Premier League Fantasy Preview: Liverpool
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has been very busy over the summer, bringing five new players to Anfield and signing a new contract to commit his long-term future to the club.
After last season’s eighth-place finish in the Premier League, Reds fans will be hoping for better news this time round and will be optimistic that the club can push on and compete for the league title once more, having lost in both the final of the League Cup and the Europa League under Klopp already in 2016.
Former Dortmund coach Klopp is an enthusiastic, passionate presence on the touchline but there is a growing suspicion that Liverpool cannot attract top quality players to the club as a result of the lack of European competition on offer this season.
However, a clearer schedule might well enable Klopp’s men to compete more effectively in the Premier League and they should be considered dark horses to win their first title since 1990.
Arivals: Loris Karius, Sadio Mané, Joël Matip, Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum
Departures: Martin Škrtel, Kolo Touré, Jordon Ibe, João Teixeira, Sergi Canos, Jordan Rossiter
Likely tactics and formation
Klopp is another Premier League manager who is a fan of the 4-2-3-1 formation, although he has at times shifted to more of a 4-3-3 during his brief time in charge at Liverpool.
The German’s teams are famous for their energetic pressing game deep into opposition territory, which can leave them open to counter-attacks, but their high-tempo game suits their players too.
Liverpool’s tactics will depend on the identity of their starting striker, with Daniel Sturridge requiring a totally different type of service to Christian Benteke, who could leave the club before the start of the season in search of more first-team opportunities.
Sturridge appears to be first in line to start up front, but the England international desperately needs an injury-free season to keep his career on track after a number of injury-hit campaigns.
New signings Loris Karius, Sadio Mané and Joël Matip are likely to go straight into the team, with Matip replacing the outgoing Martin Škrtel, the Slovakia captain having signed for Fenerbahçe. In midfield, the Brazilian pair of creators Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will play key roles.
Karius will compete with last season’s number one goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, whose high-profile errors have loosened his grip on the gloves. Karius has turned down the chance to go to the Olympics with Germany in order to fight for his place in the Liverpool team. Ádám Bogdán and Danny Ward have gone out on loan, joining Wigan Athletic and Huddersfield Town.
Matip, a free transfer signing from Schalke, looks set to take Škrtel’s place in the heart of the Liverpool defence, with the Cameroon international adding pace and strength to the back line. Matip is expected to be partnered by Mamadou Sakho, who has been cleared of doping charges.
Nathaniel Clyne is the first choice right-back although young Australian Brad Smith could put pressure on his place, while left-back Alberto Moreno has progressed since Klopp’s appointment.
Coutinho and Firmino are likely to be two of Liverpool’s three attacking midfielders, with Adam Lallana perhaps in line to take the vacant spot on the right side of the Liverpool front line, although he faces a lot of competition from fellow former Southampton star Mané for that place, with another new signing, Georginio Wijnaldum, also in the running to play.
Jordan Henderson and James Milner could resume their all-England partnership in front of the Liverpool defence, although Emre Can is challenging them both for a place in the Reds team.
Sturridge hit eight goals in just 14 Premier League games and that record is likely to earn him the chance to start up front this season, as long as the 26-year-old is able to keep himself off those physioroom news tables.
Klopp has a lot of forward options to consider, with Belgium internationals Benteke and Divock Origi also pushing for selection, while Danny Ings has looked sharp in pre-season after recovering from a serious knee injury that ruled him out of most of last season.
Mario Balotelli’s nomadic career has seen him return to Liverpool and unless a move can be sorted for the Italian, he could well be a useful option for Klopp to use from the bench. Lucas Leiva is another who has been linked with a move, but his experience could be crucial to the Reds.
Dejan Lovren has struggled to nail down a place and may have to settle for the bench at first, while Lazar Marković and Marko Grujić are competing to be selected after returning from loan.
Teenager Ben Woodburn has impressed in pre-season and looks to be the most likely Liverpool youngster to break through into the first team, while recent signings Alex Manninger and Ragnar Klavan look to be providing cover at best.
Anybody looking for fantasy football tips will more than likely focus on Coutinho and Firmino who should take most of Liverpool’s set-pieces this season, with Henderson and Milner capable of taking dangerous corners as well.
Should Liverpool be awarded a penalty, Sturridge would likely want to take it, but Milner has proven himself to be extremely reliable from 12 yards and he might well be first in line.
Jordon Ibe and Škrtel are the high-profile departures over the summer, with their sales raising about £20 million for Klopp to invest in reinforcements. Karius, Klavan, Manninger and Matip have all been brought in cheaply, but £35 million was lavished on the signing of Mané and a further £25 million was spent to buy Wijnaldum from relegated Newcastle United.
Liverpool seem unable to compete with top Premier League sides in the transfer market, perhaps as a result of their lack of Champions League qualification, while the redevelopment of Anfield, which will boost matchday income in the long run, has eaten up funds in the short-term.