Part Three: Player Predictions
To win silverware, as a group Liverpool’s best players will have to deliver, but even then there will always be standouts, the players who outperform those already high expectations or seem to always be the ones who deliver when it matters most. So we wanted to know who the staff of TLO expect truly big things from in the coming campaign.
We also wanted to know which of the less established stars people might be expecting a breakout season from. On the flip side and a little less optimistically, we wanted to know if there are players that people have concerns about heading into the 2022-23 season.
Like a lot of people, I’m excited to see the continued evolution of our frontline. We got a good taste of Luis Diaz last season, and we all know what Diogo Jota can do. Now, though, with the addition of Darwin Nunez—and loss of Sadio Mane—for the first time to me it feels like that attacking group is something truly new, and I can’t wait to see what that’s going to look like and have high hopes for them.
On the other side of it, I haven’t been shy when it comes to discussing my concerns over our aging midfield group. I don’t think they’ve become less skilled or talented, but another year under their belts increases the chances of heavy legs and injuries taking their toll. I’m nervous about what options Klopp will have available to him in the new year when the fatigue starts to kick in.
I’m really excited about Fabio Carvalho. Let’s put that up front. I think that there’s a real maturity to his game despite his tender age, and he’s in an ideal situation to contribute without the pressure of starting week in and week out. In pre-season, I’ve also loved how often Liverpool players are looking to play early balls for Darwin Nunez and his incessant, willing running even this early in his Anfield career. Further on that point, Jurgen Klopp has done a great job tamping down on expectations of the big money striker, but Nunez already appears to be following up his breakout 2021-22 campaign by walloping shots on target at an alarming (for opponents) rate.
As far as concerns go, I think this could be the year Jordan Henderson transitions into the James Milner elder statesman stage of his career. Sure, the leadership intangibles he brings won’t have changed, but a big part of his game has always been that he’s a tireless engine in midfield, and I felt at times he might have been beginning to struggle with that last season. The mammoth 57 appearances he made in 2021-22 will need to be reduced in favour of giving next generation players like Carvalho and Harvey Elliott more opportunity to grow into their future roles.
I won’t be even a little shocked if Mohamed Salah tops his record of 60 G/A from his debut season this time around. He looks primed for a monster season, and I fully expect him to be the best player in the world by a good margin after the World Cup break. Assuming Salah does that, I think at least one of Darwin Núñez or Luis Díaz will also have a monster season just by virtue of regularly being on the pitch with him in the final third.
My biggest concerns are with Jordan Henderson and Thiago. When they are on form and playing in front of Fabinho, they make up a formidable midfield three. But, they have a lot of miles on their legs and long and worrying injury histories. I think the biggest factor that will determine Liverpool’s success this year, then, will be the young midfielders.
If a couple of Fábio Carvalho, Harvey Elliott, and Curtis Jones can really step up and push Thiago and Henderson for minutes, allowing Klopp to rotate often and keep everyone relatively fresh, this team will be damn near unstoppable. If those three struggle to find form and Henderson and Thiago have to carry the bulk of the midfield load, it will be a much more vulnerable side. They’ll still be good enough to win trophies and run other teams ragged, but there will be some frustrating performances and results like we saw towards the end of last season when legs started to wear out.
I don’t typically get excited about transfers or youth players, but it’s difficult not to when watching Darwin Núñez, Harvey Elliott, and Fábio Carvalho. Núñez in particular looks to be a player who could transform our attack. Besides his incredible goal threat, he just appears to be an all-around menace; the rare attacker who won’t give defenders a single moment’s rest while he’s on the pitch, whether that’s running channels, running in behind, challenging for every 50/50, or just generally making his presence felt.
Núñez’s presence should also free up more space for Salah, Diaz, Jota, and probably to a lesser extent Firmino to do what they do best. Salah might be the biggest benefactor here, and like others are suggesting, he could put up some big numbers, especially because of the break for the World Cup.
For the first time in three years I’m confident Mo is gonna be an absolute menace. He slowed down after the Africa Cup of Nations last season, but in 2022 he’ll get a full winter break, which is gonna do wonders for a man who plays 50 games every year. Surrounding him with the attacking talent we possess at the moment is going to give him space to work in as well, and while I don’t think he’ll break his own goals record, I wouldn’t be shocked if Thierry Henry’s goals and assists total is put under threat.
I think people will be surprised by how quickly Fabio integrates into the side and takes to Premier League football. I will forever wish he was also a track star athlete, but the kid just fundamentally understands the game and what Klopp wants from him and early evidence is that he’ll slot in and contribute immediately.
On the downside, I think Roberto Firmino has slowed down enough that he’s firmly a backup player now, and while I expect him to get more minutes than he did last year if he stays healthy, it’s pretty clear he’s playing second string at this point.
I also don’t know to what extent people are counting on Curtis Jones, but the stagnation in his development over the past two seasons along with the additions we’ve made to our midfield means he needs to show real improvement this year or risk being left behind. With Harvey returning, I expect Curtis to be battling it out with Naby Keïta for minutes, and I’m ready to be disappointed by both of them.
I’m expecting great things from Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez, and Fabio Carvalho. Mo isn’t slowing down and despite some of the press clippings has never had a problem sharing space with other stars. Nunez could bag big numbers if he keeps the trolls out of his head and adapts fully to Klopp’s game. And I expect Fabio to quietly impress, learn, and grow.
Regarding concerns, I simply don’t see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finding minutes in the current squad, especially not after his pre-season injury. And Thiago’s injuries are a worry, especially since he has carved such an integral role for himself with Liverpool. We need him to play our best football, and we need him more than one would ideally want for player who misses so much time. It’s been barely 2 years of Thiago as a Red, and somehow I can’t (or don’t want to) remember how we functioned without his elegance and flair in midfield—I just know how much worse we tend to look when he isn’t there.
Even if it’s just been pre-season, Darwin Nunez has been a breath of fresh air. He brings a whole other level of directness to the attack with his runs and isn’t hesitant to use his big boy frame in the box. I’ve really enjoyed watching him learn on the go so far, and a fully integrated Nunez on the same wavelength as the other attackers is a scary thought.
Harvey Elliott looks nailed on for a big year, too. Everything he’s been saying and doing makes it sound like he hated every minute on the sidelines last season, and it seems like he’ll be back with a vengeance. He’s been exciting every time he’s featured so far, and I expect he’ll get plenty of joy on the right with Mo and Trent when he fills in for Hendo. Carvalho, too, is quickly becoming one of my favourite players. Watching him live in the Singapore preseason game, he just seemed to know what to do when he got on the ball while also being pretty crafty off it.
On the slightly less positive side of things, I do wonder if Diogo Jota will be able to find that rich vein of form he was in early last season. He faded away down the stretch, and is the sort of player where if he isn’t scoring, well, he’s kind of a passenger. The injury he had in pre-season will only make things more difficult. For Luis Diaz, as much of an impact as he makes on the ball, a part of me can’t help but wonder if he’ll be able to take the next step and convert more of his chances.
All eyes will be on Darwin Nunez as the big-money signing. I think he will be eased into a regular role, as Klopp is wont to do, leaving certain sections of footy fandom calling him a bust—and based on the comments and compilations from his first week of pre-season, we definitely know there are people out there desperate to call him a bust. I really do think he is going to hit his stride after a couple of months, though, and will be an absolute menace through the middle, which will open things up even more for Mo Salah.
Within the attack, I do wonder a little how Diogo Jota slots in when fit. Assuming Klopp decides to rotate some in the attack, it seems like Jota is now second fiddle to Luis Diaz on the left wing, and potentially second in line for the central striker role. Regardless, Jota cooled off in a big way the second half of last season and will now really need to battle to maintain a regular role.
A little bit further back, I think this is the year that Harvey Elliott really makes the jump. His vision, passing, and ball progression is just too good to be kept on the bench. The biggest question is who takes a hit to their playing time. It’s probably Jordan Henderson, who played a massive number of minutes—quite possibly too many—last season.
I’ll be honest, I’ve tried hard not to think too much about this season after the ending of last season wrung me out so badly. I want them all to succeed and I want Jordan Henderson to achieve his goal of playing as much as possible and contributing to the team as much as possible. I hope Darwin slots in well and there’s a fair amount of rotation to keep everyone content. I’m not expecting miracles out of our new signings and I’d like our regular starters to get back to their regular form. That’s all I can hope for at this juncture.
Mo looks sharp and will have a restful season—that’s a major positive. Díaz looks a handful but struggles some to find the back of the net, so it would be lovely if he broke through in that area. Jota on the other hand certainly knows where the net is but has struggled with recurring injuries, so him regaining his health would be helpful for a sustained challenge on any front. Firmino has experience and can help all the other moving parts work at their best. If these things happen, the pressure is off Darwin Núñez, and that, for me, would be a major positive. He’s scored on his debut, and I can think of nothing better than providing him with an attack that’s not immediately reliant on his contributions.
Other than that, I think we need standout seasons from at least one, if not two, midfielders who aren’t the current presumptive starters—which is to say we need someone from Jones, Elliott, Carvalho, and Keïta to step up, and in a big way. I have absolutely no worries about fielding Henderson, Fabinho, and Thiago, but I would like to be equally confident about sending out other midfield groups, because rotation will be key.
If his pre-season form—and his pre-season smiles—are anything to go by, Mo without contract uncertainty—and AFCoN disappointment—hanging over his head is going to be something special. Plus while his time with Egypt last season ended in disappointment both at the aforementioned tournament and in their World Cup qualification campaign, the latter will mean a mid-season break that could pay dividends in the second half. People seemed quick to forget that for the first half of last season he looked the best football player on the planet, and I’m expecting him not just to look like that again to start 2022-23, I’m expecting him to end the season that way.
There are plenty of options for potential breakthroughs, too, and it’d be easy to bet on one of Elliott (on the right in place of Henderson) or Carvalho (on the left in place of Thiago) establishing themselves as a midfield starter by the end of the season. Plus there’s Darwin Nuñez, whose chance generation in pre-season has been mind-boggling, but I’m not sure an £80M signing can fairly be said to be primed for a breakout. So I’m going to look a little further back on the pitch and say that by the end of the season, Ibrahima Konaté is going to have made himself first choice partner for Virgil van Dijk.
On the flip side, if one of Elliott or Carvalho does stake a claim in midfield—or, alternately, if 22-23 is when it clicks for Curtis Jones—it will only further leave us with a Naby Keïta shaped conundrum, a player far too good to sit on the bench but one who has yet to consistently show he deserves to be a nailed-on starter.