Liverpool will need to make at least two changes from their last competitive outing when the new season begins against Chelsea. Since the end of 2022/23 against Southampton, both Roberto Firmino and James Milner have left the club.
Naturally there was an element of sentiment from Jürgen Klopp in selecting them as Liverpool had already missed out on the top four by that point. They weren’t regular starters last season either – although they made a combined 20 league starts and 56 appearances, so their contributions will no doubt be missed.
But the absence of Firmino and Milner – as well as Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who also left Liverpool after their contracts expired – isn’t quite the headline when it comes to anticipated changes to Klopp’s squad. Those still at the club will be subject to significant new competition, with the midfield in particular undergoing major surgery.
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That process has already started with the acquisition of Alexis Mac Allister. While the transfer fee was surprisingly modest, taking advantage of a release clause in his contract at Brighton, he is expected to be the center of Liverpool’s rebuild and is likely to claim his place in midfield against Chelsea.
Primarily a number eight, but also capable of playing deeper, Mac Allister theoretically threatens the positions of Fabinho, Curtis Jones and Jordan Henderson, the trio who finished last season as the overall ‘first choice’ midfield. But it would be a surprise if he displaced the Brazilian, with most viewing that position within the Liverpool system as a requirement for a specialist.
Interestingly, almost all of Liverpool’s apparent targets in midfield operate in slightly more advanced roles, and that seems to indicate that Fabinho will have a chance to continue the mini-revival he showed towards the end of last season. Unless something seismic happens – Real Madrid signals the availability of Aurélien Tchouaméni, for example – it seems likely that Klopp’s number three will still be in place against Chelsea.
So that’s two-thirds of the midfield, but that still leaves one spot up for grabs. Thiago will feel he is strong for it if he builds up enough fitness during the pre-season, when according to history it is Jones’ place to lose. But it could just as well go to a new signing: Khéphren Thuram is the name most spoken at the moment.
Still, he is currently absent from the U21 Euros and is expected to go far with France. Curiously, almost all of Liverpool’s apparent goals are in place, with Manu Koné, Gabri Veiga and Ryan Gravenberch all involved. Assuming Klopp brings in Thuram and one of the other names mentioned – with the Bayern Munich man preferred, according to Neil Jones – then they will both have a somewhat shortened pre-season.
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That makes it quite likely that Klopp will join two existing players for the opener against Chelsea. The Liverpool boss tends to give new signings a healthy adjustment period anyway, and may feel that experience within his system is important to getting off to a good start.
With Jones and Harvey Elliott also out of the European Championships, that brings us back to Thiago or Henderson for the spot next to Mac Allister. The Spaniard is shading that particular match, although Klopp will no doubt also base it on what he sees in pre-season.
After tidying up the midfield, attention turns to defence, where an addition could take place before the end of the transfer window. But that is expected to be a young player who is initially happy with a place in the pecking order: hopefully someone like Micky van de Ven will be up for the challenge of working his way into Klopp’s plans, but he will not start against Chelsea.
As a result, the defense will look familiar, presumably with Trent Alexander-Arnold continuing his hybrid role to help Fabinho.
No new attacking options are expected, but there is still a major dilemma for Klopp, with five elite players to be reduced to a three-pronged attack. It seems likely that pre-season performance will be a particularly important factor here, but hopefully Darwin Núñez can push his way in, flanked by Mohamed Salah and Luis Díaz.
With Klopp having given Caoimhín Kelleher and Kostas Tsimikas game time against Southampton, the likely outcome is massive changes for Liverpool, with as many as eight likely.
Expected line-up vs Chelsea: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Thiago, MacAllister; Salah, Nuñez, Diaz.
Bank: Thuram, Van de Ven, Gravenberch, Gakpo, Jones, Elliott, Henderson, Matip, Kelleher.
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