The 2018 World Cup has been gripping and has piqued my interest throughout with many memorable matches and spectacular goals, yet what most Liverpool fans have been awaiting is the start of the 2018/19 preseason.
On July 2, the players available assembled at Melwood to begin preparation for the year ahead – starting with four friendlies against lower-league opponents over the next two weeks.
- Chester – July 7
- Tranmere Rovers – July 11
- Bury – July 14
- Blackburn Rovers – July 19
Pre-season tune-ups are usually used to gauge the players’ fitness, test out new line-ups and assimilate the new signings. It is also a chance to evaluate existing members of the squad and determine whether to loan, sell or retain them.
Liverpool had eight first-team players involved in the World Cup, with just Simon Mignolet, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dejan Lovren remaining. The three players whose countries have been eliminated (Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Marko Grujic) will now be on holiday and are not expected to return until LFC’s tour of the United States later this month.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk are also on an extended break but are expected back on Merseyside in the next week. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains a long-term absentee as he continues to rehabilitate his season-ending knee injury.
The current 26 man training squad working out at Melwood is as follows:
Camacho, Chirivella, Clyne, Fabinho, Gomez, Grabara, Ings, Jones, Karius, Keïta, Kelleher, Kent, Klavan, Lallana, Markovic, Milner, Moreno, Ojo, Origi, Phillips, Robertson, Solanke, Sturridge, Ward, Wilson, Woodburn.
I expect all these players to be given opportunities in the upcoming fixtures, but not all will be taken to the US, as most, if not all of Liverpool’s first-team squad will be available by then. Some will be loaned out (Ovie Ejaria) or sold (Jon Flanagan) while others will return to Neil Critchley’s Under-23 side.
Joel Matip and Adam Lallana were recently ruled out of the opening fixture against Chester, but can expect to feature in the later fixtures.
Like most LFC fans, I am keen to see the new midfield signings Fabinho & Naby Keïta in action for the first time against Chester this weekend. How they will be incorporated into Jürgen Klopp’s XI moving forward is open to interpretation.
Keïta featured most often for RB Leipzig as a centre mid in a 4-2-2-2 formation and was used both as the ‘sitting’ midfielder and in an attacking midfield role. A box-to-box role would seem to suit him best, using his dribbling ability and technique to join in with attacks while his work rate and pressing could come to the fore defensively.
Fabinho shone for Monaco in the 16/17 season, playing alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko in a double pivot via a 4-4-2 system. Both were adept at protecting the back four, yet were still given licence to push forward and join in with attacks. While one attacked, the other covered and vice versa. It was a similar setup last season, though Leonardo Jardim mainly deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho partnering Fabinho.
Liverpool tend to operate with a fluid 4-3-3 system, with captain Jordan Henderson playing as the holding midfielder. Fabinho will surely adopt this position in Henderson’s absence, while Keïta should be given a more advanced role.
Formations & Tactics
As they have in the past, I expect Liverpool to field completely different XI’s for each half with everybody getting a look-in.
One possible setup is a 4-2-3-1 with Fabinho in a double pivot next to the chameleonic James Milner. Akin to his recent experiences at Monaco, one of the two would alternate breaking forward with the other. Keïta meanwhile would play ahead of them as the attacking midfielder, with fewer defensive responsibilities.
Once Henderson returns from international duty, I could see him replacing Milner in the double pivot, with this becoming a viable setup for Liverpool when the Premier League campaign begins.
Another option is Liverpool’s more customary 4-3-3 with Fabinho in the ‘Henderson role’ as the sole defensive midfielder and Keïta playing box-to-box alongside the fit-again Adam Lallana. That makes for a very intriguing triumvirate in midfield, as all three are intelligent technical players who also excel in a high pressing system. This would be gegenpressing at it’s finest.
In the 4-2-3-1, we could also see Ben Woodburn in the centre of the attacking midfield three, playing behind the main striker. Playing off a front-man or as an inside forward cutting in from the left-wing would get the best out of Woodburn and would give him more opportunities to utilize his clever movement, vision and technique.
Latest on Harry Wilson's future. A dozen Championships want to sign him on loan. #LFC have ruled out prospect of him going to Celtic. Klopp rates Wilson highly and will give him chance to shine in the domestic friendlies – starting at Chester on Saturdayhttps://t.co/PJZ6m0bvdu
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) July 5, 2018
With Liverpool likely to add at least one new winger and attacking midfield player, I am sureKlopp will be closely evaluating Woodburn, Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo in particular. While Woodburn can play wide, I see his future inside and closer to the main forward.
Kent and Ojo struggled for form and fitness while on loan last season but Wilson sparkled at Hull City scoring 7 times and assisting 4 more goals in just 14 appearances for the Tigers. Of these three young wingers, Wilson’s future holds the greatest interest. He will have a chance this preseason to catch Klopp’s eye and earn a place in the squad as Mo Salah’s backup on the right flank.
Joe Gomez has returned to fitness following late-season injury struggles that kept him out of England’s World Cup squad. Matip is also back in full training but appeared to suffer a slight fitness setback in his first week of training. With van Dijk and Lovren seemingly Liverpool’s first-choice central defensive pairing, it would be worth giving Matip and Gomez some games together to try and formulate a solid backup partnership.
Nathaniel Clyne was arguably England’s best right-back in the 2015/16 season and while not as impressive in 16/17, he was still an England regular as the backup to Kyle Walker. 2017/18 was a year to forget, as he missed almost the entire season with a niggling back injury, only returning towards the season’s close and not looking like his usual self.
With young Alexander-Arnold away on England duty, Clyne has a chance to assume the right-back position in his absence and will be looking to seal the spot permanently. Gomez has shown he is an option there too and healthy competition for places across the team is a good problem for Klopp to have.
The one with everything to prove
Divock Origi is another player to watch. He endured an underwhelming season on loan at Wolfsburg, narrowly avoiding relegation thanks to a playoff while contributing a modest 7 goals and 3 assists. With only one year remaining on his Liverpool contract, he is at a crossroads in his career. And at 23, he needs to kick on if he is to make it at Anfield.
Klopp has said Liverpool will not sign any strikers this transfer window, so it is apparent that Origi will be given a fair chance to impress. However, poor displays would see his time at the club come to a close, with a permanent sale more likely than a loan.
Despite hitting double figures for goals in each of his last two seasons at Liverpool, Origi has never managed to maintain enough consistency to become a regular. Firmino took his place and has become arguably the best all-around No. 9 in world football. With Origi being ineffective as a wide-man, his best hope is to perform well enough to be retained as Firmino’s backup.
Far from the finished product
With 3-4 new additions expected before the closure of the English transfer window on August 9, competition for places will be fierce. Several of the players going through their paces at Melwood this week will likely have a future away from Liverpool but there are many still with much to play for.