Part 2 Klopp’s Summer window – The changing shape of the squad by Si Dixon
What does it mean for the present players?
Klopp certainly evolved during his time at Dortmund, in his first full season when the tactic was in full flight the players ran considerably more than all opponents in the league and only maintained a 75% pass completion rate with an average of 7.9 aerial duels won per game, the next season with better standard of passing players in Reus/Gundogan and a stronger striker in Lewandowski the pass completion increased to over 80% and aerial dual per game increased to 17.4 as they utilised Lewandowski and adapted the tactics to incorporate a bigger fixture list and trying to keep the players fresh. This would suggest that Klopp does not only utilise the Gegenpress if he has options, rather that he is an innovator with a base in this style. One would naturally assume then that Benteke, a player that Klopp looked at whilst at Dortmund would be a natural fit to fill the Lewandowski role at the club. Last season has taught Klopp that this is not the case and it is likely that he will be moved on in due course. So out of our strikers who fits that bill?
Daniel Sturridge is clearly one of the most talented players at the club and is every inch a natural goalscorer as proven by his excellent record. However, he is incredibly prone to Injuries. Amazingly, since Klopp decided to give him a mid season pre season regime he has been much more robust. Is this something a full pre season under new fitness guru Kornmayer will be able to improve upon, only time will tell. The style of football will put every players body under the microscope and if I had to put my mortgage on a player breaking down repeatedly it would be Daniel. His pace seems to have reduced dramatically, understandable considering the number of injuries over the years and his work ethic is often questioned. It will be interesting to see his role this season, if he can stay fit and improve his physical resistence he may reach the 2014/15 levels but I have my doubts.
Danny Ings is the epitome of the player work ethic that Klopp demands, a non stop striker who will sweat blood for the cause. It was unfortunate that he was so badly injured last season as we could have seen if he would develop the nous to truly become the number one striker at the club. He remains a young striker whose overall talent has been questioned in some quarters. He does score goals and he is quick, but is he a top level player? For me that remains to be seen but he deserves the chance to do that. He has all the physical tools but it is his positioning and game intelligence that will need to be tested this season as we move forward. If he can showcase those then potentially we have a challenger to the throne. If not then I am sure we will at least double or treble his value in todays market.
Divock Origi would appear to have the most to gain, physically imposing, quick, skilful with excellent game awareness it looked like he was set to make the position his own when being trusted in the big games towards the tail end of the season. This of course, was before the hatchett job in the merseyside derby that cost him, and us, at the run in. The faster he gets back to pre season the better, especially considering he rarely featured for Belgium during the Euros. I hope he comes back and train before the US tour to fully get the benefits of pre season and battle Ings for the first game of the season.
Christian Benteke will have frustrated our manager no end during last season. A player he clearly admired and opely admitted so when first joining, he was unable to get the best our of our bustling striker. An imposing and intimidating striker who given the right service will score in bunches but was clearly unable to do anything else need to assist the team. His link up play was generally poor, holding the ball no more than average and there seemed a distinct lack of mobility and work ethic despite the obvious sweat at the end of the game. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Benteke’s face just does not fit and it is likely he will be moved on where a team can be built around him rather than him being part of a team.
At RB Nathaniel Clyne had a solid debut season for the Reds, a marauding full back who has the pace and the stamina to get forward with regularity. Therefore it would appear that he is a natural fit for the manager and his 52 appearances last season would suggest the same. The recent suggestions of his unhappiness is lazy journalism and you should fully expect him to start the season backed up by Flannagan who appears to have recovered his fitness.
On the other side our diminutive LB Alberto Moreno was lambasted for his defensive showing at the Europa league final and suggestions that his performance was like Bambi on ice would be a disservice to our doe eyed four legged friend. Moreno struggled more than any other player and highlighted his defensive shortcomings that have long been known as his achilles heel. A lightening quick player who can really stretch a defence on his day has consistently struggled at what should be his bread and butter, positioning and defending the ball. His natural physical attributes are not in question but his mental capability to understand positioning and when to move are under the microscope. The general expectation is that he will get another season to develop this side of his game with a younger player like Ben Chilwell acting as a more than able deputy.
The CB’s provide the most interesting composition. Toure has since left the club taking with him his amazing song and infectious attitude and it would also appear that skittles is close to (at the time of writing) completing his move to Turkey. Which leaves us with 2 senior CB and Joe Gomez. Gomez is probably easier to judge. A young, developing player whose promising debut season was cruelly cut short by injury last October. He is known to the manager and is likely to be pushing hard for a starting position throughout the season and we should expect he will play league cup and deputise in the league. An athletically gifted player who is quick and good on the ball. His skill belies his tender years and he will be difficult to keep out in the long term should he continue his development and adapt to the tactics.
Lovren is a conundrum, woefully inept for his season under Rodgers he was the butt of many a joke and the fee a millstone around his neck. There are times he is still prone to mistakes and I remain to be convinced that his improvement is that dramatic or that he was simply so bad that his sometimes decent performances are being elevated beyond the norm. I believe he is positionally suspect but hopefully as he now enters his peak years the experience of the last two seasons will eradicate the mistakes and we can see the capable defender come to the fore. This season is key for him, he absolutely needs to kick on and become a defensive lynchpin or Klopp will unearth another to take his place. Maybe even Joe Gomez.
Sakho! I must admit to being a huge fan so this paragraph may become slightly biased. Farcical drug accusation aside this chap was a revelation under Klopp last season. Many a pundit have consistently led us to believe that he is a disaster waiting to happen due to his rather unconventional style. They point to his mistakes (Lovren has made many more mistakes leading to a goal), his poor passing (regularly the most accurate passer in the side) and his dodgy decision making (he is a front foot defender who wants to intercept rather than tackle, which in turns helps the counter). Yes he is unconventional but it works for him and as a result it works for us. Physically he is imposing, relatively quick and strong. His ability on the ball is also good as many of his passes are forward rather side to side which makes his passing stats even more impressive. In my view he should start alongside Matip going into the new season. He will also have a job to keep Gomez out of the side but that is more to do with the talent of Joe Gomez than anything else.
Finally and most importantly the midfield, the engine room and somewhere we lost control on a consistent basis against the better sides last season. Emre Can apart the rest of the players are all playing for their places and in Jordan Hendersons case, the captaincy of the club. Emre can fulfill a multitude of roles in the squad but he is a Bentley of a player who is excellent on the ball, deceptively quick once finally moving and with a good passing range. His development has been plain to see and he is also a player who may be a future Captain. His performance in the Semi was excellent for me and I thought he was clearly better than a player mooted at a 100 million target range.
Jordan Henderson is in a quandry, jack of all trades, master of none. A fit, mobile athletic player who can do a job and occasionally influence a game with his ball skills. His physical attributes suit the system well and noone can doubt his commitment to the cause but when the it comes down to it and we sign the level of player required for us to reach the top, is he a starter? In my eyes he is not, despite his enthisiasm he is not able to take a game by the scruff of the neck and drag us along with him, he does not have the bite of a DM nor the tactical awareness and as a box to box where he is more likely to fit in, he does not get beyond the striker enough or get enough goals. A good squad player and an able deputy when injuries arise.
Joe Allen or wee Joe as he is now affectionately called. He had a stormer of a Euro 16 and has raised his profile and in turn his value significantly which is a testament to him. High energy player who can put his foot in and keeps the game moving along. In saying that we should not let our man love cloud our vision. There are better players out there box to box, he lacks the physical attributes to compete as a DM consistently and does not score or create enough to act as an AM. He would be well suited to a side that plays a more compact and slower brand of football either on the continent or at the likes of Stoke. In fact I think he would do very well in Spain or Italy but they are likely to baulk at the 15 million asking price.
James Milner is another who is likely to be good but not quite good enough. Joining from Citeh to cement a first team position in his last few years of career, he gave it everything last season and more. He works very hard, is tactically very disciplined and can play a number of roles well. An excellent squad player for a top club who can come and consistently deliver the same level of performance when needed. An all round player with good physical attributes that if he had more pace and better technique would be a shoe in for Klopp going forward. In our case, he is likely to be relegated to be the 12th man in a squad based system if we are able to secure the targets we are after.
So it would seem that our present players have a fight on their hands, Klopp has already brought in 4 new signings, 3 of which we should expect to be starters in Karius, Matip and Mane whilst Grujic will likely push hard from the off. If we can expect a further 3 players of which 1 is a starter then there will be some big decisions to make for those above at the end of the season.
The new signings and those yet to arrive
Defensively it was obvious we needed reinforcements but the trick was to find one that could improve our poor record at set pieces whilst also have the composure and assurance on the ball demanded within Klopps style. A Matts Hummels replica if you will, well step forward Joel Matip. For me someone who has flown in under the radar and yet could prove to be the best signing of the summer. 24 years old and yet he has stacks of experience playing for Schalke and his country. Tall and imposing with a quiet authority he has all the attributes of Sami Hyypia but with added pace. Named within the Bundesliga 11 for the past two seasons alongside Hummels who has just completed his 35 million move to Munich highlights his quality. If anyone saw his assist in his last game for Schalke will be left in no doubt to his ball skills as he danced around 3 players before laying it on a plate to his left. This signing, along with Karius is key to improving pur defensive stability to lay the foundation for the attacking flair we already have.
Lorus Karius is a young goalkeeper with a burgeoning repuatation. Last season he was rated number 2 in the bundesliga behind Neaur, who considering he is probably the best in the world is not a bad place to be and also looking at the standard of keepers in the league as well makes it even more impressive. An agile shot stopper with a commanding presence he inspires confidence in the defence which we have been sorely lacking in recent seasons. Also an astute signing in that he can be seen as an equal to Mignolet rather than a replacement which keeps both on their toes in the first season to see who comes out on top. His command of English is also imperative to which we can thank his time at City a few years back. Integration should prove easy.
Many a gasp was heard when it was confirmed we had agreed to pay 30 million rising to 36 for Sadio Mane, mainly due to the fact that it was yet another Southampton player. However this guys comes with real pedigree. He has track record of scoring goals at any club he has played for stand out and his form for Southampton over the last two season has been plain to see, especially against ourselves. He is direct, extremely fast, strong and actually has an end product. Being only 24 he also has ample time to develop further still and potentially go on to become one of the top players around. An ideal signing who exemplifies the gegenpress from the front and we should expect Klopp to fully get the best out of the player.
Our first signing under Klopp was for the Serbian youngster Grujic back in January. After his father telling him to stay he rightly ignored him and signed for us anyway. A young player with great potential he is likely to settle as a box to box player. He combines good vision with strong running and passing whilst not being afraid to shoot either. Most likely to make an impact from the bench initially with games in the cups and lesser sides he will provide good competition to the problem position. Physically impressive, strong and fit he certainly fits in to Klopps game and will also help out in the air defensively as well.
Piotr Zielinski – This saga just seems to be running on and on and on and on and… well you get the drift. First linked way back in January as a Klopp certainty for the summer he pretty much then set himself up as club mascot and took every opportunity to talk about his converstations with Juergan and how much he loves the club, not to mention being spotted delightedly wearing a Liverpool shirt. That didn’t turn out to well for Paul Ince now did it?! Anyway, the transfer rumbles on, no doubt in part due to Liverpool new found hard nosedness (is that a word) in selling our players and screwing 4 million for a 19 year old who was out of contract and barely played for us. Zielinski was castigated by LFC know it alls on twitter as not being able to get into the Poland side during the recent Euro’s but he is still a youngster and is obviously highly thought of in Italy as proven by Napoli and AC Milans interest. Nominally and attacking player he has a great engine and two good feet meaning he can play his way out of trouble and beat a man when needed. He also likes a goal. He could be the player that breaks beyond the striker and scores that we have been missing since Stevies Halcyon days. Looks like he is off to AC Milan anyway!
Mamoud Dahoud – If Liverpool have been looking for a partner in CM for Emre Can then this kid could well be it. Syrian born but German upbringing he is a real talent. Last season played alongside the more well known Granit Xhaka who has since moved to Arsenal making it harder to try and move him away from his present club he is a real footballer with an excellent brain and tactical awareness. He would make an ideal partner in a double pivot for Can in that they can both pass, move and dictate the game although in slightly different ways. Dahoud has faster feet that Emre although he lacks his physical presence he is still a formidable tackler and never shirks the dirty work. Dahoud is mobile, diligent CM with a brain and is also a new favourite of mine. This is one signing I would love to make happen.
Mario Gotze – Pretty much won’t happen. We already have coutinho, he doesn’t want to push the train and I never wanted him anyway… Sniff sniff.
Anderson Talisca –This is a weird one, the only place championing this rumour is O Jogo in Portugal and he is also part of the Jorge Mendes stable which could be way we are being used as a stalking horse. They claim we have a fee agreed, we have asked the FA for a permit and he has told his friends he wants the move. Done deal then? It would not surprise me to see this one fall away in due course with him signing a new contract or moving to Italy. In saying that this player attracted the interests of both Arsenal and Chelsea in seasons gone by and his youtube clips make him look stellar, alongside my own on the local park of course! Another AM and a position we seem well stocked with so I wouldn’t run to get your Talisca shirt just yet.
Honourable mentions to Ben Chilwell who was subject to a 7 million bid, rejected as they want 10 and now is all quiet but expect to reignited soon. Wijnaldum and Sissoko are more likely the work of Newcastle trying to prompt bids for players on big wages outside ofthe top flight. Lacazette, could be the next Turan, perrennially linked but never signed.
Regardless of anything else, what has been highlighted again and again during this blog is the need for extreme physicality to implement the style of play Klopp wants. His military esque pre season training along with the profile of the players signed says it all. All 4 are impressive athletically, stong imposing players who are not scared of putting the boot in. Mane may not be tall but he scores with his head regularly and his pace and strength is frightening. Therefore Klopp has addressed our physical shortcomings in one window and in key positions. Expect to see a much more robust, hardworking and tough side than in recent years. We should no longer be bullied by lesser sides, indeed the players will now relish that contest. In the air we will be much stronger and should hopefully alleviate our penchant for conceding from every set piece in our half whilst also posing more of a threat ourselves. Klopp certainly got us scoring goals anyway and we have only added to that with Mane and a fully fit and firing trio of Studge, Ings and Origi will provide great competition for places and we should always have at least one in form. All we need now is the control in midfield to bring it all together, that shoud be the focus and there is no doubt that with the TV and the large shedding of players we should have the cash to find what we need.
This season promises to be an exciting one, Klopp does things differently and he signs players outside the norm but he has been very successful in doing so in the past and we should allow ourselves the chance to sit back and enjoy the ride before pointing the finger at owners, previous regimes etc.
I very much look forward to it.