As hard as it may be to believe, the Arsenal 2020-21 season starts tomorrow with the FA Community Shield against Liverpool. We took a few minutes with Mark Kastner of Liverpool Offside, our sister blog, to find out what the Reds have been up to and how things are looking for the season ahead on Merseyside.
TSF: Liverpool have been pretty good lately, but in today’s game, you have to be innovating and changing to keep up. What new wrinkles, if any, do you expect Jurgen Klopp to work in tactically?
LO: Liverpool have pretty much played the same way for two seasons now and that’s resulted in 196 league points, a league title, and a sixth European Cup. I don’t need to bore you with the details but the fullbacks are really good, the striker drops deep as a playmaker, and they have two of the best wide forwards in the world. The formula is really good, but as you’ve hinted at, teams have sorta caught on....especially during the Project Restart.
Pep Lijnders (Klopp’s right hand man) did an interview during the lockdown that I thought was an interesting insight into what they plan to evolve into, especially in attack. The long and the short of it is that as teams will start cheating outside to cut off the fullbacks, Liverpool can shift the ball to the middle and attack from there. It’s not rocket science. The key to this is a fit and firing Naby Keita. He’s Liverpool’s most creative midfielder (unless they buy someone, unlikely). During the restart he managed to play well. He’s the one to watch.
TSF: Who are the new faces for Liverpool this season? Any deals still in the works? Any important departures?
LO: Liverpool are infamously quiet in the transfer market these days. I guess it helps when nearly every position is stocked with world class talent. But, this has been an interesting window. They brought in Arsenal-slayer Kontas Tsimikas as leftback cover. The only real weak spot on the roster was what happens when Andy Robertson can’t play, and that seems to be resolved.
Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana have departed for pastures new. They’re both sort of memes at this point of Liverpool past, but they were two of the three longest serving players at the club. By all accounts they were big presences in the locker room and Klopp has already gone on record to say they will be missed.
The big transfer saga for Liverpool this summer has been links with Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcântara. On the face, Liverpool absolutely do not need another central midfielder. They’re stuffed to the rafters at that position, but the links with Thiago haven’t gone away and when you dig beneath the surface it becomes a really intriguing signing.
Obviously the Spanish midfielder is world class. His talent is unquestionable, even if you want to slight his injury history. He’s the one type of player Liverpool lack on this roster: a deep lying playmaker from the #6 position. Just look at his setup for Bayern’s winner against PSG for the credentials he has at that position. But, Liverpool already has a really good defensive midfielder in Fabinho, so what gives?
Signing Thiago would allow Klopp flexibility all over the roster. Fabinho could cover as the #4th choice CB since Lovren has left, and Thiago allows all sorts of possibilities in attack. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but I’d really like it to.
TSF: Since we’re an Arsenal site, we’ve gotta ask. Do Liverpool match the Invincibles’ record this year?
LO: I doubt it. The pace Liverpool have been at to keep up with Manchester City in 2018-19 and then to win the title in 2019-20 was unbearable. Considering how crazy this season’s schedule is, with games basically every 45.7 seconds, I think that they’ll drop points. You add in European adventures & cup competitions, it makes it even more unlikely.
Thanks to Mark for taking the time, and best of luck to Liverpool in all matches not against Arsenal. Happy to hear that he doesn’t see Liverpool matching the Invincibles. We as Arsenal fans don’t have much to cling to these days (but hopefully that’s changing with Mikel Arteta in charge).
Site note: we’re going to try to do more of these questions with the opposition this season.