Some things have become a little more clear since pre-season began when it comes to Liverpool’s depth chart heading into the 2016-17 season. There’s no question Sadio Mané will start; no question Emre Can will be the key in midfield or that, no matter the formation, Roberto Firmino will be the focal point in attack.
Mané, most fans’ standout performer in pre-season, has already made his transfer fee look something of a bargain as the market grows increasingly inflated. Firmino, meanwhile, filled any number of attacking positions capably and was tabbed by Klopp as having been the club’s top pre-season performer.
How they all line up, though, remains uncertain. The default, one imagines, remains the 4-2-3-1. At least until Klopp plays another formation often enough to ignore more than a decade at Mainz and Dortmund when it was his preferred formation. So it’s a 4-2-3-1 for now—but it may not be 4-2-3-1 every game.
It’s easy to imagine the season starting with the 4-3-3 against Arsenal, Emre Can anchoring midfield and Adam Lallana in the eight. Roberto Firmino leading the line as a false nine. That wouldn’t be a surprise. Looking beyond just the opening game of the season, though, for now we’re sticking to the 4-2-3-1.
Within that framework, there are some close and potentially controversial calls to be made—positional playing time battles that will likely play themselves out over August and September. Perhaps the biggest is Gieorginio Wijnaldum vs. Jordan Henderson when Liverpool play a two-man midfield.
Wijnaldum has been more than solid in pre-season and could usurp Jordan Henderson’s role alongside Can in the long run, but Henderson too has impressed, and even if he wasn’t the captain Klopp chose, it only feels right that he be given the chance to retain the position—at least to start the season.
Adam Lallana is in a similar situation, only he’s up one of Liverpool’s clear players of the pre-season, and that just barely edges Sadio Mané ahead of him. In another formation, if Klopp reworks the side to find space for him in midfield, both could find themselves in a starting role. In the 4-2-3-1, though, it has to be Mané.
In the 4-2-3-1, when Mané and Frimino and Coutinho are healthy, Lallana is the odd man out. Alberto Moreno is also out in defence, with Klopp appearing to prefer Milner there throughout pre-season. Moreno has loads of talent, but Milner is the trusted veteran and set-piece specialist, and left back looks to be his new home.
On the right, Trent Alexander-Arnold is in as a substitute. As, in attack, is Lazar Markovic—at least for as long as he’s still at the club. Alex Manninger gets in, too, but only because of Loris Karius’ injury that sees him out until October, at which point Manninger and Mignolet seem fated to fall down the pecking order.
The goalkeeping situation isn’t what fans were hoping for heading into the season, but it’s hard to account for a broken hand, and when it comes to the outfield talent, it’s only lingering fullback question marks that remain. Beyond that, it’s a frighteningly deep and talented side shaping up ahead of the 2016-17 season.