Opinion: Liverpool diving straight into deep end in August

Once the season starts for Liverpool, the games will be coming thick and fast, as the Reds attempt to get off to a good start in the Premier League and secure qualification to the group stages of the Champions League. But is the squad ready to cope on two fronts?

Opinion: Liverpool diving straight into deep end in August
Liverpool celebrating in pre-season. (Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/Getty)

Liverpool’s constant troubles with injuries looks set to continue this season, with Adam Lallana recently ruled out for up to three months with a thigh injury, while Nathaniel Clyne, Daniel Sturridge, Joe Gomez, Philippe Coutinho and James Milner have all struggled at times during the pre-season.

Clyne in particular also looks likely to miss the start of the new season, with Trent Alexander-Arnold or Gomez set to replace him at right-back in Liverpool’s opening fixture against Watford, and beyond.

The Reds are not only welcoming back the Premier League though. After finishing fourth last season, Jürgen Klopp’s side must navigate a Champions League play-off qualifier before securing a place in the group stages of the competition proper.

Friday’s draw presented one of the tougher names available to Liverpool in German side Hoffenheim. Managed by rising managerial star Julian Nagelsmann, one of the youngest top-flight managers at 30, Hoffenheim qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history by also securing a top four finish in Germany.

With talented players such as Nadiem Amiri, Hoffenheim are arguably the toughest opponent Liverpool have ever had in modern Champions League qualifiers, and the Reds cannot approach this tie with any form of complacency.

Hoffenheim themselves will be disappointed to be playing such a big club so early into their debut season in the competition, but they have the quality to punish any mistakes or poor performances from Liverpool.

Competing domestically and in Europe

Klopp’s starting line-ups will be highly scrutinized from the outset of this season, as immediately the Reds have to contend with the demands of both domestic and European football. They have struggled challenging on both fronts in recent years when in European competition – both Liverpool’s second place finish under Brendan Rodgers in 2014 and Klopp’s top four finish last season were achieved without European football.

Meanwhile, while Liverpool reached the Europa League final in Klopp’s debut season the club, the club struggled to finish eighth in the Premier League, especially in the final stages of the season as Liverpool invested all of their efforts into their European run and rotated heavily for their league fixtures.

They cannot repeat that at the start of this season.

Reaching the top four for a second successive season has to be the minimum target for Liverpool, regardless of the competition for those places in the Premier League. Liverpool must re-establish themselves again as a Champions League club, as they did under Rafael Benítez.

Consequently, whilst Klopp will need to rotate throughout the season, he cannot completely overhaul the team and field a severely weakened side of squad players and youngsters against Watford and Crystal Palace, either side of the opening leg against Hoffenheim.

At the same time, the Reds will not want to ruin all of their hard work last season by failing to reach the group stages of the Champions League, so a strong line-up will be required consistently throughout August and the rest of the season, and heavy rotation can be left to the early stages of the domestic cup competitions.

Liverpool still need more depth

In order to field high-quality sides twice a week, Liverpool have to improve the depth of their squad, with time running out in the transfer window.

There may be almost a month left, but once the real football swings into action, clubs are more reluctant to part with important players due to the lack of time available to find a replacement, and often prices for players soar towards the end of the window.

At least two players are required for Liverpool to have a squad that can cope with their Premier League rivals and maintain themselves in the Champions League.

A powerful central defender is an absolute must, hence the heavy interest in Southampton rebel Virgil van Dijk. Southampton may eventually sell, but the club is fed up of selling to Liverpool, and Klopp cannot wait forever, with other potential options available across Europe.

Additionally, another player who can contend for the midfield and wide positions would be ideal. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah are Liverpool’s only senior wide players, and another energetic player in midfield would be perfect for the squad Klopp is attempting to build to suit his intense style of play.

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a viable option and a realistic target, with only one year left on his contract, but again there has been little movement on this deal, with interest from other clubs including Chelsea.

Liverpool need to sign these players sooner rather than later, although later would certainly be better than never.

Should Liverpool fail to sign any more players – which would represent a poor transfer window overall – focus would have to shift onto retaining as many of the club’s current players in the squad.

Youngsters including Sheyi Ojo, who would benefit from a loan spell, would need to be retained, while Klopp would also have to make up with outcasts Mamadou Sakho and Lazar Marković, and bring them back into the fold.

Liverpool cannot afford expensive exiles, especially if the squad is lacking.

A demanding season lies ahead for Liverpool, starting immediately in August. Last season, Liverpool’s all-action approach under Klopp resulted in burnout by January – without European football.

A repeat could be fatal to their hopes of any success this season, either at home or abroad, so they cannot forget to strengthen the squad, one way or another.

Liverpool FC