You almost don’t want to be in Jürgen Klopp’s shoes at the moment. Almost. For not even in this correspondent's most lurid fantasies—most of which involve tapping the storied This Is Anfield sign on the way to leading the lads into battle as world-renowned manager—could one envy the sorts of selection dilemmas the German Liverpool boss currently finds himself facing.
As it stands, there are only a handful of names that one can say are more or less etched into the team sheet in permanent marker, namely Chief Magician, Philippe Coutinho and the ever-steady rock of Nathaniel Clyne, with new boy Sadio Mané possibly joining them in the near future. Outside of those three, it is shocking how many question marks there are up and down pitch, from between the sticks all the way through the tip of the spear.
So here’s a thought experiment: Liverpool is in the Champions League final, Klopp has come down with something or other (stop reading and knock on every piece of wood in sight) and the team has run a raffle to see who will manage the squad for the match...and you, the reader of this article, have won. For some reason, your opponent is yet unknown, removing the possibility of players starting for opponent-specific tactical reasons. Who is in your ultimate XI as the squad is currently constituted?
Does keeper Loris Karius walk back into the side? Or does the much-maligned Simon Mignolet, get a chance to force a hot hand situation? Who of the versatile Joël Matip, the progressive but error-prone Mamadou Sakho or the talented but flawed Dejan Lovren do you choose to anchor your defense? Does Ragnar Klavan with his excellent defensive awareness even get a shout?
How about in the center of the park? Do you go with the goal threat of Georginio Wijnaldum? The leadership and passing range of captain Jordan Henderson? The powerhouse, defensive-minded Emre Can (or at least more defensively-minded than the other two)?
Finally, how the hell do you do configure the attack? In the 4-2-3-1, Mané, Coutinho and Firmino essentially pick themselves, but how about when they line up in the 4-3-3, as the Reds did to such devastating effect in the second half against Arsenal? Where does the resurgent Adam Lallana fit in? Who leads the line? World-beater Daniel Sturridge, the upstart Divock Origi or even Firmino again?
Have there ever been this many question marks in a 250 word span??? Actually one more question: what about the formation? In fact, let’s not even go there since barring the return of Javier Mascherano at the base of midfield, it’s looking like it’s going to be the 4-3-3. Oh, and at left back, which of James Milner or Alberto Mor—actually, yeah let’s skip that one too.
Somebody bring out the candy-flavored aspirin.
One thing this shows is that, overall, while there have been some obvious left back-shaped shortcomings, the number of selection dilemmas permeating the entire squad are evidence of how the German manager has gone about bringing in complementary pieces over this summer transfer window. There is now a situation in which no two potential starters are alike, with the options available at virtually every position bringing unique skillsets and nuanced tactical wrinkles to their selection.
Of course, one must assume that a first-choice XI will ultimately play itself into clarity over the course of the season (although, as a fan, it would be great if everyone was playing so well that the debate continued into the new year). But until then, the headaches abound.
Guffawing at how easy this decision is? Tell us your first choice XI and formation in the comments!