Liverpool’s squad will be presented next Monday for the start of pre-season training. Five days later, they will embark on a week-long tour of the Far East.
Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez, who was signed by Benfica for a fee that could rise to a club record £85m, will be the main attraction.
Jurgen Klopp is also relishing the prospect of working with new teammates Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay. Carvalho will provide an exciting injection of attacking quality following his £7.7m transfer from Fulham, while his teenage partner Ramsey arrived from Aberdeen in a £6.5m deal. The Scottish full-back will give Klopp high-caliber cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Sadio Mane, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino have already left Liverpool, followed by Neco Williams, who has attracted strong interest from Fulham and Nottingham Forest.
The Anfield hierarchy has indicated that this is likely to be the case in terms of tickets. Klopp is happy with what he has. The club’s priorities in the transfer market have already been addressed by new sporting director Julian Ward.
However, there is one remaining area of the team that could arguably still be strengthened.
A year ago, many supporters were concerned when Georginio Wijnaldum was not replaced following his departure on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. Now, a similar debate is raging over Klopp’s options in midfield.
Liverpool’s stance was vindicated last summer when they embarked on a remarkable campaign that saw them win both domestic cups and narrowly miss out on Premier League and Champions League glory. The question is: can they reach those heights again without some fresh blood in the middle of the park?
For Klopp and Ward, it’s about finding the right midfielder at the right price rather than settling for second-best or a stopgap. As a result, they are prepared to wait until 2023 unless an attractive proposal emerges in the coming weeks.
It’s no secret that Liverpool had a keen interest in Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni, but they always knew his preference was to sign for Real Madrid. The price of 100 million euros was also prohibitive.
England international Jude Bellingham is admired by Klopp and the club’s recruiting staff, but they know signing him this summer is unrealistic given that Borussia Dortmund have already lost Erling Haaland to Manchester City. Bellingham’s contract runs through 2025.
So where does that leave Liverpool?
Certainly, when it comes to numbers, Klopp is not short. He has eight senior midfielders in Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Naby Keita, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Carvalho’s long-term future is expected to be in midfield, although he is initially set for opportunities later on. Nunez’s arrival gives Klopp greater freedom to switch to playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 on occasion, having long favored a 4-3-3 system. The manager wants an element of unpredictability.
Midfield was the department in which Klopp rotated the most during a grueling season that spanned 63 games in all competitions.
The most common midfield he chose was made up of Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago. They started 11 times together in 2021-22. When fit, they were Klopp’s first-choice unit.
Thiago stood out when he was available and was deservedly named in the PFA Team of the Year, although injuries and illnesses meant the 31-year-old Spain international only featured in 25 of 38 league games.
Fabinho, Henderson and Keita started five times together, the same as the trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Jones. Elliott would have been more involved had it not been for the serious ankle injury he suffered against Leeds United last September. He is expected to play a much bigger role in 2022-23.
Henderson, who recently turned 32, played more minutes than any other Liverpool midfielder last season. The longtime captain posted 3,869 in all competitions. He is followed by Fabinho (3,690), followed by Thiago (2,381), Keita (2,083), Jones (1,528), Oxlade-Chamberlain (1,524) and Milner (1,387).
In terms of attacking contributions, Fabinho led the way in terms of goals with eight, while Henderson provided the most assists with six. Thiago and Milner were the first in assists per 90 minutes with 0.19.
Earlier this month, Milner signed a new one-year deal to extend his Liverpool career beyond his 37th birthday. He played 39 games in 2021-22 (25 as a substitute) and Klopp has made it clear that he is not retaining him just because of the example he sets in the locker room.
“There is often a lot of talk about James’ leadership skills and his influence in the locker room and of course that is correct and justified, but no one should overlook his quality on the pitch where he continues to perform at a level that it means he just couldn’t afford to lose it,” says Klopp. “We had the longest campaign possible last season and Millie just got stronger and better and more influential as she went along.”
It was another on-and-off year for Keita. The Guinea international made some vital contributions, particularly in the second half of the season, but had to settle for a late cameo off the bench in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Indeed, Keita played more in the Premier League in 2021-22 than in any season since 2018-19, but that accounted for just 34.3 per cent of the club’s minutes. He made 14 starts in the top flight. That figure would have been a bit higher had it not been for the African Cup of Nations.
Liverpool are in the process of trying to agree a new contract with Keita, whose deal runs out next summer. The 27-year-old’s battle to live up to his £52.75m transfer fee on a regular basis continues, but Klopp’s faith in him remains.
One midfielder who could advance this summer is Oxlade-Chamberlain. Liverpool will not stand in his way if presented with the right opportunity to secure regular playing time elsewhere. The 28-year-old, who has one year left on his contract, is valued at around £10m.
Having played just 7.4 per cent of the club’s top flight minutes in 2020-21, that figure rose to 23 per cent last season. However, he still hasn’t played more than a third of the minutes for Liverpool in the Premier League since 2019-20.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made 29 appearances in all competitions in 2021–22 (12 as a substitute), but fell increasingly out of favour, not appearing again following the FA Cup win at Nottingham Forest in March. What happens next largely depends on the other options that come up for him. If he starts off the pre-season brilliantly, then Oxlade-Chamberlain may decide it’s best to stay where he is and back up to force his way into Klopp’s plans.
If Liverpool do not sign a midfielder, many fans will see his possible departure as a risk. Klopp would rely heavily on Fabinho, Thiago and Henderson staying injury-free, Keita progressing, Milner continuing to defy the aging process, and Elliott and Jones stepping up and reaching their rich potential.
(Top photos: Getty Images)