MOST Liverpool supporters would agree that they were excited by the introduction of Loris Karius the other night. While he did OK, there is a temptation to go overboard about his display, although it was exciting to see somebody new in there — and to have a real ‘sweeper keeper’.
It’s very noticeable that he has a very high starting position, and he’s obviously really comfortable with the ball at his feet. He seems a really confident player, and the general consensus is that fans are keen to see him start on Saturday.
Jürgen Klopp would have been expecting Karius to come in and start the pre-season games, while Simon Mignolet was away with Belgium. Mignolet would then be coming back late and — although he may have given the Belgian a couple of games — Karius would start the season and Mignolet would have to bide his time. The manager would have thought about how we would manage that situation, but before it could even happen his new stopper injured his hand.
After that injury, Klopp had to change his strategy in order to get the best out of Mignolet in the early stages of the season. The boss would have to manage that situation carefully as to not ruin his own credibility, not just with Mignolet but across the group of players. I have no doubt that Klopp would have managed that correctly.
The players need to believe in what the manager is saying and, even if they don’t agree with it, respect the manager’s decision. Klopp needed to use the arrival of Karius as an incentive to make Mignolet perform, being careful as not to affect the Belgian’s confidence — no less because he needed him to perform well at the start of the season.
If this group of players believe that Mignolet has performed well and doesn’t deserve to be dropped, regardless of what the fans think, the manager has a huge decision to make as it can be the slightest thing which can make a player start to question your word — not that I think, for one second, that is the case with the current group and Klopp.
Personally, I think the right decision would be to put Karius in on Saturday. It’s a chance for him to get another clean sheet and to get some confidence. If there are any wobbles or issues with his confidence, as he adapts to life in English football, then it would be better to know sooner rather than later.
Also, not that it would be high on his list of priorities when selecting his team but, Klopp has emphasised the importance of getting the fans on side and being more vocal in their support at the game. Starting Karius would give the fans a boost straight away, due to that excitement of seeing a fresh face and seeing how he performs in the league. It gives the fans more to look forward to.
With that being said, it’s intriguing to see how Klopp manages the player he chooses not to select — almost as intriguing as it is to see who actually starts. As a manager, you can’t keep going to players and saying “you’re in if he does badly”, as that gives off the wrong vibe. Instead, you need to be setting targets and saying “if you can show me that you can do these things, you’ll be in ahead of him.” Then the focus is on that player to improve, rather than sit and wait for their teammate to fail or sustain an injury.
Options In Midfield And Attack
IT will be interesting to see the way that Klopp approaches games, and the tactics he uses going forward. He’s got Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and, to a slightly lesser extent, Divock Origi. As things stand, each of them players will think they have done enough to deserve a start on Saturday — and sooner or later Emre Can will be fully fit and thinking the same.
At the moment we’re playing six in those positions, which means there is going to be some big-hitters missing out. That is a great position to be in, and he has said so himself, but it remains to be seen — particularly if we continue to play well and get results — whether he chooses to stick with the current 4-3-3 system.
In the future, I expect him to revert to a 4-4-2-type system, particularly in games like on Saturday. I thought that was one of the reasons why he didn’t go for a holding midfielder in the transfer window, although I don’t think he’s particularly interested in holding midfielders in general, because he wasn’t planning on playing that kind of midfielder. Instead, he would just revert to playing Henderson and Can in two midfield roles and have two of Sturridge, Origi and Firmino up front, with Coutinho, Lallana and Mane as the options on the flanks — like we saw, to some extent, at times last season.
Perhaps the performances so far, operating with a 4-3-3, have caused him to change his mind on this, or it might be — as he suggested in his interview with The Anfield Wrap over pre-season — that he’s looking at the 4-3-3 but there will be a number of formations used over the course of the season.
Assuming that he does stick with the 4-3-3, I would love to see Coutinho and Lallana playing in front of Henderson, and a front three of Firmino, Sturridge and Mane. However, that would mean he would have to pull Wijnaldum — I’m not sure if he wants to do that — and Can and Origi would have to settle for a place on the bench, which is probably fair at this stage.
All things considered, it will be interesting to see how he manages that, in terms of giving all those players game time and whether he decides to change the system at any point to incorporate some of those other players. That starts on Saturday, in terms of seeing what the shape of the team is going to be like.
An ideal situation, in my opinion, would be for us to see Mane and Firmino playing wider to allow a midfield two of Coutinho and Lallana more space in the centre of the park. Therefore, if Hull choose to defend narrow like Burnley did, Firmino and Mane will be able to exploit the space out wide with Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner bombing on and stretching the play.
If we can do that, we can prevent teams from defending narrow, which is going to be a key issue over the course of the season at Anfield.
Under-23s: Making The Leap
THERE’S a bit of a buzz around the Under-23s and the youngsters coming through the Academy, because of recent results but also because of what fans saw in pre-season. The likes of Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria have stood out, and a number of promising players that are going out on loan.
It’s intriguing that within 12 months Klopp has gone from complaining about the loan system in England and then has had to backtrack, and almost give in to the loan system. That isn’t a criticism of Klopp, it’s more a criticism of the way youth development is viewed in English football.
One of the big issues at Liverpool, for several different reasons, is that the youngsters train at Kirkby and the first team train at Melwood. It’s not just the fact that the two aren’t integrated, it’s more the fact that they’re miles away from each other. Also, Kirkby isn’t a good place to put The Academy because the wind is ridiculous there. When you consider that the period between October and March is key to our young players’ development, the weather around that time is awful for the most part.
That may sound a bit mad, but Gianluca Vialli actually highlights wind as being one of the biggest issues facing young footballers in England, in his book The Italian Job. Arsene Wenger, in particular, is quoted as saying: “One of the first things I had to get accustomed to as soon as I arrived in England was the weather. And I don’t mean the temperature or the rain but, most of all, the wind. The wind ruins everything. It forces you to do only one type of exercise. It forces you to work on either speed or continuous movement. It’s very rare that you get the chance to sit calmly and work on technique or on tactics. You have to keep the players moving, otherwise they get cold. And this is something which begins way back when they are children.”
FSG have sorted out the Main Stand, now they need to look at incorporating The Academy and Melwood. I can’t see them leaving Melwood, but Liverpool will need to have a bigger and better version of Everton’s Finch Farm. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s important for those young players to be able to see first-hand the senior players and the coaching staff, and be able to realistically see that step up.
Kirkby, itself, is in desperate need of refurbishment. When you see what Manchester City are doing imagine that you’re a player’s dad having a look around their facilities and ours, The Academy at Kirkby is much less attractive by comparison. If City can get a couple of youngsters through the ranks that could spell big trouble for clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United — those who are known for giving youth a chance — as City then become the place to be.
Liverpool would benefit more from sending their youngsters abroad on loan, which can also act as something of a ‘coming of age’ exercise — whether this be in partnership, similar to United and Royal Antwerp, or on a less formal basis.
With that being said, some clubs are becoming known for chewing up and spitting out promising talent — as has been seen within Chelsea’s partnership with Vitesse. The football clubs have a responsibility themselves to look after these players, after they depart the club at a young age. Whether this be through helping them find a club or just in terms of education. Although Liverpool do this already, there’s no reason they can’t improve and that should start with having a central, modern site for both sides to train and develop.