The pre-season tour in the U.S.A. where all players with international duties returned to, is now over. The team returned to England in the afternoon and we tried to draw some conclusions from what we have witnessed so far, without of course being able to name them “safe”, since all of our players’ feet are heavy and the coaching staff wants them ready and firing come the start of the new season on the 14th of August.
Jürgen Klopp has tried 2 formations so far, his favourite 4-2-3-1 (sometimes a 4-4-1-1) and 4-3-3. The latter being used mostly last year in away or big games. From what we have seen against Chelsea/Milan/Roma he looks keen to continue working on 4-2-3-1 as his main formation. The German proceeded in some surprising moves as well! For starters, he turned vice-captain James Milner into a LB, tried Wijnaldum as a CM and finaly used young winger Trent Alexander Arnold into a RB.
Let’s see what our players have shown us individualy..
Our German GK, Loris Karius, who made a positive impression at the start of the tour, got injured in the Chelsea game and will remain sidelined up until October, missing all the big games of the start of the season.
39 year-old Austrian Manninger, who was signed as a 3rd choice keeper, has played just one half in the Roma game, and showed he has good positioning but lacking in reflexes (which is normal considering his age). It is clear then that at least during the start of the season, our starting GK will be Mignolet with all his positives and negatives. Yes, he is inconsistent, but at the same time his reflexes are among the best in the world and that was the reason Klopp extented his contract.
Klopp likes his CBs to be good handlers of the ball. (Who is better than Hummels whom he had for many years at BVB?). That is the main reason he signed Joël Matip and Estonian Ragnar Klavan to add to Sakho, Lovren and Gomez. Injury problems though continue from where they ended last season, with the result being that Sakho/Gomez missing the pre-season and Matip being sidelined for the games in the U.S.A. It is almost certain then that our two CBs in the premier of the season will be Lovren and Klavan. The Croat, despite being majestic ever since Klopp arrived, has shown signs of inconsistency in the past few games, but that might be down to tiredness. The Estonian on the other hand is one of the pleasant surprises of the tour, as he has adjusted to his new team, looks great on his passing game while doing his job in defence as well.
Lets head to our Full Backs now. The most fervent desire of world wide Reds fans, is the aquisition of a proper LB, something which has not been dealt with yet, with the result being stuck with the disappointing Alberto Moreno, so much so, that Milner is being utilized as a LB to cover for him (hopefully temporarily). The England International has done a great job so far during the 2 halves that he played as one, against Milan and Roma, showing his quality as a player and as a human being. That should be a model behaviour to the rest. On the right and for another season, Clyne looks set to keep his position who along with Emre Can were the most consistent players of the squad. Flanagan looks like he isn’t at the best levels of fitness Klopp wants, he didn’t follow the squad to America and is likely to be given on loan and get some very important first team football. Clyne’s back up might be Milner (when not playing on the left, in the middle or as a winger!), youngster Randal who looks like he’s improved during the friendlies and Trent who himself has made some good performaces in the new RB position Klopp has used him in.
In the middle of the pitch Emre and Hendo look set to occupy those places. The German born Turk is still some way of beeing deemed fit since just joining the squad a week ago from his extended vacations, but surely enough he’ll be ready for Arsenal. Our captain looks like he has the advantage of the 2nd spot in the middle since Klopp knows that Milner is the only player that can play any position on the pitch. That doesn’t mean he won’t have fierce competition from new arrival Marko Grugic who gave amazing performances up until he got injured in the “friendly” game against Chelsea. A question mark would need to be set over Gini Wijnaldum, who was used without success in the middle, but he surely needs time to adjust, while Brannagan and Stewart will only be called upon in extreme cases or some cup games.
Lets head over to the attacking midfield and the wings. On the right, the position seems given to new arrival Sadio Mane who is more or less the best player of pre-season. The Senegalese international does everything and looks like a dream player for any manager. After multible injuries, Markovic has returned a different player and has unfortunately disappointed even myself, a fan of his while at Benfica. It will be hard for him to find a spot in the starting XI even though his technique and talent are undisputable. There is though one luxurious sub for Mane and that is none other than Adam Lallana, who despite being accused of not scoring enough, is an amazing handler of the ball, takes advantage, like few do, the empty spaces, while he also does a lot of defensive work with his passionate marking. On the left side there is Coutinho who doesn’t like the specific position and at the time being, he isn’t at his best. Nobody is disputing that on his day, he is the most talented Liverpool player, but if he doesn’t aquire consistency in his game, he is in danger of losing his place in the team that he takes for granted. Theoreticaly speaking, Wijnaldum will fight for the same place who has played his most competitive games as a left winger (though most people and pages tend to mistakenly think that he is a CM). The player, who if not given on loan might make a surprise impact and get games at either end of the pitch is our talented youngster Sheyi Ojo, who is one of the pleasant surprises of the summer! Now as it concerns the AMF position, advantage goes to Firmino, who wasn’t called by Brazil to Copa america and has taken part the whole pre-season and naturally is in a better position than his competitors. The position is up for grabs between Coutinho, Wijnaldum who had a great season with Newcastle as an AMF last season, Mane and even young Londoner Ovie Ejaria, who has stolen the show at the tour but sadly got injured.
Lastly the Striker. Here we have 3 and a half posibilities! The obvious Daniel Sturridge, who if fit and healthy can destroy any defence but his continuous injuries have instilled a certain inconsistency to his play. Origi is getting better day by day, month by month and he fits Klopp’s style perfectly (gegenpressing) and Danny Ings who is one of the few fighters and will give 101% of himself to win a place in the starting line up. Just like it happened last year, this season is really possible to see a more flexible formation with Firmino as a false 9 (it is from this position that he scored most of his goals and had his best games).
Just like we said at the beginning, this is only an image of the team from watching the pre-season, but in no circmstances can we make safe conclusions on the 2nd of August. We trust our manager and we are certain that he’ll do whatever he can to bring the club where it’s supposed to be. The Top!
By Stauros Bekas