The three biggest strengths of Liverpool’s Champions League squad – and their weak links
As five-time champions, Liverpool hold the record for most European Cups in England. And Jurgen Klopp’s men have the chance to write history once again this season.
Having finished fourth in the English top flight last term and defeated their German counterparts Hoffenheim at the play-off stage, the Reds now face Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor in the Champions League group stages.
But, with Liverpool’s full Champions League squad having been officially confirmed, what will they bring to the competition after spending two seasons away?
Klopp’s extensive options in terms of players blessed with blistering pace pair perfectly with his favoured counter-pressing system.
New arrival Mohamed Salah has already impressed, netting against Arsenal and Hoffenheim, and competes with Sadio Mane for the title of fastest Liverpool player.
New addition Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s physical qualities will be useful for Klopp in winning the ball back from the opposition as well as driving it forward; Oxlade-Chamberlain has successfully recorded 17 successful take-ons this season, more than any Premier League player.
Meanwhile, Spanish speedster Alberto Moreno saved his Liverpool career through his pre-season form and has repaid the faith shown by his manager by winning the highest number of tackles of any Reds player in the English top flight (9).
He, along with Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold are equipped with the physical attributes to dispossess opposition, push high up the pitch and counter quickly, locating spaces when a team presses, and threading through the gaps.
The front three
Liverpool’s attacking trio of Mane, Firmino and Salah between them scored nine goals and assisted another six in all competitions in August.
Salah has already proven himself – his pace and attacking instincts left Arsenal ragged, and if it weren’t for a series of missed chances, he would be nearer the top of the Premier League’s goalscoring tables right now; Mane meanwhile is joint-second in that field on three.
Goals and assists from midfield
Keeping Philippe Coutinho away from Barcelona almost feels like a new signing for Klopp, as cliche as that sounds, but where does the Brazilian midfielder fit into a starting XI that has won five of their seven games so far this season already without him?
Blessed with obscene versatility and as creative a playmaker as he is a threat on goal from long range, Coutinho’s shift back into Klopp’s midfield three had already began during the closing stages of last season.
Should his reintegration go without a hitch, Coutinho will provide goals and assists from midfield, scoring 13 and creating 65 chances in the league last term as well as seven assists.
Wijnaldum, meanwhile, was the club’s leading assist-maker in the Premier League, with eight, followed closely by Adam Lallana on seven. Oxlade-Chamberlain set up the same number of goals, surpassed in that regard only by Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.
Emre Can also appears a player with heightened instincts in front of goal this season. He scored twice against Hoffenheim in the Champions League play-off and has an assist in the league already.
Liverpool’s big-game record
Having been drawn against Sevilla in the group stages, the Reds will be looking for revenge on the Spanish club who beat them in the 2016 Europa League final – something which actually denied Klopp Champions League football after his first campaign at Anfield.
Apart from the final loss, the German manager’s record against European giants at Liverpool has been impressive. The Reds’ run-up to the Europa League final included victories against Manchester United, Villarreal and Borussia Dortmund, the thrilling win over Klopp’s old side, reminiscent of the 2005 Istanbul heroics.
It is no secret Klopp tends to do better against the big Premier League teams than anyone on course to finish beyond fifth in the league. Last season, Liverpool recorded more victories against the top six than any other club – even champions Chelsea.
Lack of depth (and experience) at full-back
It’s nothing new – Liverpool’s attacking prowess comes at the expense of a shaky back line that, at times, is worrying.
Defensive errors, conceding set pieces, inability to track runners, and a worrying frailty to counter attacks continue to plague the squad.
Right-back Nathaniel Clyne has not been named in Liverpool’s squad due to injury, with the 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold having to fill in. Likewise, Joe Gomez, 20, lacks experience.
For all his pace and hard work, Moreno was labelled the “worst defensive left-back in the Premier League” after the first leg against Hoffenheim. Andy Robertson, meanwhile, is still settling and has never played club football in a European competition.
James Milner is left the most experienced option at full-back. There is always Oxlade-Chamberlain, though he left Arsenal expressly to move away from the right-wing-back role Arsene Wenger was developing him for.
…and a lack of quality in central defence
Despite clean sheets against Arsenal and Palace, Klopp’s back-line remains an ongoing worry. The Reds needlessly conceded a late goal against Hoffenheim in the first leg, and let in two goals at the second. They also let in three on the opening day against a Watford side that has only scored seven times overall in the league this season.
They may have been a man down against Manchester City, but conceding five signalled a total absence of defensive nous.
Liverpool conceded 42 goals in the Premier League last season, which is the highest amount of goals conceded in the top five. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren will be Klopp’s first-choice pairing, with only Ragnar Klavan and Gomez as options behind them – and the latter will also be viewed as full-back cover.
With 13 different injuries between the players just listed, who only started 19 of 47 games last season, and it is imperative they find consistency and form.