Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, could be about to embrace a lineup that he only used in four of the 63 games played in 21/22 and potentially strengthen without signing a new player.
Liverpool supporters are aware that pre-season results shouldn’t be taken too seriously, regardless of whether your new £85 million signing scores four goals in a minute or goes 60 (sixty!) minutes without a goal.
Even if the outcomes are meaningless, spectators can still learn some things from the summer programme.
For instance, fans frequently get the chance to discover more about promising academy prospects like Stefan Bajti, who on Thursday helped Liverpool score the fourth goal against RB Leipzig. Managers may sometimes hint at tactical or positional changes after having introduced them at training camps.
There can also be suggestions regarding team selection. For instance, Ibrahima Konaté, not Joel Matip, started Virgil van Dijk at the Red Bull Arena. Does that imply that, like last season, it will be the first-choice partnership not just in the cups but also in the Premier League?
While all was going on, Jürgen Klopp sent Roberto Firmino in the middle, with Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz on the flanks. Darwin Nunez didn’t join the action until the second half, possibly indicating that Klopp may try to ease him into the mix once the competition gets underway.
The midfield comes next. Jordan Henderson, Harvey Elliott, and Curtis Jones started for Liverpool against Crystal Palace in Singapore. At halftime, Klopp shifted to the so-called “NFT” midfield of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Thiago.
Interesting enough, those three started playing right away in Leipzig. Henderson took over from Keita after 45 minutes, and after 60, Jones and Fábio Carvalho replaced Thiago and Fabinho.
Henderson could have a somewhat different pre-season role, as Klopp envisages. Think about his midfield teammates, Elliott, Jones, and Carvalho, who are all under the age of 19. The captain might be there as an experienced voice and the defensive anchor from a tactical standpoint.
In fact, it’s important to note that Henderson is seen as both Fabinho’s reliable backup and a rival for the number eight position. It might make sense to hold Henderson as his “understudy” as the Brazilian and the rest of his teammates aren’t yet able to play for 90 minutes.
There is yet another possibility, though. The midfield that started the Champions League final in Paris may no longer be the one that Klopp prefers, as he now sees the little used NFT combination as his best.
Only four games last season featured the midfield combination of Fabinho-Thiago-Keita. The trio contributed to what was perhaps the best first-half performance of Jurgen Klopp’s reign in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City, but they were also partially to blame for one of the worst performances in the Champions League against Villarreal.
Additionally, there was the 2-0 Merseyside Derby victory at Anfield and the 3-1 victory at Benfica, however it’s important to note that Keita was substituted against Everton with the game goalless.
There is a strong case for favoring Keita over Henderson at this point in their respective careers, even though the success of this particular line-up has varied.
While Henderson averages 16 pressures and 1.35 tackles per 90, Keita averages 24.6 pressures and 3.3 tackles, however it’s not a great comparison because Keita has also played in the more defensive left central midfield position.
The fact that Keita has better figures for chance creation—0.18 expected assists per 90 instead of 0.13—becomes even more noteworthy in that scenario. Although he completes fewer progressive passes (5.85 as opposed to 6.1), he advances his team in a number of ways, recording nearly twice as many progressive carries (8.01 compared to 4.39).
Keita has never seemed more accomplished than he did in the second half of last season, and this could lead to an internal evolution. Even though Liverpool may not intend to add a new midfielder this summer, but this would still amount to a refresh.
The Community Shield in eight days may be the first firm indication of where Klopp’s preference truly lies. Fitness levels may play a role, especially when Keita and Thiago are involved.