The Liverpool Offside 2022-23 Season Review
Part IV: Klopp’s Liverpool Mk.2
With the club set to embark on a major midfield rebuild this summer, the backline not getting any younger, and only one member of the famed front three remaining, it feels like the end of an era and perhaps the start of something new under Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. We try to figure out what the future looks like for a squad in flux—and what has to be done next to get the Reds quickly back to competing for titles and trophies.
Short-term, this summer, the answer is simple: get midfielders in who can actually get on the pitch with some regularity and then figure out how best to deploy the array of existing attacking talent in front of them and this Liverpool team is poised to be one of Europe’s best once again in only a few months. Beyond the midfield problem, there’s talent and experience in abundance.
The cupboards are certainly not bare for Liverpool as we saw in the 11-match unbeaten streak to finish the season. The Reds seem well set in the attack, though there does seem to be a glut of left wingers with only Mo Salah a natural fit on the right. Getting the balance right will be the task to get the best out of those players.
There are some intriguing young pieces in midfield—Elliott, Jones, Bajcetic—which coupled with expected signings this summer should provide the quality and depth needed to get us back to controlling matches. The biggest question will be do Liverpool stay with Trent in a hybrid holding midfield/right back role as the long term answer or do they revert to a more traditional midfield when they have players with the legs to perform.
The current state of the Liverpool squad reminds me a lot of 2016-17. There’s been flashes of good, some obvious weaknesses, and now work is needed to make it all come together. For better or worse, Liverpool’s short-term future is still going to be anchored by many of the squad members who led 2021-22’s quadruple charge.
Mo Salah is the only member of our beloved front three left, and he’s flanked by four other talented attackers. Less missed time from Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota, coupled with more settled versions of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, should lead to greater production across the board, but Liverpool just can’t afford a stretch where Mo ends up isolated and far away from goal like happened in the early stages of this past season.
In defence it’s a similar story. Liverpool will go as far as Trent Alexander-Arnold can take them. On the opposite flank, Andrew Robertson joins him to complete one of the best fullback duos in the world. Ibrahima Konaté has firmly established himself as the number two centre-back. And despite his struggles this season, the defense has looked comically out of sorts when Virgil van Dijk doesn’t play. Perhaps, a deputy for big Virg will be a priority in the near future, but it seems he’ll continue to be at the heart of the defence. Behind him, Alisson Becker continues to put up jaw dropping numbers, preventing
It’s midfield where change will be significant. It’s probably no coincidence that Liverpool have looked poorest when Fabinho, famously called the lighthouse by Pepijn Lijnders, has struggled. A mini-resurgence with Trent by his side towards the end gives me hope that he’ll find his footing again, though I’m still not fully convinced. An alternative at the six would be nice in case he never gets back to his prior levels.
Our captain, Jordan Henderson has done his best to plug numerous holes this year, but there should be a heavy reduction in his minutes going forward as he moves into the Milner role in the squad. And what about Thiago? His brains and deft touches were at the heart of that quadruple charge, but too often injuries have caused him to miss time. He also doesn’t seem to have a natural spot in the new shape that looks a little 3-2-5 in possession. I hope the coaches figure out his role, because a player of his quality is worth accommodating even if his minutes need to be managed.
Whomever is brought in, then, will have to eat up a significant chunk of minutes. Alongside them will be Harvey Elliott, who remains one of the most talented players in the league despite the protests of the most braindead in our fanbase and Curtis Jones, who finally grabbed that brass ring when given the chance. Overall, with a few new signings it feels like there’s a course correction on the horizon to a more blood and thunder approach. I foresee a few more shootouts as the midfield finds its way through all the upheaval.
As others have mentioned, there are glimmers of hope, but they’re buried under a lot of gunk. If the staff can figure out how to get a proper rest for a multitude of players along with making a few key signings, then we might have a shot at challenging again. There are plenty of holes to fill, sure, but the bulk of the work will be about getting heads right in the existing squad.
I wish I knew. Things are so in flux. It makes me both nervous and excited. The only thing I can do is put my faith in Jurgen Klopp and the transfer committee. I remember when Klopp arrived and the way he carefully and skillfully rebuilt the team, making it the powerhouse it eventually became. I can see the seeds of that with the signings of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz. I know that they have the ability to look at a work in progress and make it whole again.
The frustration comes from the fact that they let things get to where they are now in the middle. We can’t expect to see a perfect re-creation of the 2020 squad, which is probably a good thing. They shouldn’t become predictable, and the transfer market is shifting.
What makes me excited, though, is the homegrown talent like Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott that we’ve seen grow this past season. Klopp has always shown his willingness to give the young players a try, and it will be fun to watch them grow into themselves and become even better as they years go on.
Pep Lijinders famously asserted that Liverpool’s intensity is their identity. However, for Jurgen Klopp to lead this team into a new era, that identity might need to evolve somewhat. Over the course of seven years, the German has forged a side built on players with massive engines and unmatched desire in the top two thirds of the pitch. Players like Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, and Jordan Henderson leveraged their physical gifts to dominate opponents so that Klopp’s favorite playmaker, the counterpress could lay on goal after trophy-winning goal.
But then, a shift in profile began starting in the summer of 2020 with the signing of Thiago Alcantara and then continuing with the likes of Harvey Elliott, Darwin Nunez, and Fabio Carvahlho, many of them more technical players who seem slightly less suited to or capable of executing an energy-based pressing system. It was a thought process within the coaching staff that was understandable, believing that the team needed to evolve to become more multifaceted and less predictable.
However, in the aftermath of such a disappointing campaign, the decision will now be whether to stick or twist: return to the identity of bullying teams with asymmetrical use of force without much in the way of tactical nuance or continue a transition into new formations and more technical flavours? Early signs suggest that the former is winning out, with the profiles of players linked in the transfer market hinting at a return to a muscular approach, at least in certain areas of the pitch. Nevertheless, committing one way or another will be the key to Klopp building this next era of Liverpool Football Club and returning to challenging for trophies.
I’ve tried to write this four times and didn’t like my conclusions after any of those attempts. I think that’s because I truly don’t know what the Reds should do this summer. There are so many question marks about the best role for so many players and the best playing style to use based on the players available that I just have no idea what a successful summer even looks like to me.
So I’m going to keep it very general and just say I really hope the plan is to nail down how Klopp wants to play and utilize who he already has while making signings to complement that. Recent signings have been very talented players, but I sometimes worry the transfer team have lost sight of signing players who fit into a cohesive framework and instead have perhaps been hoping Klopp can make whoever they do sign fit in recent windows.
I’m also ready to see the personnel decisions become a little more heartless. I know Klopp is loyal to his guys, but it’s maybe time to take the reins out of his hands a bit and start making hard decisions. If you need to cut Carvalho loose early, or give up on Joe Gomez, or admit Thiago isn’t reliable enough to be in the plans going forward, do it.
I don’t think Liverpool are as bad as some people or that the club need a complete rebuild in order to compete. I also don’t think they’ve done a bad job already at rebuilding some positions. The attack in particular has already been completely overhauled, with only Mo Salah surviving from Klopp’s mk.1 squad and a lot of great new options now in the team from Gakpo to Nuñez to Diaz to Jota—who’s been here a minute but can be looked at as the first piece of the refresh at that position.
In midfield, too, there’s promise in players like Elliott and Jones and Bajcetic. There’s just a legitimate gap between the ageing core and that young talent—and some of that’s due to transfer misfires like Naby Keïta and the injury struggles of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom are current prime age players who haven’t contributed as expected when signed and who the club weren’t able to offload in past windows.
That, mainly, is what needs fixing urgently. The club need two midfielders who are capable of doing in 2023-24 what the club would have expected Keïta and Oxlade-Chamberlain to be doing at this stage in their careers rather than what they’re actually doing—namely, departing the club as free transfers after falling short of expectations for various reasons.
However, in the lessons of midfield there are warning signs for the defence, which isn’t yet quite at the place the midfield found itself this past season but is edging dangerously close to that territory. While midfield needs its two new starters to do what the club would have expected Naby and Ox to be doing at this stage, the defence needs its Jota-like signing this summer to avoid us getting to the same place with it down the road.