And we’re back for another round. Fresh on the heels of Nathan’s Q&A with The Liverpool Offside, I chatted with another of their writers, Mark Kastner, ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Anfield on Saturday. Chalk it up to me, Aaron, being a doofus and not remembering that Nathan was already scheduled to do one. But who is going to complain about more content, right?
Both Mark and I tried to ask different questions and talk about different topics, so enjoy the additional insight. I’ll link to my answers to his questions once they are posted on TLO. And I’m a little hesitant to do this, but I’m going to try it out:
Please do drop by TLO and comment on their post as well once it is up. I’ve really enjoyed respectfully discussing the Premier League and other clubs with people other than Arsenal supporters. We have a great community here at TSF, and I’m counting on you to not be jerks if you do decide to comment over there.
TSF: Liverpool look much better this year than they did last season.That may be more perception than reality, after all Liverpool finished third last year, but I think you’d agree that last season they weren’t the same, striking-fear-into-your-heart team they were when they won the title.
Why do they look so much better now? Is it all down to who is healthy or are there other factors, like Mo Salah somehow raising his level (again)?
TLO: So, last season for Liverpool was certainly an anomaly. All of their senior centerbacks were injured for most of the season, new signing Thiago nearly had his leg broken by Everton, and it was still pandemic football. But as you’ve mentioned, they finished third. So we found out what the basement of this team is...a Quarter-Final exit in the CL and 69 league points.
This season has obviously started differently, and there’s a few factors for why that’s the case. Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez are healthy again. You cannot understate how important it is to have the best CB in the world and two other world class CBs healthy. Another reason is that I think the fans being back in the stands and in full voice are a huge boost for this team. Don’t forget that they won the title with 99 points and didn’t get to celebrate it in front of the fans. Klopp and this team are an emotional bunch, and I think that not being able to fully share the title with the supporters was a big blow. And finally, not only is Mo Salah playing like the best player in the world at the moment, but his partners in the “Front 3” are doing “Front 3” things again. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are back to scoring at a decent clip and they seem to be revitalized.
TSF: Speaking of health, Virgil van Dijk is back. But my feeling is that, to the extent you can be concerned about averaging one goal against per game, the defense isn’t where you’d “want” it to be? Is defense an issue? Is that your biggest concern about the squad? If not, what is?
TLO: I’m not really sure it’s as simple of a conclusion as, “goals are going in, so it’s the defense’s fault.” A rather large tactical shift that’s happened this season is Liverpool’s midfield has been far more aggressive offensively, which is a departure from previous seasons. It’s led to A LOT of goals, on both ends. It’s left them exposed at times. The 3rd goal West Ham scored is sort of the whole problem in a nutshell. The midfield is exposed, no one fouls Jarred Bowen, and the opposing team got to dictate movement. Similar goals have been allowed to Manchester City, AC Milan, Brentford, Brighton and Atletico Madrid.
I’m not smart enough to know what the fix is here. I just know Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Thiago haven’t played together very much. I suppose getting those three on the field more often would help.
TSF: One of the things I try to remind people about this year’s Arsenal squad is that it’s one of the youngest rosters in the Premier League and Mikel Arteta has selected the youngest average starting 11. Liverpool are not that. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, more or less in the bottom fourth for both average age metrics.
So I’ve got two things for you to talk about: first, how does that affect the “pressure” and goals this season? Is there a sense that this group only has a year or two left before it looks significantly different? And second (and on a more positive note) who are some of the younger, up-and-coming guys to have on our radar (get well soon Harvey Elliot!)?
TLO: I think the age of this squad can be explained in context of Jurgen Klopp’s managerial career. At Dortmund, he was constantly having his best players sold (usually to his direct rivals in Munich). He came to Liverpool to build (one of) the best teams in the world. He has accomplished that and his contract runs through 2024. This is his dream squad and these are the guys he wants to win everything with, more or less.
With that said, there’s quietly a rebuild happening at Liverpool while they try to dominate. As you mentioned, Harvey Elliott seems to be an excellent player and he’s just turned 18. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the best RB in the world and is only 23. Curtis Jones hasn’t looked out of place against Chelsea, Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, or the likes. Ibrahima Konaté and Joe Gomez are 22 and 24, respectively. Diogo Jota turns 25 next month.
While the core of Van Dijk, Henderson, Mane, Firmino, and Salah are aging into their 30s they’re all still very good, and to your question about squad age, there’s a decent crop of young players behind them.
TSF: Who is (are) the unsung / under-the-radar guy(s) for the Reds this season?
TLO: It feels very weird to say that Joel Matip is unsung, given that he’s won the Champions League as a starting CB, but it seems people kinda forgot how good he is while he was injured. He’s been Liverpool’s best defender this season in a team that includes Virgil van DIjk. Yes. He’s been that good.
TSF: Say Arsenal beat Liverpool on Saturday. What happened? What is the area / weakness in this side that the Gunners might be able to exploit?
TLO: If Arsenal’s going to win on Saturday, they’ll need to outgun (haha get it?) Liverpool. Arsenal have some attacking midfielders that could be worrisome. Without knowing too much about how Arsenal setup, the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, and Emile Smith Rowe could definitely exploit the midfield and dribble at the backline. Another thing that has happened when Liverpool has dropped points this season is opposing team goalkeepers play out of their skin. Aaron Ramsdale has been, for me, in excellent form and he could stand on his head and win Arsenal some points.
TSF: And a prediction for the match?
TLO: I don’t really like scoreline predictions, but I can see the match going like this: Liverpool come out flying in the opening 15 minutes and get a goal. Arsenal settle in and maybe it goes level before the break. Then Liverpool come out in the second half and score multiple goals. I guess that means I think it’ll be 3-1? So, yeah. There.
Thanks again to Mark (and Zachary yesterday) for answering our questions!