Liverpool v Norwich: Talking points surround centre-back, plus Sadio Mane or Divock Origi?

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Divock Origi

The transfer window will be shut when the curtain rises for the 2019/20 season as Liverpool host Norwich at Anfield in the first game of the new season on Friday night.

The newly-promoted outfit represent a fresh challenge for last season’s runners-up and the two technical boxes will be prowled by managers of Dortmund lineage.

Norwich ascended to the English top-flight by storming to the Championship title last season and their stylish brand of football under former Dortmund II boss Daniel Farke will test Liverpool early on.

Jurgen Klopp enters the season under the swell of supporter angst having only added two teenagers and a back-up goalkeeper to his squad, but the German insists the Reds have everything they need to challenge Manchester City again this season.

Early proof will arrive on Friday and his squad is already being tested which is a topic of discussion for our opening talking point.

ORIGI OR MANE?

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Sadio Mane’s exertions with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations took him all the way to a July 19 final, meaning there’s less than a month between the end of his last and start of this campaign.

The 27-year-old returned to training on Monday and Klopp was in two-minds before the Community Shield defeat to City as to whether he would feature on Friday.

And there’s much to consider. Mane enjoys an outstanding record on the opening day of the league season, scoring in every fixture as a Liverpool player.

He has plundered against Arsenal, Watford and West Ham in three consecutive seasons and were he to make it four, the attacker would match Teddy Sheringham’s record from 1992/93 to 1995/96.

If Mane isn’t ready, the alternative is Divock Origi. Supporters wanted a statue erected in the Belgian’s honour after his Champions League heroics, but the calls to tear it down would have emerged before the resin even dried given the criticism during pre-season.

There is some merit to the swirling doubt, though.

Out on the left, the Belgian’s contribution in key areas has at times been negligible. His passing and crossing can be imprecise while his dribbling is often without direction.

Origi is excellent in front of goal in central areas, he did literally score three from three shots against Barcelona and Tottenham, but then he lacks the same buzzing-finesse of Roberto Firmino when deployed as a No9.

Opportunities such as Friday are absolutely critical for Origi to show he’s an integral part of the present, as opposed to a figure of a glorious past.

WHAT ABOUT THE CENTRE-BACK PARTNERSHIP?

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Heading into last season there was no debate as to who should partner Virgil van Dijk.

Joe Gomez is one of the most physically-gifted young defenders in Europe and arguably his skillset hasn’t been seen in an English centre-back since Rio Ferdinand.

Van Dijk and Gomez are a complimentary pair and, in the first-half of last term, they were both outstanding together.

But when Gomez fractured his leg against Burnley in mid-December, Joel Matip stood in and was immense, joining Origi as last season’s unlikely hero.

There’s the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, but then Matip’s front page is like ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ such is his ungainly demeanour.

It’s hard to get past his outward appearance in possession, but last season Matip showed his class, particularly in shifting deep defensive blocks out of position through his breezy flounce from the back.

On the other side of the ball he was just as composed, standing taller than his spirit animal in key moments. However, Gomez is ostensibly a better breed of defender and he is the investment Liverpool must get behind.

It’s a tricky dynamic for Klopp because whereas further forward rotation is necessary, the one area to guard against change is at centre-back. The flow of understanding is absolutely crucial in binding the heart of the defence and only game-time can nurture this comprehension.

But to complicate matters further, Gomez started the Community Shield clash and lurched from awkward to brainless, losing the ball to Raheem Sterling early on and failing to react quickly to City’s rapid free-kick for the opener.

The man alongside Van Dijk on Friday will reveal where Klopp’s mind is at for the season.

CANARIES STICK THEIR NECK OUT

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Norwich will be a fascinating proposition. The Canaries return to the Premier League for the first time since 2016, but the club’s green splurges in the transfer market during their previous stay left them close to the financial red.

This time around the situation is much different. Stuart Webber was appointed sporting director in 2017 and his shrewd approach to the transfer market, combined with head coach Farke’s forward-thinking philosophy, has allowed the team to strike gold.

There is a rich blend of exciting young players in the likes of Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey, plus names with a point to prove such as summer signings Patrick Roberts (winger), Ralf Fahrmann (goalkeeper), Josip Drmic (forward) and Sam Byram (right-back).

Their most expensive signing? Byram at £750,000. The hallmark of their success is the reigning Championship Player of the Season and Golden Boot winner Teemu Pukki.

The Finn exploded with 30 goals last season and while the 29-year-old is unlikely to repeat that feat, he’s in a team which clearly extracts the best from him.

There are question marks defensively and that weak point will be tested immediately on Friday, going some way to gauge what we can expect from the newcomers in 2019/20.

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