With preseason done and Liverpool's new midfield signings all having seen a fair bit of action, the focus shifts to the forthcoming season and questions of just how the club is going to fit everybody in as what looks set to be the deepest midfield in years faces a more limited schedule without European competition for the fist time in a decade. Given some of the price tags involved, there has been a natural tendency in some quarters to assume all three of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, and Charlie Adam will receive starters' minutes in the Premier League, but it would be just as easy to imagine only one or two of the new signings seeing significant action, especially if Steven Gerrard's latest setback turns out to be his last and Alberto Aquilani sticks around until at least January. With that in mind, it seemed as good a time as any to ask readers who they would start—based on what they've seen of the three newcomers so far—assuming everybody else in the squad was fit and on form.
In short, which of Liverpool's new boys do you see as automatic selections in the first eleven?
The former Blackpool man seems to have settled fairly quickly with his new club, and his performance against Valencia even began to turn some of the remaining doubters to his side. Still, for all that Adam at his best might bring to the side, it's an unavoidable truth that he's the new midfield signing with the least positional flexibility and that he'll be competing for time at the club's area of greatest depth. For all that he's quickly calmed down and displayed a willingness to embrace a more reserved passing game, he hasn't shown anything so far to suggest that even against supposedly weaker sides—the type of team most reliant on a quick counter-attack—he could be trusted providing defensive cover. Meanwhile he wouldn't appear to have the pace to make himself a legitimate option in wider areas. All of which would seem to limit him to one or possibly two positions, depending on how the team lines up, with up to five other first team players available for Kenny Dalglish to potentially select ahead of him. So while many will have been pleasantly surprised by his performances so far, the question remains as to whether he's an automatic selection for the first eleven when everybody's fit, or if he's more suited to the role of supersub.
The general consensus so far is that not only has Downing been the best of the new signings in the preseason, he's also arguably been Liverpool's best player. As such, one would expect most to want Liverpool's new left-footer in the starting eleven one way or another: He's shown decent pace, guile, and a good cross. He's given the club something it hasn't had in recent years, at least aside from a brief spell in 2008-09 after Albert Riera arrived from Espanyol but before he completely fell out with the club, namely a naturally left-footed attacker comfortable getting a bit of chalk on his boots. The only possible reason to question his status as a nailed-on starter would seem to be Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan forward spent much of last season filling the role of a false-nine, but with Carroll and his £35M price-tag returning to full fitness for the 2011-12 season and a long list of central midfielders hinting at a central trio, it's possible to argue that Liverpool's best signing could still find himself out of the squad's best eleven through no fault of his own.
Given the way he's been deployed in the preseason, it appears increasingly likely that Henderson will be competing for time on the right of midfield this season rather than centrally, which makes sense given Liverpool's glut of central midfielders. Over the longer term, it's entirely possible that Comolli and Dalglish see him as the eventual replacement for Steven Gerrard, but for now at least the question seems likely to be Henderson or Kuyt most weeks. With how well Kuyt linked up with Suarez last season, and with the way he's been one of the first names on the teamsheet both for his country over arguably technically superior players and at Liverpool under three separate managers, many might be tempted to call this fight done before it even got started and mark Henderson down as a name almost entirely for the future. However, since the weekend there has been some suggestion that Henderson starting against Valencia could be a signal of Dalglish's intent to find a way to fit Liverpool's first summer signing into the starting lineup at the expense of Kuyt.
Be sure to vote, and we'd love to hear your rationale as well as who—if anybody—you think is going to lose the most minutes as a result of Liverpool's sudden depth in midfield in the comments.