Liverpool endured a surprisingly inactive transfer window following their Champions League triumph in Madrid.
17-year-old defender Sepp van den Berg and goalkeeper Adrian were the only two players to arrive at Anfield ahead of the 2019/20 season, while the likes of Simon Mignolet, Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno, and Harry Wilson were some big names from the departure list.
It appears that Jurgen Klopp has faith in the Champions League winning squad and the academy, but is the squad competent enough to put an end to Liverpool’s 30-year-long wait to win the Premier League?
We take a deeper look at the squad and grade the different departments.
GOALKEEPERS – A
An incredible show in the Premier League, Champions League, and the Copa America has earned Alisson the tag of the best goalkeeper in the world this year. The Brazilian custodian will be motivated to play his part in leading the Merseyside Reds to their first-ever Premier League title.
Former West Ham custodian Adrian will be replacing Mignolet on the bench. The Spanish goalkeeper has the traits to function as a back-up keeper.Like most top teams, Liverpool will be eyeing multiple trophies. This means that Adrian could be called into action frequently. The 32-year-old’s experience in the Premier League could come handy as Liverpool look to snatch the domestic cups.
The Reds have one of the best goalkeeping pairings in the league and should face no problems in this department.
DEFENCE – B
A glance at Liverpool’s sturdy centre-backs and robust full-backs could call for an A or even an A+. But the lack of depth in defence – especially in the left-back position – could cause a lot of worry towards the business end of the season.
It’s worth noting that the Reds have arguably the best back-four in the league, led by the best defender in Europe. Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have formed a wall in front of goal that has rarely been breached by the best players in the world.
Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have been regular sources of assists without compromising on their defensive duties.
But the back-up defenders are not close to the incredibly high bar that the starters have set.
Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren make an average duo at best, as far as back-up centre-backs are concerned.
Right-back Nathaniel Clyne is currently injured and has not enjoyed enough game-time over the past couple of seasons. Klopp has preferred having midfielder James Milner at right-back on the rare occasions in which Alexander-Arnold was unavailable.
Robertson is left with no back-up on the left. Former Real Betis full-back Junior Firpo was linked to, but never pursued by Liverpool. This means that academy player Yasser Larouci is the closest that comes to a back-up left-back.
MIDFIELD – B
Liverpool has fielded one of the most unpredictable midfields in the world and continue to carry the badge going into the 2019/20 season.
Fabinho overcame a woeful start to his Liverpool career to establish himself as a key element to the midfield towards the end of last season. The Brazilian could be their most important player in midfield next season and is hence bound to be heavily burdened with responsibilities.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson are expected to retain their position as starters in midfield, with James Milner and Naby Keita providing stiff competition.
Wijnaldum and Keita have had their moments but have failed to display consistency over an entire season.
Henderson and Milner have been fairly consistent but the pair isn’t getting any younger. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will be looking to make a mark after an injury-ridden season but the former Arsenal youngster will have to work to earn his spot in the midfield first.
Summing up, Liverpool could have done better in reinforcing their midfield and inactivity in the transfer window could come back to haunt them.
ATTACK – B+
The deadly trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will return to terrorise Premier League in the 2019/20 season.
Not much can be said about Liverpool’s front three that hasn’t been said already. Mane is back from arguably the best season of his career and will be looking to top it.
Salah did well in turning his form around in December last season and will be key to their chances yet again. Xherdan Shakiri will be providing depth at this position, with the option of shifting to central midfield too.
Sturridge’s departure from the club is likely to promote Divock Origi and academy product Rhian Brewster up the pecking order with Firmino retaining his spot as first-choice.
The lack of back-up for Mane could cause problems, given how vital the Senegalese forward is to Liverpool’s attack. Yet again, the Reds could have signed a winger who could help them through cup games during harsh scheduling.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp wants his team to stay “angry and greedy” as they bid to go one better than last season and lift the Premier League trophy.
Klopp’s side ended last season as European champions but the goal this time around has to be ending a 30-year wait for a top-flight title after falling just one point short of Manchester City in a tense battle.
While his players tasted success in Madrid in June, Klopp wants no let up in their attitude as they look to build on a season in which they lost only one league game.
It’s the new season again,” he said. “We have to be angry again, we have to be greedy again, we have to be all these things.
“What’s very important is that as the team that won the Champions League last year, we have to stay the team that nobody wants to play against.
“Not because of the name or the quality but the intensity. That’s what I will ask the boys for and that’s what we have to show tomorrow night.”
An opening-night fixture against newly-promoted Norwich will mean plenty of familiar faces at Anfield for Klopp.
Canaries boss Daniel Farke moved to Carrow Road from Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team in 2017, and has imported a number of players from Klopp’s old club.
“I don’t think I’ve faced a Premier League side before where I’ve worked with so many of the players,” he said. “When they were really young, of course.”
Liverpool are of course overwhelming favourites on home turf, but Klopp admitted strange things can happen at the start of a new season.
“For them, winning the Championship was for us like winning the Champions League – it’s so long ago you can’t really build on it but both teams have reasons to be confident,” he said.
“They were really special for a Championship team last year with the way they played. There was a clear structure, a clear plan. There was little coincidence in the game because everything looked properly planned out so they have all my respect.
“In these kinds of fixtures, with all the stories around them, they are always the banana skins. They are made for something like that.
“If you are not ready for it, if you are not 100 per cent, then you will slip. They are too good for that.”
Liverpool last weekend lost the Community Shield to Manchester City on penalties, but were without Sadio Mane after his late return from a busy summer.
The Senegal forward is fit and available for Friday’s match, if not a guaranteed starter.
“He only had two weeks off so he didn’t lose a lot, that’s the good news,” Klopp said.
“Yesterday was his first session with the team and he looks absolutely OK and in good spirits and looking forward to it. He’s an option so we will see.”
Liverpool have had a quiet summer in the transfer market, bringing in youngsters Sepp Van Den Berg and Harvey Elliott as well as reserve goalkeeper Adrian, while preferring to focus on the boost provided by the return from injury of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana.
Klopp declined to say if the Reds have been offered their former midfielder Philippe Coutinho as the Barcelona man was linked with Arsenal and Tottenham, but said he was happy with his squad.
“Our transfer window was about checking options and thinking about it and then making decisions,” he said.
“That’s how we always do it. And if nothing happens then the decision was that it was not the right option for us. We will not make signings just to sign somebody because that makes no sense.”
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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?
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?
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
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.