Less than a week away now, so let's flirt with some possibilities.
It's a relatively slow day of news---fluff piece with Milan Jovanovic here, fluff piece with Glen Johnson there, rumors linking players that'll never arrive everywhere! But hey, Fabio Aurelio got a new shirt number, so try to contain yourself.
In the absence of any new developments, then, I figured it might be useful to get some input on how folks see Liverpool's squad taking shape ahead of Sunday's league opener with Arsenal. This idea is largely born out of a discussion that took place in the comments section a few days ago between Noel and Grubb---I cherry-picked a few points and gave my thoughts, but they both laid out great arguments for the way they thought Liverpool should line up, at least in central midfield.
So today I want to blow that discussion out a bit and talk about how we see Liverpool lining up. Sunday's a bit tricky---a few of the World Cup names are still working their way back to fitness, and as a result we might get a little different look than we normally would. But given the current squad, I'm interested to know what people think the best eleven is. Not necessarily the most talented eleven, but one that gives Liverpool their best opportunity to win.
I'm going to go position by position, just because I like taking more space to do things than I need to. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section, and if you're long-winded like me, explain why.
Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina
I'm a little hesitant to assert that Reina will be back in action by Sunday, but I haven't heard anything regarding his fitness or form after spending the summer in South Africa. I can't imagine he came back very exhausted---yes, the travel and time away were likely taxing in their own right, but he didn't log a single minute during Spain's run to the World Cup title. I'd expect that he's fresh and ready to go, even if he got plenty exhausted sprinting down the line to celebrate with his teammates after a goal and leading the post-victory celebrations.
Who's left out: Diego Cavalieri, Peter Gulacsi
Defense: Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio
Strange to have starting back line that's nearly identical to last season's after all the action in the past few months---Aurelio left, a deal was agreed for Insua, Aurelio returned, Insua's deal fell through. I'm not completely convinced that whoever's running the show in the transfer market is smart enough to give up on the sale of Insua, so for now I've got Fabio Aurelio penciled in. If and when Insua's retained beyond the transfer deadline, I think he displaces Aurelio.
The rest of the back line is pretty standard fare---even though he forgets he's a defender at times, Glen Johnson's still the top option at right back, and the partnership of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger is about as good as it gets. I think we're at least a season away from starting the conversation about Carra being displaced by one of the younger center backs, but it's on the horizon.
As it stands, there's plenty of options in the back line, even if I think this is the best one at the current time. Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos are more than capable back-ups in central defense, the play of Martin Kelly continues to impress, the pickup of Danny Wilson is fantastic for the club's future, Dani Ayala had a decent preseason, and there's still plenty of younger players in the pipeline.
Who's left out: Emiliano Insua, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Martin Kelly, Danny Wilson, Dani Ayala, Stephen Darby
Midfield: Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Milan Jovanovic
I'm done doubting two of the players I have here---Dirk Kuyt's just absolutely irrepressible and gives Liverpool exactly what they need, and it's from a position that he basically created for himself. I know, I know, Rafa put him there, but he did the dirty work of morphing it into a workable position for his set of skills. He's able to float inward, play a quality overlap with a right back who gets forward a ton, and grinds out 50-50 balls in the middle part of the pitch.
The other is Lucas, and after seeing him partner with someone beside Javier Mascherano, I don't think there's any reason to leave him out. It pushes Alberto Aquilani out of the starting eleven, but we're talking most workable eleven, not most talented. Lucas is the perfect foil for Steven Gerrard, assuming that the captain's taking a more withdrawn central role this season due to the arrival of Joe Cole. To paraphrase myself paraphrasing Noel from the other day, you know what you're getting from Lucas, and that's necessary when the other central midfielder is prone to sprinting any which way at any given time.
Jovanovic takes up the mantle on the left side of midfield, but as with the rest of the players in the forward area for Liverpool, there's bound to be plenty of overlap. We saw the Serbian all over the pitch in the preseason and against Rabotnicki, and I doubt that changes much as the season progresses. If anything, that's a major problem Liverpool can pose for oppostion defenses---nearly every player in front of the back line can attack from any part of the pitch. Jovanovic, Kuyt, Gerrard, and, to some extent, Lucas, can string together top-quality interplay.
As with the back line, we see some serious depth here, too---Aquilani will get his fair share of starts (and probably has a shout to displace Lucas), Dani Pacheco is clearly one for the future, Jonjo Shelvey looks like he's going to grow into a fantastic talent, and Maxi and Ryan Babel give Liverpool craft and pace off the bench. The rumors about Christian Poulsen would only add to that depth, but I don't think it changes anything about the best four in midfield.
**I know I left out Javier Mascherano---he doesn't want to be at Liverpool, they're trying to work a deal out, so no point in stringing it out. The Poulsen move doesn't advance if Mascherano is staying.**
Who's left out: Alberto Aquilani, Jonjo Shelvey, Dani Pacheco, Ryan Babel, Maxi Rodriguez, David Amoo, Nathan Eccleston, Jay Spearing
Attack: Joe Cole, Fernando Torres
A little puzzling about where to place Joe Cole, but I think you get the gist--he'll be just off Fernando Torres in an advanced midfield/not-quite-second striker role. He's looked lively as hell the few times we've seen him in a red shirt, stringing together play in the forward areas and linking up with all comers in attack in a way we haven't seen a Liverpool player do in quite some time. His adaptability is a major bonus, and as mentioned, he can overlap and interchange with Liverpool's midfielders at any given time. The major hurdle here is keeping him healthy---it's no secret that he's had his fair share of injuries in seasons past. If he is, it's a major boost, and given what we've already seen, his impact could be unparalleled.
There's not much we need to say about Liverpool's number 9---if he gets/stays healthy, we know what he can do. The addition of Cole likely only makes Torres better, and we've already seen a boatload of chances created for David Ngog. A fit and on-form Torres is a nightmare for the rest of the league, and when he's buttressed by a free-flowing, fast-moving midfield, the possibilities are limitless.
This is the one spot, though, that Liverpool are a bit starving for depth. David Ngog has been solid, if not a bit wasteful, so far, but beyond him, Roy Hodgson only has midfield options to fill the striker's role. Given Torres' struggles with injury during his time at Liverpool, you'd have to guess that they're after another forward man. Plenty have been linked---Peter Crouch is the most recent---but none confirmed. Let's hope depth isn't need...even though we all know it will be at some point.
Who's left out: David Ngog, Lauri Dalla Valle
So here it is:
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Jovanovic
Bench: Cavalieri, Pacheco, Aquilani, Skrtel, Insua, Ngog, Babel