Saturday marks the first real test for Unai Emery’s squad this season, as the only teams to win their opening two matches square off. Arsenal face one of their toughest challenges this season with a trip to Anfield to take on Jurgen Klopp’s high-press, high-intensity side. Ahead of the top of the table clash, we talked with Zachary Marx from SBN’s Liverpool blog, The Liverpool Offside, to find out how the summer went for the Reds, how the injury to Alisson has impacted the team, their expectations for Saturday, and goals for the 2019/20 season. I did the same for the Offside, and you can find my answers to their questions here.
TSF: It’s been a fast, and expected, start to the year for Liverpool. Briefly catch us up on the summer transfer window and the major headlines for the club.
TLO: What transfer window? I kid, I kid. Or rather a kid, a kid, since our only transfer business was bringing in a couple of highly-regarded teenagers--17-year-old Dutch defender Sepp van den Berg, and 16-year-old English attacking midfielder Harvey Elliot. Yet another negative net-spend transfer window under Kloppo has led many to speculate that the club is planning on going BIG next summer (#Mbappe2020), but of course who knows? Realistically, it’s hard to improve on a squad that accumulated 97 points and won the Champions League, especially when we’re not being funded by a human-rights abusing petro-state.
Other than that, the fanbase is as united as I’ve ever seen, and most of us are just basking in the glow of the European Cup.
TSF: Four seasons ago Liverpool finished 8th in the Premier League and are now a genuine top club again in Europe. How much of that turnaround would you credit to Jurgen Klopp vs. the owners’ investment and focus during that period?
TLO: First of all, I’d encourage anyone and everyone to look at Klopp’s first matchday squad against Spurs in 2015. It wasn’t so much a turnaround as a transformation. And Klopp knew it would be a long, difficult road; by his own estimation, he thought it would take about four years, and well, he was spot-on. To your question: I think it’s a false choice. The owners and manager are seemingly on the same page about everything, something that famously wasn’t the case under Brendan Rodgers. One example that perfectly encapsulates this is in his last transfer window, the club wanted to buy Roberto Firmino, but Rodgers would only sign off on it if he also got Christian Benteke. Obviously we know how that worked out for the players, the team, and the manager.
TSF: The injury to Alisson so early in the season was unfortunate. How has Adrián’s performances through the first two matches been? Given Liverpool’s talent in from the keeper, could they still win the Premier League even if Alisson were out for a longer period?
TLO: I think we’re happy with Adrián, but only under the circumstances. He’s not carrying the massive baggage that Simon Mignolet was, so that’s helpful. However, he’s no Alisson, who has a non-laughable claim to be the top keeper in the world right now. Anyone, basically, would be a step down. Considering Alisson’s heroics last campaign, both domestically and in Europe, it’s hard to imagine us competing (especially with this Manchester City side, who leave no room for error) over 38 games if he’s out for a significant amount of time.
TSF: Outside of Adrian’s unexpected action, which player has been the biggest surprise so far?
TLO: Honestly? Probably Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian striker played through a series of knocks last year (including the Champions League final), and simply wasn’t himself for large stretches of the campaign. While he still managed to do a lot of his normal, dogged defensive duties from the front, he wasn’t nearly as productive in front of goal as in past seasons. However, he’s looking back to his old self now, already scoring a goal and assisting on another in his first two league games. He also immediately changed the momentum of the Super Cup match, assisting Sadio Mane on both goals.
TSF: The club didn’t lose many critical players in the summer, nor did they sign anyone expected to play besides Adrian. What position on the field does Liverpool need to address the most?
TLO: Most fans were hoping for another attacker, and a back up for Andy Robertson at leftback. Considering our front three (and the still-baffling ability of Divock Origi to put the ball in the back of the net), these are luxury problems to have.
TSF: Former Arsenal player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missed last season for Liverpool, what are your expectations for him this year? How is he perceived by the fan base?
TLO: Sorry, mate, but we adore Ox. He seems like a good presence in the dressing room, and he was instrumental in the run to the Champions League final before the injury. We were gutted when we found out the severity of his knee injury. Most expectations are measured, considering how bad the injury was, and how long he was out. That said, he looked great in his first start since returning on the weekend, away at Southampton.
TSF: Looking ahead do you think Liverpool are more focused, or care more about, winning the Premier League this season having just claimed the Champions League last May?
TLO: It’s hard to say. Oddly, considering City’s squad, Pep’s ability to over-think things in Europe, and the huge advantage of Anfield on European Nights, the Champions League might be an easier ask of the two. Many Liverpool fans would prefer winning the league, simply because it’s been so long since we last did so. That said, after losing 3-0 to Barcelona, we were looking down the barrel of one of the objectively greatest seasons ever played in England, and still coming away empty-handed. So, really, we’ll be happy with what we can get.
TSF: What formation or tactic gives Liverpool the biggest issues?
TLO: Liverpool’s defense, even before losing Alisson, is looking shakier than at any point last year. The spaces are just not right at the moment, and sides have been able to get in behind with diagonals and through balls far too easily. Norwich looked to play an open game with us, and with better finishing on their end, it could have paid off. Of course, they didn’t finish, and in the end the quality between the two sides made it look suicidal. BUT, if Arsenal have a similar go, it could be a way to a result at Anfield.
TSF: Do you expect Liverpool to stick to their traditional formation and what is your predicted starting XI?
TLO: Klopp has shown little interest in running out anything other than a 4-3-3 in the last two years, and I wouldn’t expect him to now. My guess:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino
TSF: What is your score prediction for Sunday?
TLO: 3-2, Liverpool.
Thanks to Zach and The Liverpool Offside for answering our questions.