Somehow, we are already into the pre-season for the next campaign, despite it feeling like last season just ended weeks ago (which it did). With some major new signings as well as fond farewells, let’s look ahead to some storylines that Liverpool have for this upcoming season.
New Faces, New Formation?
With the addition of Darwin Nunez, the single biggest question has become how will Jurgen Klopp and his team best utilize him? For the better part of his tenure, Liverpool have employed a fluid 4-3-3 with the fabled front three in attack. With the departure of Sadio Mane and with Bobby Firmino in and out of the squad more, the false 9 aspect of that attack seems less likely. Nunez has been best deployed as a central striker at Benfica and his aerial and hold-up play provide a new element for Liverpool to enjoy. A lot has been speculated that perhaps Liverpool will pivot slightly to a 4-2-3-1 which still allows wide players such as Diaz and Mo to play on their flanks but gives Nunez more space through the middle as well. Time will tell here.
Not since the latter days of Luis Suarez have Liverpool had a player that can centrally dictate play and while Liverpool usually takes care to give new faces time to bed in, that could change this season. Luis Diaz had such an electric start to his career right away that if Darwin looks comfortable, he too could hit the ground running from game one.
The most unexpected and delightful news of the off-season was Mo Salah signing a new contract to keep him at Anfield. While both player and team had made it clear they’d like the partnership to continue, with each passing day’s stalemate, it became increasingly fraught. So, to see the bombshell dropped last Friday was seismic.
Mo’s qualities need no further explanation as he’s been simply one of Liverpool’s best-ever attackers and with his fitness and consistency, that should continue. What will be very interesting is how his mindset shifts as the weight of uncertainty is lifted. Last season was an increasingly frustrating one for him, with the AFCON defeat and then not qualifying for the upcoming World Cup. At times, Mo seemed a bit jaded as a player, still willing to give his full effort but with a lot on his shoulders. Freed from all of that, a fully rested and revitalized Mo Salah is an absolute terror for the rest of football. Another 30 goal haul seems entirely likely.
Five Subs, More To Tinker With
Jurgen got his wish with the announcement that the EPL would allow 5 subs in matches starting this season. This means more opportunities for some players that had felt a bit on the fringe lately as well as more playing time for up-and-comers that sometimes have their path to the starting XI blocked by more senior members. With the extremely physical and frenetic style that Liverpool play, having more opportunities to bring on fresh legs and minds each game could prove an extremely important benefit.
It overall will mean more tactical shifts or managerial acumen is required throughout the league, but luckily Liverpool are blessed with one of football’s greatest leaders and minds at the helm. With the chance to get more games in their legs, perhaps more consistent showings for the likes of Jones, Eliott, Bobby, Ox (if he remains), The Greek Scouser and new addition Ramsey will be essential to another sustained challenge.
The Evolution Of Players
What is always so fascinating to watch when world-class players and managers spend enough time together is how their game evolves. Klopp has long been hailed as a manager who develops talent from raw into peak performance. Both at Dortmund and now at Liverpool, he has shown a unique ability to unlock potential and place his most gifted players in positions where they thrive. Watching how TAA has blossomed into one of the world’s best playmakers as well as the sustained brilliance of Robbo on the opposite flank are just two recent examples.
This season, I particularly have a feeling about Firmino and Fabio Carvalho. Firmino’s class is well documented but he has found himself down the pecking order in the last two years, and now especially with Nunez, his spot in the front 3 seems less likely. However, what Bobby possesses is that rare ability to drop back and link-up play. As mentioned above, if Liverpool do transition to a 4-2-3-1, perhaps Bobby’s next destiny is as a linking attacking midfielder. He certainly has all the skills required for it and I wouldn’t put it past him to thrive in that role if asked.
Carvalho is all about fulfilling potential at this point. He demonstrated it very well in the Championship last season and now has been given the chance to join one of the elite attacking forces in the world. What he can add to the team remains to be seen but I trust Klopp to place him in the best position to realize it.
We Go Again
Last season was such a thrilling adventure that still somehow felt incomplete. Playing the absolute maximum number of games and being in every final possible was a remarkable achievement but not being able to push through and grab either the Champions League or nip City for the title left a real bitter taste. This could actually work out in Liverpool’s favor as it adds even more fuel to the fire to push on.
Klopp has long been a master motivator, perhaps one of the three or four greatest the sport has ever seen. Yet, it would be hard for even him to find levels to push further if Liverpool had indeed succeeded and won the Quadruple. Since that dream wasn’t realized, and especially given how close they came, that could be all the motivation needed to come back all guns blazing yet again.
Starting off with the Community Shield at the end of the month against City, Liverpool enter this year again with a point to prove. The relentless nature of the season, along with the strengthened squads at City, Spurs and probably Chelsea mean no dropoff can be given. Added in to the schedule is a winter World Cup, Liverpool enter a fresh season with the same goals and standards as always. Whereas last year proved they could compete everywhere all at once, this year, the targets are set, the squad is being recharged and the dream lives on. Enjoy the summer break while it lasts, when football returns, it’ll be a whole new adventure to go enjoy again.