The 2018-19 season is about to kick off and for Liverpool they head in with deepest side they’ve had in the Premier League era. Which means it’s probably the strongest, deepest side Liverpool have had, ever. That’s less wild hyperbole than a reflection of the fact you still don’t have to go too far back to get to the days when teams regularly named a single substitute to the bench.
As for more recent points of comparison, while some might argue Rafa Benitez’ best sides could compete with the current edition starter for starter, Benitez was always hamstrung by a lack of depth while operating under a far less supportive ownership regime. Alonso and Torres and Hyypia and Gerrard are rightly legendary names, but those late aughts sides lacked this one’s depth.
And this side, too, has some players who could end up being referred to the same way by fans in future years. Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané up top. Virgil van Dijk at the back. Trent Alexander-Arnold the local talent making a difference beyond his years. Plus there are some flashy new signings now to fit into a squad that hasn’t lost any key players from last year.
It’s at the back with one of those new signings where things are clearest, as Alisson Becker—the club’s new £66M record goalkeeper signing—will be starting in the league and Europe, leaving domestic cup duties to whichever of Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet survives the transfer window, which runs longer in Europe and means either could be sold through the end of August.
The defence is also fairly clear, as despite having returned from injury, the expectation is that Nathaniel Clyne will find himself behind Alexander-Arnold to start the season at right back, while at left back Andrew Robertson is ahead of Alberto Moreno. At centre half, Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren will start and the main question is over Joël Matip’s health—with Ragnar Klavan there for if he can’t play.
Midfield gets more difficult to sort out. There’s Fabinho, of course, a big money signing of a holding midfielder expected to ease into the six and potentially push Jordan Henderson back into more of the sort of shuttling role he played earlier in his career. Though it’s not impossible Henderson might still see time in the six, as could Gini Wijnaldum, who has seen time there in pre-season.
In the more reserved box-to-box role, then, there looks to be Henderson and James Milner, while in the most advanced of Klopp’s midfield three—and no matter the players involved, given the club didn’t play anything else in pre-season, a midfield three seems the safe bet—there’s exciting newcomer Naby Keïta and Adam Lallana. There’s also, a little surprisingly, Xherdan Shaqiri.
Shaqiri arrived on a bargain relegation release clause from Stoke this summer with most believing he would provide a depth option to Salah and Mané on the wing. So far, though, he’s spent most of his time as the most advanced player in midfield. He’s also filled in as false-nine striker and played as the right-sided attacker, filling the role(s) most expected Nabil Fekir was targeted for.
As for the attack, well, everyone knows the front three of Salah and Firmino and Mané, and for now at least the depth options behind them look to be Daniel Sturridge, Dominic Solanke, and the aforementioned Shaqiri—and with Sturridge playing a false-nine in pre-season and Solanke getting spot duty on the wing, it looks like Sturridge is tentatively second on the striker depth chart.
It may not be perfect, that depth chart. There are places injuries could force the club to count on a player like Solanke playing out of position. And some of the versatility in midfield reflects, perhaps, a lack of specialists—in particular a less driving creative player to help unlock packed defences. But there is quality and there is depth the likes of which Liverpool has never had before.
Barring a deadline day shocker, this is the team Liverpool will head into the 2018-19 season with. It’s going to be exciting.