By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
As Liverpool return to pre-season, there is plenty to look forward to as Jürgen Klopp takes reigns of his fourth full season in charge of the Reds. Much is happening behind the scenes, but this mini-series will look at what is happening on the pitch as well as the training ground.
Liverpool take part in eight friendlies this season, two of which are close to home where they face Tranmere Rovers and Bradford City to help raise funds for the two local clubs.
Klopp and his squad will then jet off to play Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting CP as they travel the east side of the USA. After the US tour, they play Napoli and Lyon in Edinburgh and Geneva respectively before a final game against Manchester City in the Community Shield final.
For the first part of this series, I will look at what we can expect on the pitch against Tranmere and Bradford and discuss what the fringe players have to do to get into the gaffers plans. A host of academy players, last season’s loanees and a small number of first team players are all in line for apperances – but there won’t be many stars on show.
Of the 16-man squad Klopp named, 19-year-old Anderson Arroyo is probably the name that stands out the most due to him being an unknown prospect in the club. The Colombian full back can play on either flank.
What makes the players inclusion a strange one is that he won’t feature for Liverpool this season due to work permit issues and will head out on loan as he did last season. Highly-rated Adam Lewis fails to make the cut, which in my opinion is an odd omission as many had the young left back as Robertson’s understudy for the season ahead.
Jurgen Klopp hinted back in 2016 that Rhian Brewster was the highest-rated youngster on Liverpool’s books, ahead of Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Since then our young right back has gone on from strength to strength, so if Brewster grows in similar fashion then we will have a very exciting player on our hands.
He is an accomplished finisher on both feet and works well off the ball. Two years ago he also helped England win the U17 World Cup scoring consecutive hat-tricks against USA and Brazil before opening the scoring in the final against Spain. Klopp has promised Brewster more playing time this season and we should expect to see him leading the line in the domestic cup matches.
Dutch duo Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever will both also look to push for first team football this season. Ajax wanted the former to replace the outgoing Matthijs de Ligt, but the Reds swooped in and got the 17-year-old for a maximum of £4.4million. He is expected to play first-team football this season meaning Hoever’s pathway may be blocked.
Last chance saloon
Harry Wilson had an excellent loan spell last season at Derby County. He scored 18 goals and assisted a further six, winning their goal of the month competition seven times, scoring multiple free-kicks and long-range beauties from outside the box.
Despite all of this, his overall game was lacking. His reading of the game can be poor, and he made the wrong decision many-a time last season.
He mostly played on the wing but has featured behind the striker as a playmaker. Jürgen plays without an out-and-out playmaker, instead preferring a more rounded type of player who can help with defensive work.
From what we have seen of him so far, Wilson is too lightweight to play in that position and, in my opinion, he doesn’t have the pace to play out on the wing in this Liverpool side. He may be a great asset to have this season, but perhaps he is better suited elsewhere.
The club are looking for close to £20million for the Welsh man, and with Nabil Fekir reportedly available for just £5million more, I know which player I’d rather have. I would be surprised If we were to end the transfer window with Harry Wilson still at Anfield.
A chance to return to full fitness
Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both missed large sections of last season due to injury. Both returned to full training in the latter stages of the season and came off the bench to play a handful of minutes.
With pre-season underway, both can look to return to match fitness with no pressure. Moreover, with many first-team players still away after Copa America and AFCON duty, both English stars will be hopeful of featuring in the first game of the season at home to Norwich should they impress.
Gomez formed arguably one of the best defensive pairs of the season with Virgil van Dijk, but if they want to be regarded as Premier League royalty then they need to perform together on a consistent basis.
Many would suggest that it would be impossible due to Gomez’ injury record. However, most of his layoffs have been caused due to impact and were not muscular, which gives the centre-back some hope for his future.
If he and Oxlade-Chamberlain can remain injury free along with the three men up front, then – with a couple of possible additions – I believe we can have a real crack at winning at least four trophies this season.
Ideally Klopp would have preferred to make all of his signing before pre-season so he can get them accustomed to his style of football. With this being said, having two international tournaments ongoing throws a spanner in the works. He may have to wait until the latter stages of the window to make a move in the transfer market.
The German’s preferred formation has always been 4-2-3-1, but since his time at Liverpool his resources have seen him swap to a 4-3-3. It must be noted however that he did use his trademark formation for the majority of December which saw us win eight out of eight.
The return of Oxlade-Chamberlain and possible emergence of Rhian Brewster could spell a return to his favoured tactics.