‘The LFC Project’ Part I – A detailed look at our Liverpool squad

By Taylor Powling – @taylorfutbol

Welcome to a new series based starting here at The Kopite revolving around the football management simulation game Football Manager 2019.

In a series of weekly articles, I will be playing the game as manager of Liverpool, attempting to restore the Reds back to the top of English and European football, and providing updates on my progress along the way.

Without further ado, let’s get straight into this first segment of Football Manager 2019 with Liverpool where we will be previewing the upcoming 2018/19 season.

Expectations

As expected at a club the with the history and prestige of Liverpool Football Club, the expectations set out by the owners, Fenway Sports Group, are of a high calibre. Whilst they do not expect us to win any trophies in our first year at the helm, in the Premier League they are looking for qualification to the UEFA Champions League to be secured for the third successive season.

In terms of domestic cup competitions, the board do not regard the Carabao Cup as an important trophy to target for the forthcoming season, however they do expect us to challenge for the FA Cup and reach the final at Wembley Stadium.

Lastly, after Jurgen Klopp guided the Anfield club to the brink of European success last season, FSG are looking for us to delve deep into the latter rounds of the Champions League once more and reach the semi-final stage.

The squad

The team report tab in FM19 is designed to show an overview of your team’s strengths and weaknesses and the overall squad depth at the club. This can be used to help a new manager identify two things:

  1. By finding out the strengths of your squad, it allows you to get an understanding of what tactical direction you will likely need to head down to maximise performances and hence results.
  2. Finding out the positions of weakness early on enables a manager to analyse what positions he needs to target in the transfer market.

Note: To maintain the realism of the save I decided to disable the summer transfer window. However, I will be conducting several scouting missions throughout the first-half of the season in the run up to January, and I will provide consistent updates on this.

As expected with this current Liverpool team, the standout performers largely come from the attacking side. The club possesses a ‘great’ option in all four attacking positions, followed by a number of good players who can come in to rotate.

Liverpool’s other world class players come defensively with unsurprisingly Virgil Van Dijk and summer signing Alisson being regarded as some of the best in the world in their respective positions. Alongside Van Dijk, there are three solid central defenders vying to partner him in the form of Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren.

In the full-back area the club has two solid guaranteed starters in local-lad Trent Alexander-Arnold and the ever-consistent Andy Robertson, but outside of that duo the squad lacks serious competitive depth.

Alberto Moreno has been renowned for his defensive incapability’s throughout his time at Anfield and that is one area already I have identified that needs upgrading. Thankfully, Moreno’s contract expires next summer so there will be no trouble trying to move him on.

Finally, in midfield there is a considerable amount of depth to choose from. Despite this, there remains very little standout ability with a large majority of the players playing at their maximum level right now.

Summer signings Naby Keita and Fabinho, however, both have the potential to reach the top tier of midfielders in world football and their development is definitely one area I will strongly focus on throughout this save.

Tactics

Delving into the tactics screen now, from the above graphic it is clear to see that the main root of any success we may have at Liverpool is going to come from maximising the wide areas.

Furthermore, with the vast number of options we possess in midfield, and the lack of a creative midfielder, it made sense to start with a three-man midfield. Therefore, the formation I have decided to adopt for the opening months of the season is a 4-1-2-2-1 (4-3-3) shape.

With the midfield options at the club currently suited to Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing philosophy I have decided to follow the German’s principles in terms of tactical instructions for the opening part of the season. This means we will look to play at an extremely high tempo, press the opposition heavily when possession is lost and then spring quick counter attack’s when it has been regained.

From a defensive standpoint we will play with a much higher defensive line and attempt to catch the opposition offside.

Player roles

For the large majority of the season, we are going to come up against teams who look to sit back and hence give us a lot of the ball. Therefore, Alisson’s strengths as a sweeper keeper will allow us to retain possession and pass it out from the back, as well as spring quick counter attacks on occasion to utilise the blistering speed of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.

Alisson’s role is complemented by the fact that I will be instructing both centre-backs to play as ball-playing defenders. This enables us to maintain possession and emphasise the idea of building play up from the back.

In addition, have changed the full-back roles to become complete wing-backs, in order to use the attacking strengths of both Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. Both carry superb crossing statistics and have the stamina and work-rate stats to consistently move up and down the field of play.

Having TAA and Robertson as far up the touchline as possible relates to the idea of deploying Salah and Mane as inside forwards. Taking advantage of the outstanding movement of the front three, having the two wide players as inside forward’s allows them to play alongside Roberto Firmino and fluidly interchange positions, causing nightmares to opposition defenders tracking their movement.

When Salah and Mane vacate the space out wide, it sets up TAA and Robertson to move higher up the pitch which will allow them to fill the wide space departed by the African duo and gives us the overlap dimension to hurt the opposition with.

In midfield I have decided to start with a trio. This is mainly due to the fact that Liverpool failed to acquire the services of attacking midfielder Nabil Fekir in the summer leaving a sizeable gap in the squad, but also to make use of the vast number of midfielders I have at my disposal.

At the deepest point of midfield, I will traditionally use the deep-lying playmaker role. This ties into my tactical philosophy of playing out from the back, as the DLP will operate in the space between the defence and midfield and aim to initiate attacking moves via pin-point passes to his attacking team-mates.

To bring balance to the midfield I have included a box-to-box midfielder who, as per the name, will charge between ends of the pitch looking to protect the defensive line at the back and then support the forwards in attack.

The third and final midfield role I will use is the mezzala. This is partly to get the very best out of the midfield qualities of Naby Keita. A mezzala has a tendency to drift wide and operate the half-spaces, whilst doing his defending higher up the pitch. Armed with less defensive responsibility, they will look to provide more attacking contributions into the final third.

Star player

The star player of this Liverpool team in real life is undoubtedly Mohamed Salah and this is reflected well in FM19. The Egyptian King’s debut season on Merseyside could be described as nothing short of exceptional.

Notching an unimaginable 32 goals in 36 Premier League games last season saw him demolish the most goals in a 38 game PL season record, and Salah’s world-class status has been replicated in this year’s game with the 26-year-old being rewarded with a four-and-a-half-star rating.

His main outstanding attributes are his 18 pace, 16 dribbling and his 18 finishing. These are perfect stats for an inside forward so expect Salah to pick up where he left off last season and continue to find the back of the net.

If you have any requests or suggestions for ways I can improve these series of articles, let us know in the comments!

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