Liverpool are enjoying what is so far an undeniably very good season.
We are top of the Premier League table ahead of the New Year’s Day fixture with Newcastle United, in the knockout rounds of the Europa League after winning our group and in the semis of the EFL Cup. Really, we’re flying. We would have been unbeaten in the Premier League if it wasn’t for the robbery at the Tottenham Stadium, too.
Jurgen Klopp has rotated heavily and used his squad smartly. Players like Jarrell Quansah have come to the fore, all of the midfielders have featured in the continued absence of Thiago and Stefan Bajcetic, while all five of the attackers play in basically every game when fit, either from the beginning or off the bench.
Klopp uses his five subs more often than any manager in the top flight and it’s working; perhaps why we’ve managed to score so many late goals to turn matches around.
There’s a big upcoming issue that will cause the boss headaches, though. The irritatingly scheduled African Cup of Nations and the Asia Cup will see Mo Salah and Wataru Endo out of action for potentially the duration of January and well into February, too.
Both Egypt and Japan are among the favourites in their respective competitions so Klopp can expect to be without the pair for both EFL Semi-Final legs with Fulham, the FA Cup 3rd Round with Arsenal and PL matches with Bournemouth, and more worryingly, Chelsea and Arsenal again…
Here’s a look at some of the options the boss might have at his disposal.
Replacing Wataru Endo
How good has Endo been? It looked for some time that he might actually end up as a figure of fun at Liverpool; a confusing transfer from Stuttgart who simply wasn’t up to scratch. But he is. Despite arriving at 30-years-old, Endo has shown a hunger, a humility and a tenacity at no.6 that has provided us tenacity and solidity in midfield. He holds his position, passes quickly and smartly and is making an increasing number of clever defensive actions that then help us counter.
Thankfully for Klopp, Alexis Mac Allister is back in full training and is the natural choice to slot back into the side in place of Endo. The Argentine has been out for three weeks but was Klopp’s first-choice no.6 before his injury. He plays the position differently to Endo, though. Mac Allister has much better vision and is technically braver, so takes balls in tighter areas and looks for more ambitious passes. This can however lead to us losing possession and it’s good if he could maintain the ball in the manner Endo does, even if it means taking longer to try and pick the right pass.
Another option is to use Trent Alexander-Arnold as the deep-lying playmaker and start Joe Gomez at right-back. However, with injuries to Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas, Gomez is needed at left-back, so we’re unlikely to see Trent switch into his clearly favoured position full-time for a little while yet.
Curtis Jones has played as a no.6 for England’s youth teams, while Klopp could also change things up tactically and deploy a double-pivot, with perhaps Jones and Mac Allister deep, with Dominik Szoboszlai afforded a freer, more creative role.
Replacing Mo Salah
The truth is, you can’t replace Mo Salah. 16 goals and seven assists in all competitions so far and the most big chances created of any player in the top flight. If Darwin Nunez could finish, his assists would be well into the double figures. While Mac Allister seems the obvious choice to replace Endo, the options to stand in for Salah are less clear, especially as whoever comes in, our frontline will weaken.
Harvey Elliott deserves more minutes. He’s been sublime from the bench this season, but only Quansah, Ben Doak and James McConnell have played less minutes than him in the Premier League. The youngster doesn’t have Salah’s pace or ability in behind, but in truth, Mo is losing that anyway and his game is based much more on his creative genius nowadays. This makes Elliott more of a natural replacement than previously. Harvey can shoot when he’s inside the box and also play intricate through-balls, especially if a pace-merchant like Nunez is central.
Luis Diaz is not enjoying his best season but has been used briefly by Klopp on the right in the past. His problem on the left is that he always cuts in and has stopped beating his man on the outside, so perhaps a positional switch will invigorate the Colombian. We can sacrifice him on the left as Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota and Nunez are all comfortable out there.
Jota too has played on the right, although this could keep him out of the box and without Salah, we’ll desperately need his finishing ability. Let’s keep Diogo central.
The wildcard option is Szoboszlai. He’s two-footed, very fast and has played on the right flank in the past. A position which gets him closer to the goal and enables him to unleash his jaw-dropping shooting potential might just work. There are numbers in midfield that allow this to happen, and he’s experienced a drop-off recently so like Diaz, this must boost him.
The Transfer Window
Klopp won’t buy a new winger or a new midfielder just to cover. But we might need another defender, especially a left-footed one. Gomez is currently the backup right-back, starting left-back and backup centre-back. If he gets injured we’re in big trouble.
Sporting Lisbon’s Goncalo Inacio would be a brilliant addition. He has an affordable release-clause, but there is no concrete word the Reds are keen.