his area to head the ball away. The Liverpool man had every right to challenge for the ball as a certain goal was there to be scored if he had beaten his opponent to the ball. The referee decided it was dangerous play. My argument is that every high foot is not a red card and must be treated as situational. A player going in recklessly when there is minimal chance of winning the ball high in the air, sure it has to be a red card. It wasn’t that long ago I witnessed a spectacular overhead kick scored by Norwich’s Cameron Jerome chalked off for ‘dangerous play’. Another terrible decision. The ball was there to be won, the challenge was not one of malice, Sadio’s eyes were fixed firmly on the ball and the reward for getting to the ball first was a goal. The referee has to take the full situation into consideration. I believe Jonathan Moss failed to so but instead reacted to the injury sustained to Ederson, the numerous calls for a red card by the circling Man City players and of course the baying home crowd. What happened next was ultimately a gamble that didn’t pay off for Jurgen Klopp. The team were 2-0 down at half time against a squad that was worth about a billion pound (yes I’m exaggerating, work with me). I can’t hold a grudge against a manager that decided to go for it. A loss is a loss, we take it and move on.
A meltdown after a match that was largely affected by the man in the middle would be nonsensical. Even Pep Guardiola acknowledged the teams were evenly matched prior to the sending off. Liverpool Football club and its supporters have much to be excited about this coming season. What better way to quickly get over the thumping defeat than by winning our first Champions League game of the season vs Sevilla on Wednesday?