JÜRGEN Klopp’s first full season in charge is just 10 days away but it isn’t just the handful of new signings who will be out to prove a point.
This summer’s transfer business has raised as many questions as it has supplied answers, and there are seven players who could be about to embark on seasons that will define their Liverpool careers.
I’m firmly of the belief that Klopp is building a side in stages – this summer he has been working towards accumulating a solid core of players in which he places complete trust, a squad of around 20 of which he can combine any 11 players and be happy with what he’s put onto the pitch.
Then, further along the line, the club gets into the Champions League and we’re able to bring in a couple of seriously top-level game-changing players. I could be wrong, but that’s how I see it. As Andy Heaton mentioned on the Citytalk show, you can say that he wants to buy intelligently as much as you want but if he had the opportunity and the money to buy Lionel Messi he’d do it. Next summer we may see, Champions League qualification permitting, a slight change in policy.
Firstly, it’s big for Simon Mignolet. It would be fair to say that the average Red on the street would have seen the goalkeeping jersey as Liverpool’s number one priority this summer, and the speed of the signing of Loris Karius would suggest that Klopp agreed – as before the 2016 Champions League winners had been identified, the Reds had a potential new owner of the number one jersey.
You would suspect that had both goalkeepers been available on Sunday week that it would have been Karius donning the gloves, but after the broken hand obtained against Chelsea last week Mignolet will get the gig, as despite the signing of Alex Manninger looking quite sensible now, I’m fairly certain he’ll be on the bench.
Incidentally, there is an amazing irony in Mignolet being given a chance because his rival for the jersey punched a teammate in the head trying to clear a cross. Had the roles been reversed on this particular occasion, Big Si the Mig (Copyright Ben Johno) stayed on his line and Dejan Lovren put it behind for a corner. You’ve got to laugh.
Circumstance has hugely helped Mignolet here, although once Karius is back fit we could be a Mignolet mistake away from him losing his place. Feels win-win really once October comes around. Either, he doesn’t make a mistake and we’re all happy, or he does then Karius replaces him and we’re all happy. But once he loses his place, it’ll be very difficult for him to win it back.
Combine this with a season of Championship football for Danny Ward, before he hopefully comes back a much better goalkeeper, this could be the dying embers of Mignolet’s Liverpool career. But the fact that he is still here, and will get presumably until the second international break to make an impression, means there is a chance for him. The required improvement could be a bridge too far, however.
Working forward the next question mark is Alberto Moreno. It appears that as much as he infuriates the masses, Klopp sees something in him. The most obvious suggestion that that is the case would be the pursuit of Ben Chilwell, a youngster who wouldn’t surely have been signed to go straight in and play 40 games. The most he wanted in that position is competition.
It can’t be emphasised enough that Moreno is still young. Yes, he has been hugely suspect at times but his pace is an asset, and whatever you think of him I’m fully of the opinion that if we replaced him with Filipe Luis – my vote as best left back in the world – then the improvement of Liverpool as a team would be negligible. Not because they’re on the same level ability wise, but because, in my opinion, the impact a full back has in the grand scheme of things is just not that high. A good goalkeeper is worth 10 points a season we’re told, what’s a full back worth?
In terms of his age, he has just turned 24. Compare him to other current left backs at 24, left backs we could have theoretically signed. Danny Rose was nowhere near a worse Spurs side, Nacho Monreal was at Osasuna, and Ryan Bertrand was a squad player at Chelsea and about to go out on loan for the sixth time. Footballers can improve, these three players are by no means a guarantee that Moreno will improve, they’re merely evidence that it’s possible. If he does then great, if he doesn’t then Klopp will be going one step further than signing Ben Chilwell in a year’s time, he’ll be aiming higher. Moreno is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon.
Inside of the left back last season, you would ordinarily have found Mamadou Sakho. Sakho plays football on the edge, in a style that has you wanting to spend half of your time applauding the audacity of his passes, the other half of your time wishing he’d have done it more simply. When it works, it looks fantastic, when it doesn’t the other team are gifted a three-on-two attack, as seemed to be the case about eight times in the first half of the Spurs game at Anfield last season.
Sakho comes into the season injured and having been sent home from the USA, for reasons that don’t appear to threaten his future at the club. Saying that though, what happens if Ragnar Klavan is brilliant? What happens if Lovren and Joel Matip strike up a bond? Under Lovren and Sakho our defence was generally pretty good last season, but if Sakho is fit he could find himself as fourth choice. In a season with so little need for rotation he could find it hard to get a game.
He’ll be 27 next summer, if he isn’t a regular he may want to leave the “Liverpool Country”, and the manager may see him as being disposable. He looks like he will need snookers to get back in the side, and when he is, he has to grasp that chance. The shakiness he has displayed can’t be as evident now that there are better options than Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel in reserve.
James Milner appears to be back to being the dependable utility man he no longer wanted to be when he signed for the club. Milner signed to get away from being shunted out to the wing, to coming on in big games to put a shift in, to being asked to play full back. What of him now? He probably won’t get into the midfield ahead of Jordan Henderson, he certainly won’t get in instead of Emre Can, and it’s unlikely that in 12 months’ time he’ll be ahead of Marko Grujic in the pecking order.
Klopp has talked about playing Milner at full back this year from time to time, a role that he showed his aptitude for last season in both the League Cup Final and the away leg of the Europa League tie with United. It’s something he can do. But if that’s the role he’s given will he want to? At the age of 31 it’s unlikely James Milner will be happy being a bit part full back, or to fill in in midfield every now and then, or do a very passable Dirk Kuyt impression in a big game. Of all the players I’m going to discuss he’s second behind Mignolet on my list of most likely to leave next summer.
The numbers he put up last season however, if repeated could see him get a stay of execution. It’s hard to replace the 11 assists he racked up last season, and he did have a good season. Where does he fit this season to prove his worth, though? Where he does fit, is it the role he wants?
Adam Lallana will be 29 next May. He’s technically excellent, is probably the best proponent of the Gegenpressing and he showed his worth with some big performances in last season’s Europa League run. I can’t be alone however in looking at how he lacks a yard of pace and thinking what if. Imagine if he had an extra yard of pace, that technical ability mixed with pace would have him as one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Sadly it can’t be ignored. You’re currently hard pushed to find him a place in the triumvirate who will sit off a lone striker, Sadio Mane’s pace makes him perfect for the Klopp counter attack, Roberto Firmino’s output in terms of goals, chances created and the ability to tie defenders in knots gets him in – that drag back against Milan was good, wasn’t it? – and Philippe Coutinho being Philippe Coutinho means you struggle to find him a regular place.
It’s going to be hard for him this season and if he’s used sparingly then he has every right in a year’s time to be agitating for regular football. He will definitely get chances this season and as he isn’t suddenly going to develop a yard of pace he’s going to have to contribute with goals a hell of a lot more. Ideally we get into the Champions League, increase the number of games we’ll play and there’s an opportunity for him. I’d like him to prove his worth this season and I’d like more chances for him to play. He can be very good.
Jordan Henderson is probably the most interesting player for me this season. He’s approaching the peak of his career, has been at the club for 5 years and was a big part of the most exciting league campaign anyone under the age of 35 has been involved in as a fan, but still people look at him as not quite being up to it.
Last season was basically a write off for him, he missed 40 games all told, had a couple of injuries and at times looked like he was physically unable to run. I haven’t been staying up until the middle of the night watching pre-season games because I like sleep, but apparently his gait looks a lot more normal now and that’s encouraging. You’d expect he’ll spend the most part of this season alongside Emre Can, dictating the tempo of play and really putting a shift in.
He needs to show that a Liverpool side can win a title with him in the middle of the park. He needs to add goals, he needs to meet the potential he had when we signed him in 2011. He is capable but I suspect that next summer will see Klopp really move for Mohamed Dahoud, and his spot would be the most obvious area for Dahoud to slot into. 2016/2017 has to be big for Henderson – I’d love nothing more than to see him score double figures, run games and dominate them. If he doesn’t, this could be his last season as a regular at Liverpool and, by default, captain.
The last one might surprise people. The last one is Daniel Sturridge. I’m of the belief that he is absolutely brilliant. A fantastic goalscorer. Very clever, in that he’s able to drop off a front man and impact play, but there are two things that could cause him real problems. Firstly, injuries. If these injuries rear their ugly head again then I fail to see how he has any future. That would be a third season in a row ruined by injury – he’s a brilliant goalscorer, but no one has ever been a brilliant goalscorer from the treatment table.
His second issue is the system, and a man called Divock Origi. It’s forgotten that Sturridge was cast aside for a period and relegated to the sub’s bench for some big games. Two games with Dortmund and a Merseyside Derby saw Liverpool start with one up front, and how Origi took his chance. If Liverpool are playing one up front this season, who’s starting? Klopp clearly likes Origi. Is Sturridge able to play deeper? Will Liverpool play 4-4-2 at times? There are many questions that Sturridge will have the opportunity to answer. It will be interesting to see how Liverpool’s attack is formed this season, but one thing is for sure, when he plays he’ll score goals. It’s what he does.
Give him a chance, he’ll take it. His body, however, also has to give him the chance to prove that he’s a long term option. Liverpool cannot sit there next May and be happy to keep him if he’s been injured for the best part of 3 years.
This season is about taking chances. Taking the bull by the horns. Showing that Liverpool need you desperately. What we see over the next nine months will tell us a huge amount about the future of these seven players.
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