Prediction time - EPL permutations for the season (2)
Continuing the EPL permutation series for the top teams, here is a summary of my thoughts on Liverpool and how I think their season will play out based on their actions in the transfer market and Klopp's tactical input.
Summary of Business
Players in: Mohamed Salah/Dominic Solanke/Andrew Robertson/Ox Chamberlin
Players sold/released: Sahko (sold) / Origi also went on a season long loan to Wolfsburg
For me, the single most interesting thing about this current Liverpool team is that it has now fully imbibed Klopp's football philosophy - aggressive high energy press from up the field with rapid transitions in central midfield and on the wings. When in full effect, this system is beautiful to watch, and on its day can blow away even very good teams, as Wenger and Arsenal will testify following the most recent 4-0 demolition at Anfield.
Despite the potency of this system against the top EPL oppositions, last season saw Liverpool struggle to break down mid to bottom table teams that set up a low block and crowded the central midfield areas with bodies. In my view, this type of set-ups worked against Liverpool because it automatically slows down the pace at which the ball moves around, and ultimately disrupts Liverpool's high energy game.
Last season, Liverpool's problems were further compounded by the fact that the central defence was just a little short of quality, especially for a team that prefers zonal marking when defending set pieces. Also, in Klopp's version of 4-3-3 last season, the central midfield always had 3 box to box players or when required, 2 box-to box and an attack minded midfielder (either Continho or Lallana).
It lacked a Kante type of 'heart beat' or 'metronome' who can give balance in transitions, which again put a little more pressure on the defence. Unlike Pep however, Klopp clearly saw these issues and identified perhaps correctly, two players needed to take his team to the next level - Naby Keita as the 'metronome' in central midfield and Virgil van Dijk (VvD) as the missing piece in the central defence.
Despite clear intentions to attack the transfer market early, the changing dynamics of the market worked against Klopp and Liverpool. On account of an alleged illegal approach for VvD, Southampton refused to negotiate with Liverpool for the transfer of VVD, while after a period of strong resistance, Leipzig only agreed to the transfer of Naby Keita on the condition that he stays an extra season.
So, despite Klopp's best intentions, these adverse events pretty much meant Liverpool could not increase options and improve the team's quality in Central defence and Central midfield.
On the flip side, Liverpool was able to hold on to arguably its second most important player after Mane, (Coutinho) from the clutches of Barcelona, who needed a replacement after Neymar moved to PSG.
Liverpool also got more versatility and pace on the wings with the acquisition of Mo Salah, who now appears a little more of a matured player when compared to the lad that left Stanford bridge a couple of years ago.
Other depth acquisitions include Solanke in the centre forward role, Robertson in the left back position and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who I think will continue his role as Mr Utility, despite his insistence on not wanting to play a similar role at Chelsea.
First, the relationship between Klopp and the owners at Liverpool seems to have a long term feel about it, which for me is impressive especially in this current football climate that is highly fickle.
The signing of Naby Keita against next season is a show of trust in my view, that somewhat hints indirectly that the ownership at Liverpool still expects Klopp to be in charge after this season.
Focussing on this season however, the truth is despite having a clear understanding of what was needed, Liverpool was still unable to bring in the players it had identified. While I expect Mo Salah to contribute to the dynamics of Liverpool's attacking play in the attacking third, I think Liverpool will remain vulnerable to conceding goals and will have to outscore most opponents to win.
Also with extra matches from Champions League commitments, it remains to be seen if the players will have the energy to sustain Klopp's high energy system for the entire season without a major dip.
Asides from Mo Salah, I don't think any of Oxlade-Chamberlain/Robertson/Solanke offers any tangible extra quality to Klopp's team, and are likely to be depth options at best. To add, the full back positions remain glaring weak spots in the team. Clyne remains a long-term injury absentee (he was excluded from the CL group stages list) leaving the right back positions to Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
If Klopp makes good his promise to play James Milner in central midfield, then there is also a similar story in the left back position where Robertson and Moreno will be the only options available. While Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Robertson and Moreno are all good young players, I am not convinced that it is these sorts of full-backs that can combine with a not-solid central defence to win the EPL.
To summarize, with its current squad, I don't think Liverpool has enough quality in its back 4 to win the EPL.
Liverpool's attacking verve will likely see them blow a number of teams away this season, but I still expect them to struggle to create against 'parked buses' and I am not convinced the team, as it currently is, will have enough energy to sustain Klopp's high energy press for the entire season.
Furthermore, the added pace of Mo Salah upfront (and the associated defensive frailties) will also likely create a little more space in between the lines in midfield and the defence, and I expect this to create some opening/opportunities for opposing teams.
Sticking my neck out once again, I think Liverpool's attacking characteristics will be just enough to retain a 4th place finish for the second successive season.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments facility beneath this article.
Next up will be Spurs.
If you missed the first in this wonderful series, click on the link attached to view - Click Here