Now that Klopp has put his stamp on the team (keeping the players
he wanted, bringing in the players he wanted, and having had a
proper pre-season with them), and after having our first few games in
the season, we have the first few samples in these early days to get
an idea about what our team will look like.What’s our best starting XI.
In this first part, we’ll have a look at the attack and midfield.
Sadio Mane: The Supermane
Mane has impressed early on, and is a rare kind of player in our
team. Certainly one of the fastest, our best dribbler, a defence
stretcher, a forward that can beat his man, assist and score.
Possibly our best instrument to unlock defences – what I consider the
main worry in our attempt to raise the points that will allow us to reach
any of the top 4 positions, in what is now a very, very competitive
league, with City, Chelsea, Utd, Arsenal, Spurs, and the occasional
surprise (such as last year’s Leicester, or tough solid teams such as
Southampton and West Ham last couple of seasons) all competing
for the 4 slots.Barring some lack of fortune during the season, the Right Wing
Forward position seems to be sealed by him.
Daniel Sturridge: The Wave Dancing scorer
Daniel Sturridge is definitely our most lethal finisher, but 3 questions
hang over his head when considering whether he can be our
mainstay starting XI striker:
– Whether he can stay fit and sharp
– Whether he can be more of a team player
– Whether he can contribute when we don’t have the ball, in a
pressing Klopp system
Fitness and sharpness are currently (touch wood) not much of an
issue, and the question to be answered is how many games he’ll be
able to play for us this season.
The second question, he decided to answer in our game vs Leicester,
where he was exactly that – a team player, creating for others and not
putting his own goals first. He showed he can be that player, and
share the goals for the team.
The 3rd question will always be the issue of course, but it’s not black
an white: He’ll never be the presser and runner that Firmino is when
we are not in possession, but as long as he can contribute at least at
the minimum required and as long as he can make up for it when we
do have the ball, he can’t not be considered.
Roberto Firmino: The anti-Suarez
No player in Liverpool reminds me more of Suarez’s attributes, since
the Uruguayan’s departure.
He looks like he’s on his way of becoming what Suarez was for us
(bar the trouble). Goals, hunting the ball, running, creating out of
nothing, winning mentality, feats of skill and magic.
There was a conclusion dominating the pundits’ and fans posts this
Firmino is exceptional leading the line.
This was mainly concluded because when Sturridge was injured, he
featured as a striker in a series of games in Winter, scoring in pretty
much every game. It was also popular because of Firmino’s pressing
from the striker position and because of his sprints (one of the best
runners in the team).
But in the game vs Leicester, and in the absence of Coutinho on the
left and with Sturridge leading the line, we saw Firmino being brilliant
on the left as well, at least as good as (if not even better than) playing
up front. It’s quite possible that he has no equal match on the left
forward position in the team.
This means that in the absence of Sturridge, he can lead the line, and
that he can play on the left forward too while Sturridge is fit and
This sees him seal his position in the starting XI regardless of
whether Sturridge is fit.
Philippe Coutinho: The Magician
Our Player of the Year Award winner these past two seasons, and a
player that can pull a goal out of a magician’s hat when it seems
there’s no way of scoring (perhaps the single player in the team that
can do that best), and widely considered our Star Player – by Klopp
as well, based on the many occasions he spoke about him or reacted
after his impressive feats.
The goals vs United in the Europa League is one example of this
ability. The goal in the Arsenal game this season is another. There are
many more examples.
As much as these moments render him a star player, there are equal
moments of frustration causing misfiring shots from outside the box,
and the many shots he takes.
To me, this reminds me of early Suarez years for Liverpool – and the
age is similar too. I’m laying it down to age/development, and to
position: he can’t beat his man with pace out wide, and he can’t find
as many ideal passes from that angle, and it’s not like his strengths
include crossing the ball from wide, so it seems he very often feels
that it’s his best option – the wonder goals he occasionaly produces
from there are telling him to go for it. I’m certain that with the right
management of the situation, and with Coutinho developing, it won’t
be an issue in the future.
A point of debate these past few years was whether Coutinho is
better a) on the left wing, b) behind the striker(s) in the #10 role, or
- c) in Central Midfield.
I’ll sum up my review of his performances on each of these 3
- a) Left Wing Forward:
– The occasional magic from cutting inside and striking from distance
to score wondergoals.
– The outrageous number of shots and the even more outrageous
number of misses it took, to result in those wondergoals (Coutinho is
currently our most frequent shooter, reminiscent of Suarez’s first,
– The limited passing angles he is left with from that position. Magical
passes is what excited us first when Coutinho started playing for us,
and the wider he plays, the less options he has to do them.
- b) #10 role:
– Better passing angles and possibilities.
– The occasional magic from striking from distance to score
– Still tempting for him to overdo it with shooting (not as much as
when coming from LW though, because of the better options to utilise
- c) Central Midfield:
– Making the most out of his ability to find the pass behind the
opposition defense, both long range and short range.
– The position where he displayed defensive abilities the most
(featured in 2013-14’s 4-3-3, where his pressing alongside
Henderson was very efficient, and saw us muster demolitions vs
Arsenal and Everton among others, in a long and great unbeaten
run that saw us challenge for the title).
– Can still contribute with goals from deeper, but without overdoing it
with excessive efforts.
– In such a role, it all depends whether he can find chemistry with the
other 2 central midfielders. The danger is the midfield becoming too
attack-minded – and Klopp’s role in such an option would be to
discipline the players he’ll choose for those roles.
In the 4-1 win vs Leicester, Coutinho started on the bench, after
having played with Brasil (and had a good game too).
This saw the attacking trio of Firmino, Mane and Sturridge thrive, with
all 3 being excellent, and claiming the front 3 positions.
(Adam Lallana: The late blooming star?)
With Lallana recently featured in midfield and doing an excellent job
there too, impressing with his performances, and with Henderson
being back to his good self and adapting quickly in a more deep-lying
midfield role, let’s explore where all this leaves Coutinho with.
Who could he displace from attack or midfield, and where does he
serve the team best?
Based on the above, the only ways I see him back in the attack line,
is a) with an unfit Sturridge, and then only if Origi doesn’t impress in
the meanwhile (i.e. a cup game where he’ll thrive brings him back in
the foreground), or b) if we play 4-2-3-1, in which case we’ll see
Sturridge up top, and Firmino LW, Coutinho AM, and Mane RW.
(Emre Can & Jordan Henderson: The engine cogs)
The return of Emre Can may be the time to do that – a player who,
together with Henderson (who’s enjoying a good spell in deep-lying
midfield), can form a double pivot.
The “problem” with that formation is that it will see Lallana benched,
or at least used as a sub, replacing any of the 3 AMs that doesn’t
seem to be on his day during a game (or, if Sturridge is that player,
Firmino moved up to striker and Lallana subbed-in in LW).
(Gini Wijnaldum: The potential Gini-us?)
It will also inevitably see Gini Wijnaldum benched, who may have
needed time to find his best game here – and in such a case, cup
games could become the stage to find that.
But when Klopp opts to play 4-3-3, the most appropriate/likely role for
Coutinho seems to be in central midfield. That means either replacing
Lallana or Wijnaldum, and currently, Lallana is too good to bench.
Wijnaldum is not too bad, and contributes well, bar some suspect
passing and loss of possession, but seems to be the only option for
Coutinho to replace and to slot him in this system.
Wijnaldum looked like a potential genius before coming here, but it
remains to be seen whether he can be that kind of player for us.
So those are the two options I see that feature Coutinho in the
The remaining cogs of the engine I’ve only covered in bracket titles,
within Coutinho’s topic, but they certainly pose a factor worth their
Adam Lallana: The late blooming star?
While Firmino and Mane are our two runners in attack, pressing and
covering miles in each game, Adam Lallana is our runner in Central
Midfield as of late – his running exceeds that of the two attackers just
mentioned. Last season, Lallana found himself in big competition to
secure a starting XI slot in Liverpool’s attack, even in the usually
injured Daniel Sturridge’s absence. Now, with Mane added in and
sealing a spot, and Sturridge back after managing his case for a
whole year under Klopp – and having had a full pre-season, Lallana’s
chances seemed to dim further.
But Klopp sees what he can provide to the team, and in the absence
of the injured Emre Can and the re-positioned James Milner from
Central Midfield, he found a way to make use of him – and the best
use of Adam Lallana it proves to be too, as a pressing, box-to-box
midfielder, with the result seeing him as joint second top scorer so far
with 2 goals, most distance covered in the team with 13.1 km, 3rd
dribbler in the team with 2.4 dribbles per game, and 3rd shooter in the
team with a 3 shots per game average.
Jordan Henderson: The back in form, rediscovered Captain?
Many questioned Jordan Henderson should remain captain when
Klopp arrived. Many others remembered his vital role in our 2013-14
campaign, and wondered whether after his injury that form could be
Others questioned whether he could find a role in Klopp’s midfield
and style of play.
Klopp seems to have contemplated all these as well, and the signs of
his answers are starting to show, as Jordan Henderson is finding his
way back to sharpness, and in a new rediscovered role in Klopp’s
midfield: the deep-lying midfield role. This takes advantage of
Henderson’s long range passing (some passes I’ve seen him muster
in 2013-14, and up to his injury, were the closest thing to Gerrard’s
long range passing that I’ve seen in Liverpool FC), and of his tackling
– currently the team’s leading tackler with 4.8 tackles per game.
I think that the captain will grow in this role under Klopp, and he will
thrive in it. I also see a possible great partnership with Emre Can,
which brings me to:
Emre Can: An ace in Klopp’s sleeve
There were certain games (in particular some advanced stages of
last season’s Europa League) where Emre Can’s performances were
oozing maturity and dominance in midfield, and great contribution in
attack as well. At his age, it’s all about that kind of performances
becoming more and more his regular. His start of the season was
troublesome and resulted in him being sidelined with injury. Now he’s
back in training, and hopefully it’s not long before we see him build up
on last season’s positives. The re-emergence of a sharper
Henderson will help him as well, in my opinion.
When this partership gels, I think our midfield will be very strong.
This year is a very important one, and I think the results will be more
evident in the next couple of seasons.
Gini Wijnaldum: The potential Gini-us?
I think there are minor signs so far. He needs time, and hopefully he
can be a player for us. The talent is there, he just needs to fit into the
system, find his role in the team (both his and Klopp’s job), and get
playing time. It will be difficult for him with the competition presented,
but a lot will depend on how he’ll respond to the chances he’ll
Formations & starting XI players:
Best midfield and attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation (i.e. the 2-3-1):
Sub: Adam Lallana for any AM struggling on the day.
If Sturridge is under-performing on the day, Lallana for Sturridge, with
Firmino moving up top and Lallana in LW.
Best midfield and attack in a 4-3-3 formation (i.e. the 3-3, or, to
subdivide, the 1-2-3):
Case 1: With Sturridge fit A
Case 2: With Sturridge fit B
Sub: Adam Lallana, for any of the 2 shuttler slots or any of the 2 WF
slots that underperform on the day.
Case 3: With Sturridge unavailable A
Case 4: With Sturridge unavailable B
A note on young star Divock Origi:
Last but not least, Divock Origi having showed great potential as well
and producing some brilliant performances last season, and could
well be the name wherever Daniel Sturridge’s name appears in
formations above, for a series of possible reasons, such as
depending on the game, fitness, form, etc.