Jack Hallows lists 5 things that he believes Jürgen Klopp should be looking to prioritise during Liverpool’s pre-season this summer.
Pre-season is here! The Reds have started to descend back onto Melwood and the initial fitness tests are out the way – for the first bunch anyways.
While the likes of Mohamed Salah, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can won’t return for another couple of weeks due to their involvements in international duty over the break, Klopp still has a strong squad to begin working with.
The likes of Loris Karius, Daniel Sturridge, James Milner and Jordan Henderson have all reported back to Melwood already and of course, there are a number of younger and fringe talents also looking to impress.
With Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s Sporting Director, the man in charge of focussing on transfer dealings and getting them across the line, Klopp will be allowed to focus solely on preparing his squad for the new campaign. So what might he be up to for the next six weeks?
When Klopp arrived on Merseyside he employed two main formations.
The 4-2-3-1, which was a staple of his at Dortmund and the 4-3-2-1, which was often used when Firmino spearheaded the attack.
That was altered last season to a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1, set up specifically to negate the 4-2-3-1 style formation favoured by most Premier League managers with the Reds alteration of a number 6 – most often Jordan Henderson – deployed to negate the link up play between the opposition no.9 and no.10.
However, late last season we saw the manager flirt with the idea of changing the system based on situation. We saw a messy 3-5-2 style line up at Stoke that personally, I don’t want to see revisited ever again after the heart palpitations it caused and an impressively solid 4-4-2 diamond that tore both West Ham and Middlesbrough to shreds.
Whether Klopp will stick with his 4-3-3 this season is unknown, although the fact he’s signed another winger in Mohamed Salah and is looking to add another number 8 style midfield in Naby Keïta suggests he will. Whatever he does, I do hope he looks to change it up a bit in pre-season, giving the Reds something they didn’t have for much of last campaign; a solid plan B.
Assessing the fitness of key players
Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mané are the two that immediately spring to mind for this dot point.
While Mané *touch wood* doesn’t have a long and frustrating injury record behind him, he will still ned to be eased back into training and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him feature for less than an hour in at least the first three or four pre-season fixtures as he builds his fitness back up.
Henderson however, is going to be a tougher one to manage.
The Liverpool skipper has missed a lot of football over the past two seasons due to a heel problem and most recently, a bizarre ‘bruised foot’ injury that surely must’ve been something more.
Henderson was in stellar form last season when he did feature, starting as the no.6 in Klopp’s preferred system but the question is whether he can maintain his fitness and get on the park for a larger percentage of the Reds’ games. This is surely set to be a big season for the Liverpool captain.
Give youth a chance
Klopp has always been a big advocate of giving youth a real chance and it would be a surprise to see this summer be any different.
The German unearthed some real gems last pre-season, with the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn in particular being stellar finds but this summer should be more about nurturing the youth talent we’ve already seen emerging.
The likes of Joe Gomez, Sheyi Ojo and Ryan Kent should all be given opportunities to impress before any decisions are made on their futures, while Alexander-Arnold and Wooburn are deserving of solid game time – at least in the domestic fixtures.
Klopp is going to need all the depth he can get this season and he’d be wise to give his youngsters the best chance of being able to come in and do a job if called upon.
What to do about Daniel?
On his day, Daniel Sturridge is one of the deadliest strikers in the Premier League but doubts still remain over his fitness issues, commitment to the cause and ability to hit the heights he reached back in those stellar 18 months when he first signed for the club.
With Klopp supposedly forcing him to remain at the club this summer due to the struggles the club believe they’d have when trying to replace him, Sturridge will know that he’s got to keep himself fit.
Roberto Firmino looks set to remain the first choice centre forward for the Reds but with Liverpool competing on four fronts there is plenty of opportunity for rotation.
Sturridge possesses the natural ability, canny movement and in-game intelligence to remain a key player for the Reds – especially as a potential ‘flat track bully’ option – but it’s up to him to keep himself fully fit and firing.
Liverpool can ill-afford another season of Sturridge in a hospital bed memes.
Shifting the deadwood
While pre-season is the perfect opportunity for players to force their way into their managers’ thinking, it’s also a time that can definitely see them do the opposite.
Klopp will be hoping that most of his squad take their opportunities with both hands and do their utmost to impress him but the German must also use this opportunity to establish which players will join Markovic, Moreno and Sakho on the Reds chopping block this summer.
Whether it’s shifting the deadwood for good, or sending them out on loan, Liverpool cannot afford to have players in their squad that drop the overall standard – especially if they expect to compete in the Champions League.
The likes of Kevin Stewart, Connor Randall and Jon Flanagan will know they have a mountain to climb to force their way into Klopps’ plans. Fail and they might just find themselves being displayed front and centre in the shop window.
What do you think Liverpool should be focussing on this pre-season? Let Jack know in the comments below or tweet him @JackHallows_ !