Football moves quickly, and facts that were true yesterday can simply become modern fiction in 24 hours.
Last season, Liverpool were famously the biggest club in the world to not have any fit (or decent) centre-backs, and all the talk was about how defensively frail they were.
Now approaching the 2021/22 campaign, it could be argued that the Reds boast the best backline options in the entire Premier League. No, that is not a dig at Manchester United’s new signing Raphael Varane, but a plea to look back to the 2019/20 campaign, when the Reds conceded only 33 goals all season.
Or how about the year before that, when they finished second with 97 points, and shipped only 22 goals in 38 matches.
Heading into the new campaign, the usual back four are returning to full fitness in the coming days and weeks, and along with the Formidable Four, a Fearsome fifth has joined the crew. Ibrahima Konate has arrived at Anfield in a deal worth £36m, and many on Merseyside are excited to see what the former RB Leipzig man can bring.
The big question is, how does Jurgen Klopp fit them all in? Would he dare to stray far from his tried and tested system? Could this bold 90min lineup work?
No surprises here, as we start with the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. It’s no secret that Alisson Becker’s form dipped last season, but there were plenty of factors – both on and off the pitch – that contributed to his struggles.
The Brazilian will be back on top form though, and with the usual suspects (plus a new face) ahead of him, he’ll return to being England’s favourite brick wall.
WHAT?! WHERE ARE THE FULL-BACKS?! I hear your panicked screams, but I’ll politely ignore them and tell you to be patient. That’s right everyone, we’re playing a back three, and to quote a Liverpool-supporting 90min colleague: “I don’t hate it.”
High praise, indeed.
Joe Gomez, returning from a nightmare knee injury, sits on the right of this backline, still benefitting from the genius alongside him, and covering his marauding teammates on that flank. His comfort in possession means he can carry the ball out of defence or start wider when his wing-back pushes high up the pitch. Are you intrigued? Good. Let’s continue.
The big man is back! No ACL injury can keep Virgil van Dijk down, and we’re banking on him coming back into the side and picking up from where he left off. The Dutchman sits at the heart of this defence, dishing out instructions and keeping everyone calm and loosey goosey.
His absence last year was the main cause for Liverpool’s drastic drop-off, but with Van Dijk back in the side, the Reds are not to be trifled with.
Finally, we can talk about the big man. And when we say big man… my word! Konate stands a centimetre taller than Van Dijk, completing one of the most intimidating and efficient backlines in Europe.
The 22-year-old is ready for the step up from Leipzig to Liverpool, but he’d certainly settle in quicker as part of a back three, where he’ll be afforded more margin for error as he finds his feet as a young man in a new country. In time, he could become one of the best defenders in England – but give him time.
Here he is! In our eyes, it’s only a matter of time until Trent Alexander-Arnold transforms fully into a non-defensive player, and this could be his first step into the midfield. The right-back is known for his disgustingly accurate delivery, and general traits that are often associated with wingers and attacking wide men.
So, let’s put him further up the pitch with less defensive responsibilities and more cover in behind. No flaws in this one. Plus, if Klopp wants to change in-game, he can simply move to a back four, put Gomez on the right of the defence and tuck Alexander-Arnold into the centre of midfield. Watch him run riot in that ‘inside-right Kevin de Bruyne’ territory.
No dropping the captain, that’s for sure. Statistically, Liverpool win football matches far more regularly when Jordan Henderson is in their midfield, so it’d be an absolute dereliction of duty to leave him on the bench.
The England star is their leader, their heartbeat and the driving force when the going gets tough. He sets the tone and the others follow. No matter which big-name stars get left out of the side, you cannot lose Hendo from your starting lineup.
Alongside captain Henderson, we’ve opted for Fabinho, which means there is no place in the midfield for Thiago Alcantara. Sorry, but there have to be casualties, and the Spaniard’s absence is less consequential than that of Hendo or Fab.
The Brazilian midfielder can add that extra layer of defensive protection and general control to the play, which is even more important when you move to a midfield two, potentially surrendering the central power struggle. Fabinho’s value to this team cannot be overstressed, though.
Finally, we’ve got wee (when standing next to Konate, anyway) Andy Robertson. Like Alexander-Arnold, the Scottish full-back is an assist machine, and when he’s allowed to bombard defences with crosses, fellow left-flanker Sadio Mane is free to strut his stuff.
Robertson’s defensive work is far from shabby however, and he is generally one of the most complete full-backs in the modern game. That said, I’m sure he’d love an extra little licence to thrill, safe in the knowledge that no one is getting past Konate behind him.
First name on the team sheet? He’s up there. Mohamed Salah carried Liverpool at times last season, even when those up top with him were hitting some miserable form. We think he and his teammates will thrive in this new setup, though.
Salah is at his most dangerous when running in behind or stepping inside and unleashing a shot on that dynamite left foot, and he’ll be awarded the space to do so with all eyes on Alexander-Arnold so high up the pitch. Get him in your Fantasy Premier League teams, guys and girls.
A controversial one, and possibly a case of squeezing him in, but Diogo Jota replaces Roberto Firmino in attack. The Brazilian just hasn’t lit up the Premier League (except with that blinding smile) for some time, and there is the feeling that this front three needs a fresh face.
Jota is the man who can provide that zip and energy, and his ability to play anywhere across the forward line means he can drop in deep, dart in behind or link up play. Injuries halted his incredible start to life in a Liverpool shirt, so here’s hoping he can find those peaks from the off.
Finally, we have main man Mane. Last season was probably Mane’s worst in a Liverpool shirt, both in terms of performances and goal contributions. His form undoubtedly suffered from the tweak to the system Klopp deployed, which saw Robertson held back a touch to help out the struggling centre-backs.
That issue would be long gone in this formation – in fact, his form should hit new levels. Robertson’s constant attacking threat would give Mane the space needed to attack, penetrate defences and get into goalscoring positions. It cannot fail.