Will Liverpool’s season be outlined by kids?

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Photograph: AP

It relies on the way you outline drama whether or not or not you discover any within the Premier League season. We just about know that both Manchester Metropolis or Liverpool will win the title. Some mixture of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, and possibly United will fill out the opposite Champions League locations. Maybe Newcastle can stage a shock that nobody however their supporters will take pleasure in, on condition that they’re LIV Golf FC. However on the high, that’s about it.

Inside that duopoly on the high, their unfathomable excellence over the previous few years has saved the identical dialogue occurring repeatedly from getting too stale to most (however not all). It’s one factor to have the identical two groups taking part in tug-of-war over the title for a protracted stretch like Arsenal and Man United did within the late 90s or 2000s. It’s one other when every workforce is throwing up 90+ level seasons every time. There have been 13 90+ seasons in Premier League historical past, and Metropolis and Liverpool have authored six of them mixed within the final 5 seasons.

Clearly, the margins are so skinny. Simply final season, Liverpool might level to a Mo Salah missed penalty in December, or Harry Kane not getting despatched off towards them earlier within the month, or a bunch of particular person moments. Or Metropolis scraping that time at West Ham, or a last-minute winner at Arsenal, or one other slate of coin flips we might cite.

This season, the intrigue is that each Metropolis and Liverpool are bedding in real central strikers, real No. 9s, that neither facet has actually featured earlier than. Metropolis’s Erling Haaland and Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez might trigger modifications in formation and kinds, and we will’t say for certain how that can go. And once more, only one wonky game right here or there has typically made the distinction between these two.

The larger change appears to be occurring at Metropolis, which is mainly reshaping its complete entrance line, although most of that was concluded after one glorified preseason game in final weekend’s Group Defend. Liverpool is a bit more plug-and-play, although it’s been hinted and prompt that no less than at occasions, Liverpool will shift to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Nunez. Metropolis may do the identical at occasions.

But still, we basically know how Liverpool will line up and who with when everyone’s healthy. And we also know where the deficiencies are within that, such as they are for a team that came within a whisker of an unprecedented four-trophy haul.

Liverpool’s underbelly, however soft it might be, is that the midfield lacks a little creativity and a little pace. It’s not really counted on for that, as the inspiration for goals and chances comes from the fullbacks and the forwards. When teams did their best to nullify that, they just moved Trent Alexander-Arnold more infield with the ball last season. Thiago is around for the creativity problem, but he has always had fragility issues and is the only one of the normal starting 11 that creates much from midfield. Fabinho is tidy with the ball but is around to nullify counters for the most part. Jordan Henderson will spend the first two months of the season looking like a true attacking outlet both through creation and scoring himself, and then as the season goes on just reverting to a more industrious, counter-pressing type. Naby Keita can’t stay fit or consistent enough to provide the goals he always flashes when he’s on song for a game or two. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is already crocked. James Milner is basically moving into a player-coach role.

This means that if Liverpool is going to turn a new leaf, whether through formation or style even as just a change of pace, its title and European hopes might come down to three kids not legally allowed to drink on this side of the Atlantic.

When last season started, Harvey Elliott had been the surprise of the preseason and had worked himself into the starting 11 in midfield, even though it was assumed he would be Salah’s understudy on the right side of the front three. Just 18 at the time, Elliott was trusted even to start against Chelsea and looked more than comfortable doing so. Elliott provided something that Liverpool didn’t have in midfield, a non-stop attacker who would have played as a No. 10 in other systems, shifty in both feet and mind, ready and willing to get into the box behind or alongside the front three. Had he not suffered a horror ankle injury against Leeds in just the team’s fourth game that saw him out until January, he may have been a mainstay.

Curtis Jones, still just 20, is more in the mold of what we see Liverpool’s midfield as, and has knocked at the door of becoming a regular for two seasons now. He didn’t quite take off last season as his 2020-2021 season suggested he could. He carries something of a baby Thiago feel in his confidence on the ball deeper in the field than Elliott, but can drive forward with it. Even if he’s only depth, he has to prove he can be reliable depth this season considering the crunch of games the World Cup sitting in the middle of the season like Jabba The Hutt requires.

The real wildcard is the new addition this season, Fabio Carvalho. He’s only 19, and was pinched from Fulham this summer after attempts to get him last winter failed. Carvalho falls into that file marked, “Just tries shit,” which can be exciting as hell if a little risky. But again, Liverpool doesn’t have much like him.

Where Carvalho and Elliott are really worth watching is when and how often Liverpool switches to that 4-2-3-1. Roberto Firmino would seemingly be the first choice to play the No. 10 in that setup, but Jurgen Klopp has tried that before with limited success. Firmino isn’t as effective when stationed in those spaces instead of dropping into them from the forward line and surprising defenders. But Carvalho and Elliott feel like more natural 10s, given their midfield upbringings.

What Liverpool may need is goals from anywhere they can get them. Sadio Mane has taken his 18-20 bankable ones to Germany, and to just assume Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez will pick up the slack completely and thoroughly is not a wise way to go about one’s work. Even if they do, toward the end of last season when exhaustion set in, Liverpool looked limited until Mane could pull The Reds’ ass out of a sling. This season will be no less tiring and Liverpool need more players it can call on throughout.

Liverpool needs more goals from more sources to even out whatever adjustments Nunez might have to make and to keep opponents guessing, especially late in the season when the miles accrued pile up. We know the margins are thin, and Liverpool’s may be decided on the backs of three kids. 

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