The World Cup is sadly drawing to a close this week but fear not, the Premier League will soon take its place as footballing order is restored on Boxing Day.
With England now out of the tournament, it’s probably the time to start turning our attention back towards club football, particularly given that Liverpool and Manchester City will be going head-to-head in the Carabao Cup on December 22.
For Liverpool, a trip to face Aston Villa at Villa Park to will come in the league four days later, before they face Leicester at Anfield on December 30.
Jurgen Klopp’s team currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League, seven points off the Champions League spots but with a game in hand on fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur. As such, it’s absolutely vital that Liverpool hit the ground running when the league resumes as they simply cannot afford to lose more ground on the top four, or Manchester United ahead of them in fifth.
Here are five things they must address to turn their season around.
Colombian winger Luis Diaz has suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee injury and is now facing a further three months on the sidelines.
Diaz, who was been out since Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat against Arsenal on October 9, was making significant progress before sustaining another injury ahead of the Reds’ friendlies against Lyon and AC Milan.
Klopp has called the injury a “proper smash in the face”, given its nature, and he will now have to find his way around another shortage of forwards with Diogo Jota also out.
The obvious answer is to continue with Darwin Nunez playing off the left, a role he performed well during Liverpool’s wins over Spurs and Southampton – scoring a fine brace against the latter.
The intelligent movement of Roberto Firmino and the width provided by Andy Robertson means this may well be his best position in Klopp’s 4-3-3, rather than as a central striker. Fabio Carvalho should also be given decent minutes there off the bench, with Nunez then moving infield to close out games.
Liverpool’s midfield has been a problem for some time, particularly when either Thiago or Fabinho are absent. Jordan Henderson, despite some decent performances for England in Qatar, is showing signs of decline as a footballer and will need a break anyway when the Premier League continues in a fortnight.
All that means it is time for Harvey Elliott to cement himself in Liverpool’s starting XI, as he offers a craft and creativity that other options in Klopp’s squad simply don’t possess.
Elliott had arguably his best game of the season against Southampton before the World Cup break, registering his first assist of the campaign in the process. Liverpool need to see more of that but it can only happen if Klopp starts him week in and week out.
Elliott must pick up where he left off and make that spot on the right of the midfield three his own, before Liverpool inevitably invest heavily in January and the summer.
However Elliott plays, it is clear Liverpool will need reinforcements for midfield – and they must come in January. They cannot risk failing to qualify for the Champions League and at this point, the Anfield careers of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be over.
Keita might be worth keeping around as a squad player if he will accept a reasonable salary but replacements are needed. Arthur Melo, on loan from Juventus, clearly hasn’t impressed Klopp in training either.
The ongoing pursuit of Jude Bellingham aside – good luck with that – Liverpool desperately need to refresh their midfield options, especially given the ages of Thiago, Fabinho and Henderson. More than one player and profile is required and that process may as well start now, with Sofyan Amrabat a very good start if they can make his transfer from Fiorentina happen.
Given Roberto Firmino’s scintillating form during the first half of the season (and the current injury crisis among forwards), it is a no-brainer that Liverpool tie their false-nine maestro to a new contract extension as soon as possible.
At 31, Firmino isn’t getting any younger, but he has never relied on pace, makes everyone around him better and can play a variety of roles – including that of an impact sub. He’s loved in the dressing room and by the manager and is already a bona-fide club legend. If that’s not worth keeping around, then what is?
Did we mention his seven goals in 13 league appearances this season? Liverpool need to get the ink dry on an extension, pronto, or another club will on a pre-contract deal when January 1 rolls around.
Liverpool’s defence has been, how do we put this, pretty awful so far this season. The form of Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, has been a cause for concern but nobody along Liverpool’s backline has been playing to their full ability bar their goalkeeper Alisson – and he is being given far too much to do.
This is why it is imperative that Ibrahima Konate returns to the starting XI following the World Cup. As good a servant as Joel Matip has been, the French centre-back is far and away the best partner for Virgil van Dijk. Konate’s athleticism and ability to cover even high up the pitch would also help Alexander-Arnold recapture his best form, too – as long as he can stay injury free and put a significant run of games under his belt.
Keep him fit and in the team and Liverpool will soon start keeping clean sheets, climbing back up the table as a result.
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