Have you heard about the five players Liverpool need to bin off? Meet back here, yeah?
Liverpool have one goalkeeper who is out of favour and one goalkeeper who was out of favour. Liverpool have a right-back who has disappointed over the last 18 months after a bright beginning. Liverpool have a left-back situation which hardly bears repeating. Liverpool have one central defender who has burned his bridges (Mamadou Sakho) and another who most supporters would prefer was nudged out of the first team next season (Dejan Lovren).
That all makes Matip very important indeed, the port in this Liverpool defensive storm. He is the one member of the back five Jurgen Klopp would most prefer to be available, evidenced by Liverpool’s 63% win ratio with him in the team and 47% without him. Now just to hope and pray that Virgil van Dijk can still be signed to play alongside him without Liverpool inviting a transfer ban.
A statement of the bleeding obvious as Liverpool have parted with just under £35m for his services – viva Andy Carroll – but the club really do need this signing to work. Twice in their history have Liverpool paid more than £30m for a player, and neither Andy Carroll nor Christian Benteke were raging successes. After the clusterf*ck administrative procedures of the Van Dijk episode, the pressure is on to prove that Liverpool can be trusted to spend big money.
Klopp’s attacking strategy next season is open to interpretation. They could stick with the 4-3-3 formation and rotate, using three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Salah, or Klopp may choose to go with a 4-2-3-1 against weaker opposition, with Coutinho playing in front of Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana. The salient conclusion is that Liverpool’s manager finally has alternative options.
We are destined to eternally wonder just what Henderson does – or is supposed to do – in an England shirt, but there is no doubting his value to Liverpool. The captain struggled during the second half of last season through injury, and will be a guaranteed starter next season whatever plan Klopp has for his midfield.
The anecdotes of Henderson’s commitment to improving at Liverpool are striking. The midfielder studied hours of footage of his own play to improve his positioning, body shape, passing, tackling and movement, and spoke to Klopp’s coaches at length in order to allow them to mould him into a No. 6 in whom Klopp could be proud. Amidst the harum-scarum of Liverpool’s high-intensity football, Henderson is the calming influence.
Named Liverpool’s Player of the Season in his debut season at Anfield ahead of Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino, as voted for by supporters, Mane also won the award picked by the club’s players, an indication of his impact since joining. “I feel at home at this club and in this city,” Mane said. “My team-mates, the staff, the manager and the supporters have all made me feel so welcome.”
The feeling is mutual. Liverpool would not be in the Champions League without Mane’s goals, and no other player at Anfield remained as consistent all the way through the season. It is no coincidence that Liverpool won only one of their eight matches when Mane was away in January, and that a 1-0 victory over Plymouth. They lost to Southampton (twice), Swansea and Wolves. The arrival of Salah may relieve some of that dependency, but nothing will change Mane’s standing.
“I have a contract with my club and it is long,” was hardly the strongest possible indication that Coutinho wants to stay at Liverpool for the long term, and there is no doubt that the presence of Barcelona looms large. Critics may wonder if Catalan interest has slightly died down because Coutinho has not quite hit the heights they had hoped, but he is still capable of the sensational and has learned to curb his temptation to shoot needlessly from distance.
Klopp’s plan this season is to use Coutinho in a dual role, out on the left when the situation dictates but also tucked inside and deeper with Salah and Mane on the wings. That second option probably depends on Liverpool signing a central midfielder in the mould of Naby Keita to allow Coutinho to roam, but it could well get the most out of the Brazilian.