John Aldridge picks his Liverpool XI to start the season
MANCHESTER United and Liverpool have gone about their transfer business in contrasting fashion this summer – yet I suspect the two old foes may be going head-to-head in a battle for the Premier League title this season.
While Jose Mourinho and United have been making resounding statements of intent with some high-profile signings over the last few weeks, Liverpool have been getting on with their business with the minimum of fuss.
United’s eagerness/craziness to spend £100m on midfielder Paul Pogba may be the talk of the game right now, but Liverpool are working to a different agenda and Klopp seems to be fully signed up to the club’s policy.
My old club is determined not to break their wage structure in a bid to land the top players in the game, even though that may mean they cannot compete for the biggest stars.
The two Manchester clubs and Chelsea are operating to very different financial rules compared to the other 17 teams in the Premier League and yet that does not mean the others cannot be successful.
Leicester confirmed beyond any doubt last season that impossible is no longer a word we need to use to describe dreams in this game and while Mourinho and United are trying to buy quick-fire success by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and probably Pogba, Klopp is following a different script.
This is a manager who has a proven track record of piecing teams together without the need for high-profile stars – and he is doing the same at Liverpool.
Klopp got used to selling one of his best players each summer in his time as Borussia Dortmund boss, but he still managed to find a route to success.
Now Liverpool are hoping he repeats that trick in the upcoming season.
The new faces Klopp has added to the squad early in this transfer window should have time to settle into the team and, aside from some concerns in the left-back position, he appears to have two or more players for every position.
Let’s assume he is going to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation and with everyone available, I’d expect Daniel Sturridge to be the first pick to lead the line.
Of course, you cannot rely on Sturridge because, as we all know, he doesn’t tend to last too long before paying a visit to the treatment room.
Danny Ings should be the kind of player Klopp enjoys working with and his return from long-term injury is like a new signing, with Divock Origi another option as lead striker.
Klopp often went into games without a main centre-forward last season, with the formation featuring Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana as an attacking trio working well.
Sadio Mane is in the mix now following his arrival from Southampton and I’d expect to see him given a start on the right side of midfield, with Coutinho on the left.
James Milner offers competition to Mane for his place and Adam Lallana may be Coutinho’s back up, ensuring there is high-profile competition waiting in the wings.
The battle for the main role behind the lead striker is also intriguing, with Firmino probably favourite to get the nod and Coutinho also able to play in there if needed.
It is an embarrassment of riches for Klopp to pick from in a season when he will not have any European football to consider, with the tussle for the two holding midfield berths set to be heated.
Joe Allen has left, so Jordan Henderson, Lucas, Emre Can and new boy Marko Grujic will be fighting for two places, with Georginio Wijnaldum coming into the mix now that he has signed from Newcastle.
I like what I have seen from Serbian Grujic so far and even though he is still only 20, he is a box-to-box player with real energy and quality. I’d like to see him given a start.
With so many midfield options, there is a danger that some players won’t get too much time on the field, but this is a nice problem for Klopp to contend with.
The defensive line is also pretty well stocked and I expect new signing Joel Matip to be the first name on the sheet in the central role, with Dejan Lovren starting alongside him after his improved form in the second half of last season.
Mamadou Sakho is back in contention after his confusing failed drug test saga, with Nathaniel Clyne a first pick for the right-back berth.
If there is an area of concern, it comes at left full, as I am not convinced Alberto Moreno can be relied upon when it matters most.
We saw the problems the Spaniard had in the Europa League final last May, so I suspect young Joe Gomez will have a chance to stake a claim for a start.
Klopp may look to bring in another left back and new arrival Loris Karius may well replace Simon Mignolet in goal.
All in all, there is not a lot of transfer trading left for Liverpool in what is likely to be the craziest summer of spending in Premier League history.
Klopp does not have to join the mad scramble for players as their squad is close to being finalised three weeks before the big kick-off.
That’s a great position to be in because when I look at most of Liverpool’s main title rivals, they are trying to sign players and getting used to new managers and trying to rebuild their teams.
Meanwhile, Liverpool and Klopp have a pretty settled squad looking forward to a fascinating first game of the season against Arsenal.
No one reading this can predict with any conviction who will be crowned as Premier League champions next May and that should fuel Liverpool’s ambitions.
This uncertainty played into Leicester’s hands last season and Liverpool can dare to dream that they can be the fairy-tale story this time.