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Thread: Pearce on likely 2020-21 squad

  1. #1
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    Pearce on likely 2020-21 squad

    From Pearce in the Athletic yesterday. Sorry the graphics don’t copy into this...

    How Klopp Can Remodel His Liverpool Side Without Spending Big

    “I have learned that when you think you have reached the pinnacle, you are already on the way down. We don’t feel that. I don’t feel satisfied.”

    Jurgen Klopp isn’t basking in the glory of ending Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the top-flight title.

    The German coach is already looking to the future and the sizeable challenge of trying to retain their Premier League crown. “We will not defend the title. We will attack it,” he said bullishly as he described the achievements of 2019-20 as “something for the history books”.

    Liverpool’s thrilling resurgence under Klopp has been a tale of evolution rather than revolution, both in terms of personnel and tactics. At the end of every season, he assesses in minute detail every element of the club’s performance levels to establish what areas need to be addressed. This summer will be no different.

    The question is where do they go from here? What can they do better? Is there really room for improvement after such a record-breaking campaign?

    Iconic Liverpool teams of the past always bought from a position of strength to try to maintain their dominance. However, there are unlikely to be any major statements of intent from the champions in the transfer market this summer.

    Given the way Liverpool have sustainably built this squad in recent seasons, though, that might not hurt them too much.

    Here’s the profile of the team at the moment from games in the Premier League. Liverpool are very much in “win now” mode — plenty of players are in the prime of their careers and a solid pipeline of young talent is ready to plug any gaps that open up over the coming seasons.



    Prior to COVID-19, RB Leipzig attacker Timo Werner had looked destined for Anfield but the financial impact of the pandemic led to Liverpool deciding not to push through a £54 million deal for the Germany international, who initially would have been back-up for the established front three.

    Owners Fenway Sports Group don’t take money out of the coffers. Every penny generated goes back into the club but they expect it to live within its means. As a result there are bound to be implications when revenue streams effectively dry up.

    Klopp has spoken about needing to be “creative” in the transfer market and looking to find “solutions internally”, a nod to an increased role in 2020-21 for a number of the club’s gifted youngsters such as Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones.

    The manager also mentioned the repercussions of the pandemic in terms of outgoings. Liverpool would have expected sizeable bids for the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic — potentially generating in excess of £60 million. But if the right offers aren’t forthcoming, then retaining their services for another 12 months could prove more beneficial than selling at cut prices.

    Interestingly, Klopp suggested Liverpool’s stance on transfers could change later in the window if and when there is more clarity over when commercial and match-day revenues are likely to return to something approaching pre-COVID 19 levels.

    Yet given the talent already at his disposal and the potential in those emerging from the academy, it would only be a case of fine-tuning.

    Klopp has always favoured working with a relatively small squad to ensure players stay motivated on the training field and also to retain the unity and spirit he prides himself on. “It’s easier to keep 17 or 18 (senior) players happy with appearances. If we had 22 or 23, then it gets more complicated,” he told The Athletic earlier this season.

    Given those circumstances, we’ve assessed Liverpool’s squad looking ahead to the 2020-21 season. Is it really realistic to think they can hit the same heights once again? And what areas of weakness need to be addressed?

    There are certainly no concerns regarding the goalkeeping department. Alisson has cemented his status as the best in the world during his second season at Anfield. His assist for Mohamed Salah in January’s home win over Manchester United and the subsequent celebrations was one of the campaign’s truly iconic moments.

    The Brazil No 1 is still only 27, young in keeping terms, and he ticks every box in terms of his shot-stopping, commanding his area and his ability with the ball at his feet. Despite missing nine league games due to injury, he’s on course to retain the Golden Glove.

    Despite a couple of costly errors in the FA Cup and the Champions League exits shortly before the lockdown, Liverpool retain faith in Adrian as his deputy. He impressed when thrown in at the deep end when Alisson damaged his calf back in August and is a popular figure in the squad. Adrian has been linked with a return to Spain but the club are planning for next season with him still on board.

    There is a drop-off in Liverpool’s quality when Adrian does play, though. The Spaniard is less capable on the ball than Liverpool’s No 1 when in possession, and has conceded more goals than average based on the quality of the on-target shots he’s faced, according to data from fbref.com, whereas Alisson has saved 5.2 goals more. All in, the clear hope is that Alisson has knocked the injury problems on the head and is able to play more games in 2020-21.

    Loris Karius is still a Liverpool player — two years after being sent on loan to Besiktas after his Champions League final nightmare, with a deal in place to make it permanent. His time in Turkey didn’t work out but there’s little prospect of him staying at Anfield with Liverpool keen to find him a new club before the start of pre-season.

    Young Irish keeper Caoimhin Kelleher is expected to head out on loan, while there’s a decision to be made on Kamil Grabara after his spell at Huddersfield Town. Andy Lonergan is out of contract this summer but Liverpool haven’t completely ruled out giving him another year, depending on what happens with the other keepers, as they will need a third option to Alisson and Adrian.

    Both in terms of the man in possession of the shirt and the calibre of his deputy, Liverpool appear sorted at right-back for the coming decade at least. Trent Alexander-Arnold has reinvented the role with his contribution to the club’s title triumph — three goals and a dozen assists in 2019-20.

    The academy graduate, who grew up close to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, is living the dream. At the age of 21, he has already won the Champions League, the Premier League and played for England at a World Cup.

    One of the major positives in the second half of the season has been the emergence of Neco Williams to provide cover for Alexander-Arnold. The 19-year-old Welshman is fearless and having impressed in the domestic cups, he was handed his league debut by Klopp in the rout of Crystal Palace.

    Nathaniel Clyne has left on a free transfer but there’s no gap to fill, with Williams now competing with Alexander-Arnold. Dutch youngster Ki-Jana Hoever is another decent option for Klopp at right-back.

    Left-back is a slightly different story. Andy Robertson has once again excelled for most of the season. He gives the team balance and links up expertly with Sadio Mane down that flank. The Scotland captain has blossomed into a leader and his combative approach means he’s adored by supporters. At the age of 26, he’s yet to reach his prime.

    However, Liverpool are heavily reliant on him staying fit and playing through the pain barrier, as he has done on numerous occasions this season. The lack of a suitable deputy for Robertson is a chink in Klopp’s armoury.

    James Milner does a job there defensively but the vice-captain would be the first to admit Liverpool lose something attacking-wise when he’s in that position. Alongside the tangible drop-off in speed compared with Robertson, there’s also a reduced ability to create from the wing when Milner deputises at left-back. He’s created 0.4 chances per 90 minutes in the 223 minutes this season in the league, far below Robertson’s 1.6.

    A younger player capable of playing in multiple positions, similar to Milner, would be perfect here but in the past few seasons, there are only a handful of players in Europe that have played 300 minutes or more at both left-back and central midfield — Leeds’ Stuart Dallas, Cologne’s Jonas Hector and Blackburn’s former Liverpool winger, Stewart Downing.

    Yasser Larouci has shown promise in a couple of senior outings but the Algeria-born teenager is still raw and learning his trade, having initially arrived at the academy from Le Havre as a winger. He’s not as far advanced in his development as Williams. Academy graduate Adam Lewis is another option but the plan is for him to head out on loan to get regular game time after suffering from injuries in 2019-20.

    Bringing in another left-sided player who, like Robertson, can contribute at both ends of the field has to be regarded as a priority.

    To find some suitable options, we can turn to smarterscout, a website which gives detailed analytics on players all over the world, whose ratings you can think of a bit like the player ratings on FIFA but powered by real data and advanced analytics.

    Using data from smarterscout, we can look to find someone who profiles similarly to Robertson. He’s a very attacking left-back, which his pizza chart below backs up — plenty of ball progression and shooting compared with others in his position, but also adept at linking play.



    Some of the most similar players are the likes of Alex Grimaldo at Benfica, Ben Chilwell at Leicester or Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich — but given Liverpool’s reluctance to spend in the transfer market, at least to begin with, a cheaper option is required.

    Looking at the teams who have been relegated, or are likely to be relegated across the top five leagues in Europe, is one means of finding potential transfer targets. Liverpool have had success employing this strategy in the past, with the likes of Shaqiri, Georginio Wijnaldum and Robertson himself all being picked up after their teams have gone down.

    Norwich’s Jamal Lewis is one such option who’s likely available for a valuable price this summer. At 22, he’s at an age that means if he develops further, Liverpool could make a return on their investment further down the line.

    Profile-wise, he’s been far less attacking than Robertson this season under Daniel Farke, who employs his full-backs in a more defensive manner compared with Liverpool. Lewis is comfortable carrying and dribbling the ball at a high volume but would seemingly need to adapt his game quite a lot to slot into how Liverpool play.



    Interestingly, one such option who may be a better fit already is 21-year-old Harry Pickering, who plays for Crewe, a team recently promoted to League One.

    His pizza chart below shows a player very similar to Robertson in his ability to link play, retain the ball, defend and importantly attack by getting the ball forward and getting scoring chances for himself, all at high levels. His attacking attributes contributed to his three goals and five assists from left-back this season.



    A left-back from Crewe is definitely a bit of a leftfield choice but represents the sort of value that Liverpool strive to identify in the transfer market.

    Given both of these options are only slightly older than 19-year-old Larouci, perhaps a slightly more experienced option is required. Olympiakos’ Konstantinos Tsimikas is 24 and a player whose game is shaped in the mould of Robertson. He’s fast, capable of carrying the ball down the wing and offers plenty of attacking output, too.



    Recently linked to Nice for around £7 million, Tsimikas represents the type of player who could have a high ceiling given his age, potential price and profile on the pitch.

    Like Alisson, Virgil van Dijk operates at the top of his profession. There isn’t a better centre-back on the planet. And at the age of 28, there’s every reason to believe the composed Dutchman will radiate class for a long time to come.

    One of his most underrated qualities is how robust he is. He’s always available. The man alongside him has changed a fair bit due to the injuries suffered by Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. It’s the reason why Klopp has been forced, at different times, to play midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as makeshift centre-backs, which is far from ideal.

    In the second half of this season, Gomez has mostly stayed fit and made that role his own. He clicks with Van Dijk both on and off the field. Still only 23, the England international has grown in stature after a difficult start to 2019-20.

    Van Dijk and Gomez are undoubtedly Klopp’s No 1 pairing but does he have sufficient cover?

    No one questions Matip’s ability but his availability is an issue. A foot problem means that he won’t add to the 11 starts he’s made in all competitions this season. Lovren is the fourth-choice centre-back and someone who divides opinion among supporters. However, he has made some telling contributions this season — not least in the home win over Manchester City.

    For back-up centre-backs, Lovren and Matip haven’t been the most reliable. In the last three seasons, Matip has only been available for 65 per cent of Liverpool’s games, calculated by counting the number of times he makes the match day squad divided by all of Liverpool’s games in all competitions in that time. Lovren’s availability has been a little better at 68 per cent.

    Looking just at this season though, Matip and Lovren have only been in the squad 48 per cent and 54 per cent of the time respectively. That’s manageable if one is out and the other is available, but that is rarely the case. Recovery times are only likely to become more aggravated with age, so a younger, fitter option may make a wise investment here.

    The experienced Croatian initially wanted to leave Liverpool last summer after dropping down the pecking order. He attracted interest from Roma and AC Milan but neither would meet the £25 million asking price and Liverpool refused to sanction a loan. Klopp asked him to stay put and Lovren agreed.

    It remains to be seen whether Lovren pushes for a move this time around. He has one more year on his contract, although Liverpool do have an option to extend it until 2022.

    If Lovren leaves, then Klopp may need to bolster that department. There are high hopes for teenagers Sepp van den Berg and Hoever but it would be a big ask to throw either of them into Premier League action at centre-back. Nat Phillips will return from his loan with Stuttgart but he also has much still to prove.

  2. #2
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    Continued

    Klopp’s midfield looks well-stocked. Captain Henderson recently turned 30 but there’s little sign of him slowing down after producing the best form of his professional career.

    The rise of holding midfielder Fabinho, a man assistant boss Pep Lijnders refers to as “our lighthouse”, has freed up Henderson to operate further forward.

    One issue that does need sorting out is Wijnaldum’s contract as he enters his final year. Liverpool retain hope that a compromise can still be reached. However, if the 29-year-old Dutchman doesn’t put pen to paper, they must decide whether to sell or run the risk of him leaving on a free in 2021.

    Milner is in the twilight of his career. The 34-year-old continues to come out on top in the metrics when fitness levels are tested at Melwood, although his availability has dropped from 98 per cent in 2017-18, to 90 per cent last season, to just 75 per cent this season. He will still be a valuable option to Klopp but not someone Liverpool can rely on forever.

    Liverpool, squad depth

    As far as attacking midfield is concerned, there’s good reason to believe there’s more to come from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita. Both have had their injury woes but when fully fit and firing, they have given Liverpool’s midfield a new dimension.

    Keita’s third season at Anfield will be huge in terms of proving he can live up to the hype on a consistent basis and be a regular fixture in a trophy-winning team.

    Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara is a player who has been linked with the club in recent weeks and Klopp has spoken previously of his admiration for the Spaniard. However, he’s the type of player that Liverpool usually shy away from investing in. He’s fairly injury prone and, at 29, offers little in the way of a return in investment further down the line. Combine that with his high wages and how he’d block the path to the first team for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita, and it makes the prospect of his signing a little less likely in reality.

    Adam Lallana is leaving as a free agent but youngster Curtis Jones is viewed by Klopp as the perfect replacement. The Liverpool-born 19-year-old announced his arrival on the big stage with his stunning winner against Everton in the FA Cup.

    In terms of those on the fringes, Pedro Chirivella has joined Nantes on a permanent deal while Marko Grujic will return to Liverpool at the start of pre-season following his loan at Hertha Berlin. What offers are forthcoming are likely to determine how long he stays back on Merseyside.

    Midfield duo Jake Cain and Leighton Clarkson, two members of the club’s FA Youth Cup-winning team of 2019, will also be in contention, having caught Klopp’s eye over the course of this season.

    Liverpool not only have one of the most potent front lines in Europe — but it’s also one of the most settled.

    Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have all taken the leap into the world-class bracket during Klopp’s reign. Each has given the club a huge return on their investment.

    What makes Liverpool so difficult to stop is their array of match-winners. They aren’t dependent on any one individual.



    Over the past three seasons, Firmino has clocked up 148 appearances for the club in all competitions, with Salah (146) and Mane (135) not far behind. Salah has contributed 92 goals with Mane on 65 and Firmino on 54.

    They are the perfect fit for Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation — giving Liverpool pace, energy, invention and firepower. They set the tone with their hunger to press and force mistakes.

    As the team’s style has evolved and opponents have increasingly sat deep to try to starve them of space to operate in so they have had to adapt.

    All three are 28 years of age. All three are operating at the peak of their powers. Their goalscoring figures may have fluctuated in the last few seasons — Firmino’s dearth of goals at Anfield and Salah’s excellent debut season come to mind — but Liverpool’s attacking trident have put up remarkably consistent Expected Goals (xG) numbers.

    It doesn’t look like any of the front three have dropped off in quality recently, but more found an equilibrium when it comes to scoring. Salah and Firmino had differing fortunes back in 2017-18, with the latter making room for the former, but they’ve both come in line with Mane and all average between 0.45 and 0.55 xG per 90 each.

    An understandable concern for some is the drop-off in quality between the established front three and those who provide cover. It’s the reason why there was such excitement surrounding Liverpool’s interest in Timo Werner before they walked away.

    Bolstering that department was viewed as a priority given that Klopp faced losing Salah, Mane and Keita for up to six weeks in early 2021 to the Africa Cup of Nations. The fact that tournament has now been put back a year due to COVID-19 was a source of great relief for Liverpool. It gives them an extra 12 months to find a suitable solution.

    They may not lose them due to international duty but the threat of injury is the main danger for Klopp’s front three. The three have also been lucky to avoid any lengthy lay-offs in the last few seasons, which is a testament to the attention to fitness and injury prevention by the staff at Melwood, but it’s unlikely that streak will continue in their late twenties and early thirties.

    Salah and Firmino have each been available for a staggering 93 per cent of Liverpool’s games, ranking first in the squad, with Mane ranking seventh at 88 per cent. Liverpool haven’t needed to invest sizeable sums on back-up attackers due to this ever-presence but it’s certainly a factor to be wary of when planning for the future.

    Given that finances dictated Liverpool didn’t press ahead with a deal for Werner, rumours linking them with a move for Borussia Dortmund’s £120 million-rated Jadon Sancho this summer are fanciful. If there is an addition at the top end of the field, it would be a more modest investment.

    Again, it will be influenced to a certain degree by outgoings. Liverpool expect offers for Shaqiri, who has endured an injury-plagued season. However, it’s unlikely they will command anything close to the €30 million they were seeking prior to the pandemic.

    Divock Origi hasn’t kicked on as hoped after his contribution to Liverpool’s Champions League triumph but the Belgian forward retains the faith of Klopp and is happy to stay put. The manager also sees Takumi Minamino blossoming in 2020-21. His performances so far have suggested he’s best suited to the Firmino role in the middle, dropping deep and linking play rather than operating out wide.

    Harvey Elliott is likely to be the one to benefit most from Werner heading to Chelsea rather than Anfield. The 17-year-old winger has made a real impact since arriving from Fulham a year ago. Both the staff and the senior players are excited about his rich potential. Whatever the tribunal decides that Liverpool have to pay for him, it looks a wise investment.

    Rhian Brewster’s development was halted by injury but he has provided a timely reminder of his ability with his performances on loan at Swansea City. Klopp must decide whether he’s ready to play a part in 2020-21 or would benefit more from another spell away. Academy striker Paul Glatzel is on the comeback trail after missing the entire season due to a ruptured ACL.

    Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn and Sheyi Ojo will also be among those returning from loans with uncertain futures. Wilson is the most valuable asset of that trio after his loan at Bournemouth — cash in or keep him as a squad option is the question.



    If Liverpool are to keep him, the other head-scratcher is how to fit him into the team. Wilson has attempted plenty of shots for Bournemouth this season but it’s unlikely he’d be offered the same number of attempts in a Liverpool shirt if he were to play out wide in the front three.

    From his pizza chart, there are question marks about his defensive play as he barely contributes out of possession. He has been tidy at retaining possession however, a crucial requirement needed to play in this Liverpool side. Wilson is also a threat from set pieces but it’s unlikely he’d get the nod over Alexander-Arnold anytime soon.

    Klopp is expecting a second successive quiet summer for Liverpool in the transfer market.

    It’s their rivals who have the much greater need to gamble in a bid to bridge the gap to the champions.

    A couple of areas need reinforcing to provide more depth but there’s still plenty of room for growth. Liverpool look well placed to deliver once again.

  3. #3
    Good article, like the sound of Harry Pickering, shades of Rob Jones

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aldo1988 View Post
    Good article, like the sound of Harry Pickering, shades of Rob Jones
    Agree Aldo, Robertson needs some coverage badly. Millie filling in that spot is a weak substitute if Robbo missed more than just a couple games.

  5. #5
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    That's a good read.
    It all seems so straightforward when it's put like that.
    It would seem that Wilson, Shaq and Grujic are all going to be sold, and maybe even Gini. That is quite a bit of cash. what is our priority? Cover at left back and centre back. Much as we would like a striker.

  6. #6
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    Would love us to go in for Son at Tottenham hes the quality inside left forward we require..We wouldn't need another forward then. You can always play Mane central.Oirgi is ok. but hes a massive drop off in quality for our front 3.
    Son would cost and arm and leg though. But hes just turned 27. so perfect age.
    Leader of all..master of none..

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by justme View Post
    Would love us to go in for Son at Tottenham hes the quality inside left forward we require..We wouldn't need another forward then. You can always play Mane central.Oirgi is ok. but hes a massive drop off in quality for our front 3.
    Son would cost and arm and leg though. But hes just turned 27. so perfect age.
    He would be an outstanding signing, imagine him in our attack! Not a prayer of it happening though unfortunately.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by teesred View Post
    He would be an outstanding signing, imagine him in our attack! Not a prayer of it happening though unfortunately.
    Yeah you are right, will never happen
    Leader of all..master of none..

  9. #9
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    Just watching Spurs Everton fir a bit there, Spurs look a total shadow of that team of last season and a few before that carried a massive threat going forward. Look miles off being a side who'll compete at the top end.

  10. #10
    Any forward player needs to accept being on the bench for the coming season.

    It is a tricky one.
    Originally, Shaqiri, Lallana, Lovren all accept that.

    Still only 28yo the front 3 pick themselves.

    Oxlade, Origi, playing there just aren't going to get the 20+ goals a season. And as for Shaqiri he doesn't have the pace.

    Minamino covers Firmino. Yep. Even if there is a big drop off for now.

    So a pacey wide forward. Werner fit that. Liverpool backed out because now they dont need for the afcan in January 21.

    The key areas ;

    - Centre back


    - Left back

    - forward player

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