Matthew Stinton gives a detailed analysis of Liverpool’s pre-season fixtures and who should be given opportunities to impress this summer.
With the beginning of pre-season just under two weeks away, there’s a chance coming up for players to claim their place in the starting eleven for this season and for some of the young lads to let Klopp know they’re ready for first team chances.
In the earlier fixtures against English sides, we’ll see almost everyone given a chance, but I fully expect to see something like this season’s eleven against the likes of Bayern Munich (at least for a half). With that in mind, here are some of the players I’d like to see start in each half of our preseason.
First half – the local fixtures
Goalkeeper – Loris Karius
Karius struggled in his first season at the club, with errors early in the season – against West Ham, for example – allowing Simon Mignolet to reclaim his place as number one for the remainder of the season (he did an excellent job, too).
I still think Klopp sees him as first choice in the long term, but he will need some time to become that and we will probably see him eased into the first team throughout the season.
Right Back – Trent Alexander-Arnold
I’m not even sure if Trent will play as a right back when he eventually – and inevitably – breaks into the first team.
In the youth teams, he has seemed comfortable on the ball and very good going forward, but this is where we’ve seen him play for the first team so far (bar the odd 10-minute cameo on the wing) so I think he’ll line up there in preseason.
Centre Back – Joe Gomez
When Joe first joined the club, he was an immediate starter until consecutive long-term injuries saw him out of action until early 2017. He made some appearances in the early rounds of the FA Cup back in January but was, of course, not ready to come back into the first team.
He is still a great talent and has the ability to become a permanent starter one day if he avoids the injuries, but he has been taken back to square one in terms of first team opportunities. Perhaps some good performances in preseason will put him back in Klopp’s plans.
Centre Back: Ragnar Klavan
Klavan isn’t the greatest defender in the world and has made his fair share of mistakes but £4.2 million wasn’t a bad deal as he did put in some solid performances when he was needed, especially against the likes of Everton and Manchester City. He’ll add some experience to the defence which will help someone like Gomez out.
Left Back: Alberto Moreno
Assuming he’s still at the club, that is. I expect us to bring in a left back of some sort, whether that be first choice or backup, which would see either James Milner or the new backup slip into this spot. For now, though, there’s been no real news of a new left back so I’ll stick with Alberto. He isn’t too bad for a plan B, after all.
Centre Mid: Jordan Henderson
No, I’m not saying Henderson should be part of our second-string side. I just think it’ll be good for our young players to have the captain playing alongside to help them, rather than having a full team of inexperienced players; that way, I think they’ll learn more about what it takes to be in the first team.
Centre Mid: Marko Grujic
Marko Grujic made an instant impact last pre-season, scoring four goals including that looping header in the 4-0 win against Barcelona.
His season was unfortunately plagued with injuries but we saw glimpses throughout the season of what he is capable of.
Should he stay fit, we’ll certainly see a lot of him in the cup competitions; he definitely has the attributes to make it at the top level.
Centre Mid: Ovie Ejaria
I must admit I’d never heard of Ejaria when I saw his name on the teamsheet against Tranmere last year. Since then, though, he’s proved to be one of our most talented youngsters with some impressive performances for the under 23s and in the League Cup.
Injuries saw him miss the second half of the season, but this preseason is an opportunity for him to remind everybody how good he is and earn some more first team opportunities.
Right Wing: Ben Woodburn
One of the stories of Liverpool’s 2016/17 season, Woodburn became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer with his powerful close-range finish to make it 2-0 against Leeds United.
We didn’t see a great deal more of him for the rest of the season apart from a few substitute appearances – and that unexpected start against Stoke – but he continued to impress for the under 23s and is now probably our second highest young player in the pecking order for the first team – behind Trent Arnold.
He’s still only 17, however, so we should let him develop over the next couple of years.
Left Wing: Sheyi Ojo
After being recalled from a loan spell at Wolves, Ojo was undoubtedly our best young player in the 2015/16 season, getting a goal and four assists in just 450 minutes of first-team game time; a goal or assist every 90 minutes.
He continued to impress in pre-season, with a good performance against AC Milan and a goal against Roma, but a serious back injury saw him out until the new year and he spent the remainder of the season regaining fitness with the under 23s.
It was certainly a disappointment after his excellent 15/16 season but he reminded everybody what he could do at the under 20 World Cup, bringing home the trophy with fellow Liverpool youngster Ejaria and new boy Dominic Solanke.
Sheyi is still, in my opinion, one of our top three young players and arguably the fastest player in our squad; let’s hope he can have a better season than the last one.
Striker – Dominic Solanke
The signing of Solanke sparked some typical overreactions on Twitter, but we have picked up a very good young striker. The former Chelsea man was banging in the goals at youth levels and just won the golden ball for being the best player at the recent under 20 World Cup.
I think he’ll have a much better chance of eventually breaking into the first team here than he did at Chelsea and I expect to see lots of him in the cup competitions. Who knows, maybe we’ll see him in the team in some more important games; he certainly has the potential to be there.
Other players that are likely to play a part include Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster, who both had good seasons for the under 18s and under 23s, but this is something like the team I’d like to see start against Tranmere and Wigan.
Second half: the big teams
Goalkeeper – Simon Mignolet
When Loris Karius was brought in last summer, it looked as though Simon’s time as Liverpool’s number one was coming to an end.
However, mistakes from the German saw Mignolet take back his place and enjoy his best season since joining the club, coming up with some vital saves – Stoke and West Brom are ones that come to mind – to help us finish in the top four.
I expect him to carry on as first choice for this season while Karius continues to develop.
Right Back – Nathaniel Clyne
Clyne has started to receive a bit of criticism from fans in the past few months but I think it’s slightly harsh; while he hasn’t been the best going forward, he’s been consistently solid since joining the club and a new right back is probably the last thing we need.
He’ll definitely start the season as first choice, although Trent Alexander-Arnold may have something to say about that in the long term.
Centre Back: Joël Matip
Despite a first season at the club that was stuttered by injuries and trouble with the Cameroon national team, Matip has already established himself as the best centre-back currently at the club.
Excellent on the ball and a presence in the air, the former Schalke man was a great free transfer and should be a starter for years to come.
Centre Back: Dejan Lovren/New signing
Of the centre-backs currently at the club, Dejan Lovren is first choice to line up alongside Matip.
It remains to be seen whether talks will continue for Virgil van Dijk or if a different player will be brought in, but for no, it’s Lovren who will start.
He is certainly capable of brilliant performances but he’s equally capable of some silly errors. A great squad player for sure but I’m not sure whether Dejan will be first choice for much longer.
Left Back: James Milner/New signing
Milner did a fantastic job in the 2016/17 season, playing in an unfamiliar position at left back. A great professional but a limited player, left back should be one of the first positions we look to improve in; James has done a good job in getting us a top four spot, but I’d like a new signing if we want to seriously compete in the Champions League this season.
Centre Mid: Jordan Henderson/Emre Can
I put Henderson in the first team with the young players as I think they could learn a lot from him, but as captain, he should also be starting in this team. However, his last two seasons have been plagued with injuries and Emre Can certainly stepped up towards the end of last season; his goal of the season against Watford meant the fans will never forget him.
I do still think though that it will be Henderson who ends up starting if both are fully fit, but we’ll probably see plenty of both in pre-season.
Centre Mid: Gini Wijnaldum
Many questioned the signing of Wijnaldum from relegated Newcastle last summer, but he proved to be a very valuable member of the squad, popping up with crucial goals against Manchester City, Chelsea, Burnley and in the final game against Middlesbrough to secure a top four finish; if he’d done the same in away games he could have been our player of the season!
I still hope we can sign another quality midfielder – looking at you, Naby Keïta – which would see one of Wijnaldum or Lallana drop to the bench, but both had very good seasons. We could see Lallana take this spot instead of Gini, I’m not really sure yet.
Centre Mid: Philippe Coutinho
You probably wouldn’t have expected me to put Coutinho in this position just a few months ago, with the Brazilian playing on the left instead of in a central midfield role ever since our title challenge back in 2014.
However, Klopp has mentioned that he likes Coutinho in this role, and his performances there in the last few games of the season suggest he could have a long-term future there.
Left Wing: Sadio Mané
Hands up if you wanted Mario Götze instead of this guy. Keep them up if you’re delighted we missed out on him in the end.
Our signing of the season and arguably player of the season (he would have been a clear winner if not for Philippe Coutinho’s world class end to the season), Sadio Mané lit up the Premier League last season.
He added some much-needed pace to our front three and had some amazing big game performances; his two goals against Spurs are the first I think of, but his opening day goal against Arsenal and last minute winner against Everton weren’t too bad either.
Mané is an absolutely guaranteed starter for next season but he may not play on the right as he did last season due to the arrival of Mohamed Salah, who also prefers to play on the right. Mané has played on the left wing before in his days with Salzburg, so I’ve put him here but it may be the other way around.
Right wing: Mohamed Salah
What seems like the longest transfer saga ever has come to an end and Salah is ready to come straight into the starting eleven. His short time under Mourinho should not be off-putting at all.
He was one of the best players in Italy after his arrival at Roma, with 19 goals and 15 assists in 41 games from the wing last season. He is also an incredibly fast player; him and Mané on the wings, fed by Coutinho, should lead to some devastating counter attacks. I can’t wait to see him play for the first time.
Striker: Roberto Firmino
There are endless rumours about Liverpool bringing in a new striker this summer, but I still think it’s unlikely; the nature of our playing style and the false nine role mean that goals spread throughout the team, so we don’t necessarily need that “20 goal a season” new striker. It’d be nice, definitely, but we have higher priorities at the moment.
Firmino also brings so much more to the team than just goals, so while he might not be the most prolific striker out there, he’s a very important member of the squad and I can’t see Klopp dropping him anytime soon.