Matchday 3 sees Liverpool welcome upstarts Brighton & Hove Albion to Anfield as the Reds look to continue a bright start to the campaign with a third straight win. The Seagulls come into the fixture on a high after taking all three points in last week’s shock 3-2 victory over Manchester United and will be confident that they have what it takes to get a result. Jürgen Klopp’s men on the other hand, will be feeling positive after professionally dispatching a bogey side, Crystal Palace. On the pitch, there will be a few storylines to look out for:
Concern Over Firmino
While Liverpool’s no. 9 is surely not the only Red involved in the latter stages of the summer’s World Cup still finding their footing in the early going—seeing as Trent Alexander-Arnold is still sending crosses into section 200 of the Kop, Jordan Henderson is yet to start and Dejan Lovren hasn’t even made it off the physio’s table—nevertheless there could be cause for concern over Robert Firmino’s relatively anonymous start the season.
While some his return of one offside assist and no shots on target over two games could be chalked up to a combination of fatigue and a truncated preseason, a change in tactics has most likely played a major role in the 26-year-old’s subdued start. Arguably the best playmaker currently in the squad, he has operated so far as more as the tip of 4-4-2 diamond than as the false nine of yesteryear. The tweak in responsibility becomes more evident once one looks at his average starting position against Crystal Palace as well as replays of the goals against West Ham showing Firmino generally behind the action.
It’s hard to tell whether this was Klopp’s plan all along or if this explicitly more creative link-up role is one Firmino has been asked to take on following the aborted move for Lyon’s string-puller-in-chief, Nabil Fekir. Either way, the concern is that the consensus three years into his time at Anfield has been that the mad-pressing false nine is best version of Firmino rather than no. 10 or winger. Liverpool will need all three amigos of the deadly attack firing on all cylinders in this most vital of campaigns and it remains to be seen whether this new setup will persist through the winter transfer window.
Wijnaldum Keeping Henderson and Fabinho On The Bench
Well, Alexander-Arnold is starting as are other members of the Three Lions World Cup semi-finalist squad, including, for example Tottenham’s sizeable English contingent. Captain Jordan Henderson might still be named on the team sheet this weekend, but if he isn’t and Gini Wijnaldum makes it three starts from three in the no. 6 position, it might provide some insight into Klopp’s thinking around the selection headache in midfield.
As Henderson has done in seasons past, Wijnaldum in his position as deepest lying midfield position has been tasked going forward primarily with recycling possession. However, the Dutchman has focused his attention on spreading the ball into the wide areas of the pitch, particularly to the full backs, with Alexander-Arnold averaging eight crosses per game so far and Andrew Robertson creating five chances, both figures tops in the league for defenders.
If Klopp persists with a single pivot as his default formation, it will be interesting to see if he continues to select Wijnaldum over both Henderson and £40m man Fabinho and how the latter two perform to the German’s demands compared to the current starter.
Mané’s Time To Shine
If the personnel decisions are still up in the air in midfield and defense, they’re crystal clear in attack, particularly when it comes to Mané’s expanded role in the team. As the relatively forgotten man in last term’s star-studded attack behind Ballon d’Or contender, Mohamed Salah and the no-look-goal wonder, Firmino, things are set up for the deadly Senegalese forward to step into the spotlight this time out.
The 26-year-old was handed the no. 10 shirt following the failed Fekir move, symbolically signaling a shift in responsibility that began when he was first tasked with a central creative role in last season’s 2-1 loss at Old Trafford. With the record Premier League goal scorer in Salah rightfully drawing most of the defensive attention furthest up the pitch early on this season, Mané has been given license to roam centrally and out wide, allowing him to build on his individual partnership with the Egyptian in what almost resembles a two striker setup.
With three strikes already to his name, Liverpool fans will be excited at the prospect of Mané besting his 20-goal haul last season and leading the next evolution of Klopp’s Reds side in this title push.