Heading into the second international break in the top four, Jurgen Klopp’s men have impressed many so far with an improved version of his high press from last season as well as a much improved goalscoring rate this season.
The usual stars continue to maintain their form and show their inherent qualities – Brazilian duo Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho comes to mind – but there has been others who have stepped up rather unexpectedly. And even as the team’s displays as a whole have been generally positive, there are a couple who need to do better once the league resumes at home to old rivals Manchester United on October 17.
Surprise Trio Step Up
With big money signings Georgino Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane arriving in the summer, doubts inevitably arose over James Milner and Adam Lallana’s places in the first eleven. Many expected the English duo – who admittedly improved under Klopp after looking average for the man who recruited them in the first place – to have to contend with a place on the bench, at best. The third, skipper Jordan Henderson, was out of the side at the end of last season, with Emre Can and Milner forming Klopp’s two-man midfield for the Europa League final.
However, the start of this season has reinvigorated the English trio, as all three are now as key as the Brazilian magicians up front. Lallana hasn’t been displaced by Mane, instead shifted to a deeper lying position, which has allowed him to create from deep and make late runs into the opponent’s penalty area – as seen by his improved stats in front of goal.
Positioned even deeper in midfield, somewhat behind Lallana has been Henderson. Questions over Klopp’s decision had surfaced a month ago, but Henderson’s recent displays have shown just why Klopp likes to deploy him just in front of the back four. As seen in the manager’s league debut at White Hart Lane, his deepest lying midfielder, Lucas Leiva, rid of his accustomed holding role and instead pressed high up the pitch.
Though Henderson’s forward runs has somewhat been curtailed, he is the perfect man to perform the defensive midfield duties so desired by Klopp – that is to press high up and yet track back quickly when the opponents have bypassed his midfield. Whether Can’s return to fitness will see Henderson replaced or pushed higher up the pitch, the skipper has been instrumental in Liverpool’s early season success, from a position deeper than what he was previously used to.
And then there’s Milner, who has reinvented himself into Klopp’s first choice left-back, vindicating the manager’s reluctance to sign a £20 million left-back. The versatile Englishman looks at home at left-back. With his compatriot Nathaniel Clyne capable of manning the entire right flank on his own, Milner somewhat duplicates that with his stamina and skill on the wing making him a useful outlet.
Milner’s work rate and willingness to use both feet makes him such a valuable asset at left-back, keeping specialist Alberto Moreno on the sidelines. Of course, the Englishman has much to improve on the defensive side of his game, but has so far stuck to his task, keeping quality wingers like Riyad Mahrez and Willian quiet.
With the likes of Can, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge being kept out of the side due to the form of this English trio, Klopp now has a healthy dilemma on his hands as he finally has some quality options to choose from as he selects his first eleven week in week out.
Room For Improvement
Though not entirely his fault, Sturridge’s importance for Liverpool is now its lowest since he joined the Reds, with Firmino preferred up front and Origi providing another more physical option for Klopp.
In his defence, the England international has been stepping up his game, trying to get fitter and looking to press the ball more than he would have under Brendan Rodgers. Yet as he continues to transition to be the type of forward Klopp wants, Sturridge has found it difficult to open his league account this season 7 games in.
It is more worrying for him than it is for the Reds, as they have all upped their productivity up front, all without Sturridge’s contribution. This is pretty comforting for Liverpool fans, after two seasons placing all top four and/or cup hopes on his (form and) fitness.
This situation has given him both more and less pressure to deal with. More in terms of having to find the net sooner or be seen as out of form, less in terms of having more time and space to regain his form and improve his physique to cope with the rigours of being Klopp’s No.9.
The next two weeks will be the making of Sturridge this season. He will need to avoid any injury layoff during the international break, as another would almost certainly see him lose any hope of regaining his starting spot this year and perhaps this season.
Another player who has done okay so far this season but needs to step up is new signing Wijnaldum. He has been hardworking in midfield, but really needs to show his goalscoring qualities from midfield – one of the main reasons why Klopp plunged for him in the first place.
An attacking midfielder by trade, the Dutch international’s deeper role alongside Lallana in Klopp’s three-man midfield means he needs to keep up with Lallana in terms of goalscoring and creating chances. Admittedly, Wijnaldum has already assisted Lallana twice this season, away to Arsenal and against Leicester City.
A first goal could be just what Wijnaldum needs to jumpstart his season goalscoring-wise, but many will hope he can add goals to his already industrious displays, and share the goalscoring responsibilities with the likes of Lallana and Coutinho soon.