There has been much speculation over which players should be picked in a multitude of positions in Jurgen Klopp’s side this season, which has seen me ask the question as to whether Jurgen Klopp knows what his strongest side is and how so many fans can be so fickle about their views.
If you exclude the front three, as few will argue that they essentially pick themselves, there are debates every day on social media as to who should play in just about every other position in the team. From the goalkeeper through the defence and on to the midfield, fans around the world have differing opinions on which players should be first-choice in their respective roles. There is of course mileage in pointing out here that Klopp will have the view that he can pick horses for courses, with the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition being factors in which players he will field against them. And that’s fair enough, but it leads to a lot of uncertainty and a lack of consistency when players are being asked to come in and out of the side. It can hinder rhythm and familiarity between team-mates, as there can be stark differences in styles between contenders for the various spots in the side.
Starting with the goalkeeping position, we have seen fans champion the cause for each of three different custodians to be first-choice. Loris Karius, the current man in possession of the gloves, was heralded as the solution to our problems when he signed and quickly consigned to being a mistake a few short months later. He is now back in the side and a decent showing against Spurs in the 2-2 draw last week has seen the scales tip in his favour with the majority of supporters. But if he makes a an error which costs us a goal, and perhaps a result too, he will be questioned again and many fans will want to see the return of Simon Mignolet to the team. The indifferent form of each of these two as they’ve swapped the gloves has even seen fans call for third-choice keeper Danny Ward to be given a chance. I’ve wanted to see that happen at times this season too. It goes to show the lack of faith supporters have in Mignolet as well as the lack of patience shown for Karius. Supporters want players to hit the ground running and many will write a player off after a few poor games. Clubs can do it too, with Chelsea quickly dispensing with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge. We live in a time of instant gratification.
The absence of Nathaniel Clyne has seen Klopp rotate two young defenders at right-back. Personally, I think he’s done the right thing in giving both Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold plenty of game time this season. It not only benefits the pair of them to give them rests out of the side, but it is also a plus for the team in general. The two of them offer different styles of play, with Gomez a more defensive-minded player thanks to his roots at centre-back and Alexander-Arnold being more capable going forward. There is also the prospect of healthy competition driving the duo on and that is also a positive for the team. It will be interesting to see what Klopp does when Clyne returns to action down the line. Perhaps he will reinstate the England international as number one with Alexander-Arnold pushing him for his place and Gomez reverting to a central option.
The competition is just as fierce on the other side of the back four, with Andrew Robertson currently in possession of the left-back berth. He came into the side following a long run of Spaniard Alberto Moreno being preferred for the role. An injury for the former Sevilla man gave the Scot his opportunity at a lengthy run in the side and he has grabbed it with both hands. The return to fitness of Moreno will give Klopp the chance to rotate the position and keep both players fit and hungry – but many will point to the importance of having a settled defence when chasing the biggest trophies. It is a slightly different situation to the other side of the back four in the respect that both contenders are of an age where they can expect to be first-choice in their preferred position. The difference on the right is that the long-term incumbent has been injured and the other two are a combination of a teenager and a youngster playing out of position. Robertson and Moreno will both believe they should be a regular in the side rather than sharing the position. It should drive them on to prove they deserve to be first-choice and that kind of competition should benefit the team.
There is a similar situation at the heart of the defence, with four players fighting it out for a regular place in the starting XI. You would have to think that Virgil Van Dijk is nailed on to be the main man in the pairing, with the others fighting it out for the right to partner him. However, Klopp has shown that he will drop the Dutchman, with him sitting out the 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town recently. Most will see that as the manager taking the chance to rest his new man after a flurry of games following a difficult year blighted by injury and politics at Southampton. Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip look to be the frontrunners to play alongside the Holland international and Klopp has so far given them both chances since the £75m deal was completed. There has been mixed fortunes for them both, with Matip scoring an own goal against West Brom in the FA Cup and misplacing a pass against Leicester City, which led to a goal for Jamie Vardy. Lovren, on the other hand, has been generally solid since Van Dijk arrived, with the sliced clearance against Spurs the main negative. It has led to a lot of fans calling for the Croatian to be given a run of games alongside the new signing, but that just shows how fickle a lot of supporters are. Matip was previously being championed as the man to take the place and Lovren was being written off, for the umpteenth time in his Anfield career, after a disastrous thirty-minute outing at Wembley against Spurs. When he makes his next costly error, and history says that will happen, he will chastised with Matip pointed to as the right partner for Van Dijk. It’s a cycle that can only realistically point to neither player ultimately being the answer. If they both spurn their chances, then fans will start calling for Ragnar Klavan to be given a run of games to prove his credentials. And so on.
The same flitting is going on when it comes to which players should play in midfield. The eternal debate over whether Emre Can or Jordan Henderson should play the anchor role in midfield continues now that the England international is fit again. There is also the question over whether either of them is actually cut out for the role, with many fans still calling for a genuine defensive midfielder to be signed this Summer. Both players have shown why they should and should not be given the nod for what has come to be known as playing at ‘number six’. Henderson is club captain while Can looks to be on his way out of Anfield when his contract expires at the end of the season. Some will side with the skipper by mirroring his loyalty, while others will back Can in a bid to persuade him that he should commit his future to Liverpool. It’s a long running debate that looks increasingly likely to be ended by the Germany international joining Juventus this Summer. Henderson will then move on to a different criticism as to why he isn’t the answer next season.
Georginio Wijnaldum has generally been a good signing since joining from Newcastle United in the Summer of 2016. But his inability to impact games away from home has continued into his Anfield career after he struggled on the road for PSV Eindhoven and the Magpies. That has led to fans to call for either James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to feature instead. The return to fitness of Adam Lallana also adds another name to the mix of players contending for a spot in midfield. Different supporters have varied ideas as to how the midfield should be selected, with a lack of creativity being the main common factor. The sale of Philippe Coutinho has left Klopp with a lack of flair and craft in his options, so the attacking positivity of Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to see them championed that bit more than Milner. The arrival if Naby Keita in the Summer should end the debate for who plays the link role.
The only department of Klopp’s side that is not debated is the front three. Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are cemented into the positions they play. Few would be foolish enough to suggest that Dominic Solanke or Danny Ings should be instated into the side and the feint calls for Lazar Markovic to be given a fresh chance have quietened down again following his loan move to Anderlecht. They are the strongest three players in the squad, with the possible exception of Van Dijk, and there places are under no threat from Klopp dropping them or fans calling for that to happen.
But the rest of the side continues to be rotated by Klopp and debated by fans. Someone needs to stake a stronger claim for their position or risk being replaced by a new signing.