With a pre-season return now barely a week away, Jurgen Klopp heads into his summer schedule with plenty to do at Liverpool. The club’s non-international contingent will report to the AXA Center on July 8 before returning to base in Kirkby for their countries a few days later.
After a few days of notoriously hard transplant on Merseyside, Klopp and his players then fly out for an even tougher training camp in the Black Forest, where the Reds play two friendlies in Germany against Karlsruhe and Greuther Furth on July 19. 24 respectively.
From there, the Reds visit Singapore for friendlies with Leicester City (30 July) and Bayern Munich (2 August) ahead of a ‘home’ game, expected to take place at Preston’s Deepdale Stadium due to ongoing development work at the Anfield Road. .
Before the Premier League kicks off at Chelsea on August 13, there is plenty to resolve for Klopp, his coaching staff and recruitment department. Here ECHO analyzes what needs to be done…
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The Trent Alexander-Arnold Question
For nearly 300 senior Liverpool matches, Trent Alexander-Arnold has had a question mark next to his name. Despite a hugely successful period in which he became one of the most influential full-backs in European football, while also winning every major club trophy, some have always wondered if the number 66 would be better suited to playing in midfield.
During the last two months of the campaign, the wish of those who had long advocated for that tactical adjustment was fulfilled and the results were spectacular. Although Alexander-Arnold was still technically operating at fullback on the team sheet, he has been outstanding from central areas for the last 11 games as Liverpool went unbeaten to secure a fifth-place finish in the Premier League.
Alexander-Arnold’s mesmerizing number of passes was a big part of why the Reds finished the season in such good form and the question now is: will Klopp stick to that tactical adjustment for good or not?
Would the West Derby-born defender be less effective as an orthodox midfielder? Can Liverpool continue to operate without a licensed right-back for long periods of the season? Will the criticism of Alexander-Arnold be tempered by the fact that he’s being asked to play essentially two positions simultaneously? And how does that affect plans to attract more midfielders?
When it comes to the Alexander-Arnold issue, there seem to be more questions than answers at the moment, but at least Liverpool know they have one of the most gifted players in the Premier League in their ranks wherever he is deployed. Despite this, there is a real conundrum here for Klopp to wrestle with.
The arrival of Alexis Mac Allister at the beginning of June was an early declaration of intent from Liverpool in solving the midfield problems that were so difficult last season.
After triggering the £35m release clause in the Argentina World Cup winner’s Brighton contract, things appear to have gone quiet on the recruitment front.
A number of midfield options are still being assessed, with Khephren Thuram, Ryan Gravenberch, Gabri Veiga, Manu Kone and Romeo Lavia all being handed the rules as agents are probed behind the scenes.
Links to Inter’s Nicolo Barella, Brighton’s Moises Caicedo and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, Fede Valverde at Real Madrid have also all been reported in recent days. But as things stand, Mac Allister remains the lone arrival as the pre-season schedule drifts toward the horizon.
The timetable won’t be a major problem for Klopp if he manages to sign the players he believes are suitable for the next stage of his team’s development, but an aggressive and proactive start to June has slipped significantly over the past two weeks .
Talks with RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai representatives have taken place, but it is unclear whether that will lead to an official approach to the Bundesliga squad at this stage.
Valverde and Barella would be sensational additions, but the profile of Lavia, Thuram, Gravenberch, Kone and Veiga suggests the club are looking for a younger, less experienced and more malleable type of player for the long haul at Anfield. With even more needed in the transfer window, there is plenty of work to do outside the training grounds for sporting director Jorg Schmadtke and the rest of the recruiting department.
A case for the defense
A by-product of the Alexander-Arnold experiment in midfield is Liverpool reverting to a back three when in possession. Last season, that trio sometimes featured Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate and Andy Robertson, whose career-long performances as a marauding, supportive left-back were hampered in the final months of the Premier League term.
The Scotland captain looked uneasy at times as he had to remain part of a back three as Alexander-Arnold tried to wreak havoc from more central areas.
As a result, the Reds are eyeing developments in the central defender market with Micky van den Ven, from Wolfsburg, being linked with a move. The Netherlands international is capable of playing on the left side of defence, as is Levi Colwill, who made 16 appearances for Brighton last season while on loan from Chelsea.
The flexibility of the system means that any coming-in defender should probably be as adept as a full-back in a back-four if they were playing in a three-man defense when Alexander-Arnold is allowed to gallop.
Robertson may not be perfectly suited to that mode of operation and while a horses-for-races approach means the left-back is still a vitally important member of the squad, the change in the system means another defender needs to become this window attacked. regardless of the future of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, who are both used to being on the right side of a two-man couple.
Fitness of the main trio is vital
For all the struggles of those who were fit and available for Liverpool last season, there’s little to deny that Klopp’s potential has been stretched to the limit by the absence of key players in vital periods.
Luis Diaz’s campaign was all but written off with a serious knee injury, first picked up in a defeat to Arsenal in early October and later requiring surgery after breaking down during a training session in Dubai.
Diaz was sidelined for a total of six months, while Diogo Jota’s hamstring and calf problems also limited his availability. The Portugal international himself was on the ground for about six months, between July and September and then from October to February.
Jota rejoined the fold in February, while Diaz’s comeback arrived in April. The pair missed large parts of the campaign and would have been a huge help to Klopp had they not been so unlucky with their respective injuries.
The same goes for Thiago Alcantara, whose year was fraught with problems before the decision was made to end the term early and undergo surgery early enough to be considered fit for the pre-season.
Keep all three available for extended periods next season and the Reds’ fortunes will inevitably improve. Getting them up to speed in the coming weeks is an absolute must for Klopp.
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