The Liverpool Offside 2023-24 Season Preview
Work in Progress
More so than in any other summer in the Jürgen Klopp era, Liverpool will kick off the new season with a squad everyone including the manager has openly talked about as being incomplete, with more transfer business both expected and necessary. How, then, to talk about hope and expectation? How to talk about targets for the season? How even to start to predict how things might go when so much still depends on who the club manage to sign?
With it feeling as if there’s no real way yet to properly preview the season to come, The Liverpool Offside team put our heads together to try and address where things stand ahead of the Reds’ Premier League opener—and to indentify what still needs to happen for the club to set themselves up for a successful 2023-24.
I am far less confident going into this season than I have been in seasons past, both due to what Liverpool have (or have not, as yet) done, but also based on what has been happening everywhere else.
Chelsea are buying everyone in sight and have an actual manager again. They weren’t a team you had to think about much last season, but this season they make me nervous. It’s perhaps good to start with them given they seem to have so many (promising) moving parts that getting that away day done before they sort themselves out has to be a plus. Of course, going there with a clearly unfinished squad ourselves cannot be fully positive, though I do think that unfinished squad should still have enough to win games—just maybe not loads of them in a row.
Manchester City are scary, as usual, even if they’re also in flux. Arsenal look determined to build on what was a strong 2022-23, even if they finished disappointed. Manchester United, too, have strengthened. Brighton should not be written off. I could go on.
The issue is that the field is very crowded with talent—this could well be one of the more competitive Premier League seasons in recent years—and Liverpool are lagging behind in a lot of ways. The underperformance in 2022-23 by the Reds also makes the idea of another transition season hard to take, but it’s hard to see the coming season as anything other than one.
Jordan Henderson going (and the way he went) has really shaped my overall mood: I’m less enthusiastic than usual, and I’m not at all ready for the season to start. Liverpool won’t be favorites to win or probably even to finish top four this season, and I’m trying to hold onto the idea that this could well pave the way for some fun surprises.
Over the past few years, the question was would the squad become stale after so little turnover year over year. Well, things certainly got stale last season as the club fumbled away all momentum after pushing for the quadruple the season before.
While a midfield refresh was expected and necessary, I don’t think anyone—including the Liverpool backroom staff—thought there would be such a major overhaul at the start of the summer. As a result, the smart additions of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have now been overshadowed by the surprise departures of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho.
The glaring hole in the holding midfield role makes it hard to feel like this is a complete squad ready to compete at the highest levels. The attack seems revved up and ready to go, but this feels like an enhanced version of the early Klopp years where the team will be a lot of fun going forward but will struggle to control matches. Unless a surprise starter-ready holding midfielder is signed (which likely means finding someone with more experience than promising 19-year-old Roméo Lavia, though he would be a start), expect a lot of heart-attack inducing 4-3 matches.
I believe that there is no way Klopp let two-thirds of his midfield leave, including his captain and vice-captain, without a realistic plan for replacing them in the team. I know that some of the departures were unexpected, with players chasing that sweet, sportswashing Saudi Pro League money, but I still think if they didn’t believe they could solve the problem caused by those sales that they would have blocked the moves. So we’ll see. Mac Allister and Szoboszlai are a good start, but more needs to happen to address the loss of Fabinho and that empty defensive midfield position.
There’s still time left in the transfer window, though, and I don’t think that the team is anywhere near settled. It’s hard to make predictions when everything is still so up in the air. I think it’s clear that this will be a transition year. I hope that they can find their way back into the top four, but right now, that feels like a very distant hope.
Lack of certainty, I think, is the theme for me when it comes to 2023-2024. I tend to run on the optimistic end of things so I’ll say I’m excited to see how the matches will play out and have every ounce of faith in the squad, even as it exists today, to make some magic along the way; we do, after all, still have Klopp at the helm and Mo Salah on the wing.
But the reticence of folks to believe that we’re in the thick of names likely to be competing for the top four is valid. Bar the signing of two senior-level midfielders, it’s hard to be that confident going in, especially when the current configuration of players likely means we’ll be running Trent and Ibrahima Konaté into the ground this year. The margins around the squad, perhaps more than other years, feels razor thin.
Still, everything’s out there to play for. And maybe we’ll ship a ton of goals but pour on the gasoline on the attacking end and we’ll win a lot of matches 6-4. I’d take that - emphasis on the winning - if offered right now.
Here’s hoping the lads stay healthy and, as things currently stand, that Curtis Jones, Stefan Bajcetic, and Harvey Elliott can all take world-class level leaps in development this season. That’s probably what we’ll need to see in order to make this work without a few more big signings. Thankfully Jürgen has been known to develop youngsters pretty well, but it’s a tough ask.
I’m encouraged by the business we’ve done but the gaping hole at the six is threatening to undermine all that other good work. I get that cashing in on Fabinho and Henderson may have been the correct move as no one else was likely to give Liverpool that kind of money for two players who looked like we were going to ride out the rest of their contracts on the decline. However, it does leave Liverpool rather short on experience and quality. And while names like Romeo Lavia and André look promising, I’m not either actually makes Liverpool better in the here and now than the team that ended last season.
Mac Allister is a savvy signing, though, and I can see him replicating some of the work Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago brought to the table in previous seasons. Szoboszlai, then, feels like a transformative type of signing, a player who can be a mainstay in the Liverpool midfield for years to come and could even elevate the games of those lining up around him.
I feel like Liverpool will eventually sort out this defensive midfielder situation, but it’s asking a lot for this team to mount a title challenge with so little time together and late-arriving key players. The attack has looked good in preseason, so I’m hoping they can put more chances away than they did last season and press the ball more effectively up high. That will help to lift pressure off the defensive side of the team and buy them some time to gel. Reducing the sheer volume of chances conceded is paramount to this team’s hopes, new defensive midfielder or not, although some legs at the position surely wouldn’t hurt.
Even today I still expect top four and a long Europa League run, with hopefully a trophy from somewhere in the bag at the end of it, but legitimately challenging Man City seems like too much to hope for right now.
I came into the summer expecting would look different with the squad by the end but I honestly didn’t expect every senior midfielder to leave bar Thiago. As things stand, only two midfielders have come in (Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai) and it seems like Liverpool are leaving themselves short in the transfer market again.
All of this is sort of setting itself up as a season that could be underwhelming, but at this point I’m sort of hoping Jürgen Klopp has a trick up his sleeve. Like a Wario version of 2017-18 Liverpool or something. No one expected Liverpool to make the “leap” that season and the vibes/expectations around the squad today are at probably at their lowest since that season.
One advantage that Klopp and Co. have, perhaps, is that no one really knows what to expect from this team, tactically or selection wise. We do know, though, that Klopp loves being the underdog, so maybe all of this will somehow work out in his favour. Or maybe it fails spectacularly and we’re in for a second slog of a season in a row.
Listen, we already played most of last season like we didn’t have a six, so actually not having a six might in some bizarre fashion improve us? I mean, at least this way we know going in what we’re working with: no midfield, only vibes. And scoring (and conceding) loads of goals. Does anyone know what the record for combined goals scored and conceded is? Maybe let’s just aim for that and see where the chips land.
In something resembling seriousness, though, the worst part about last year was how long it took us to make the necessary adjustments to actually win games with any degree of consistency. The biggest thing I want to see this season is steady progression: evolving into the team that we need to become in order to start competing for trophies again. If we learn how to adjust and bounce back, we could be in for an exciting run in Europe and a big party in Dublin.
As things stand, Liverpool probably can’t be considered favourites to finish in the top four. The question marks in midfield in particular are massive—and would have been given the turnover this summer even if the club had a single senior player with experience at the six on the books. Add in the fact that the club don’t have a single senior player with experience at the six on the books and things rather look a mess in the middle, somehow worse than at the end of a very disappointing 2022-23 derailed by a lack of midfield depth.
Early moves to bring in Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai gave hope that 2023-24 would be a bounceback year for the reds, but unexpected departures for Jordan Henderson and Fabinho and the club’s failures so far to identify and bring in replacements have the squad looking shakier than they did in May. Add in question marks in defence where only injury-prone Ibrahima Konaté looks able to keep up with the demands of the inverted fullback system Klopp appears set on to maximise Trent Alexander-Arnold’s talents on the ball and there is a lot of justifiable nervousness.
The club still need to sign at the very least one—and preferably two—midfielders capable of playing the six at a high level. They also need a pacy centre half. If they get those, there’s enough talent in the squad to be top four favourites and at least have a shot at competing for silverware. If they fail, Liverpool in 2023-24 will be an exciting but deeply flawed side that will struggle to get back into the Champions League for a second season in a row and in doing so waste another year of Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, and Alisson Becker. If they fail, club management, recruitment, and ownership will have earned every ounce of anger and blame that comes their way.