How many of Liverpool’s first eleven need changing in the summer?


Neil Poole ponders the question: To what extent does Liverpool’s first eleven need changing in the summer?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, November 26, 2015: Liverpool's players line up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Group Stage Group B match against FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield. Back row L-R: Kolo Toure, Christian Benteke, Dejan Lovren, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne. Front row L-R: Jordon Ibe, Alberto Moreno, Lucas Leiva, James Milner, Joe Allen. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)




‘Three year plan.’

‘Five year plan.’

The mere mention of these phrases uttered in connection to Liverpool FC’s medium-term future evokes sheer dread. My inner-child’s large, blue, melancholic eyes flood with tears. He stares up at me and begs, “Please Big Neil, no…not again.”

Yeah, well do one Little Neil! I’m ready to throw out the baby out with the bathwater. I’ll pay the price of time and the excruciating prospect of rebuilding a team in a new manager’s image. Only because it’s Klopp though. I’ll also pay for the mattress too so the baby has a soft landing.

As you see later on, I’m going to be really nice about binning loads of our players off.

Divisive Players

The aftermath of Liverpool’s 3-3 draw on Wednesday night was a strange one and was a microcosm of the effect of the majority of Liverpool’s players on fans. Indeed, it also demonstrates why a substantial number of these players need to be replaced, not in their entirety but certainly as regular starters.

I’ve spoken to about ten people now (in person) who went to the game, and assessments of nearly all players’ performances have varied wildly. So much so that only two players received a unanimous verdict:

Firmino was universally lauded as excellent and delivered his best performance of the season. Unfortunately, little did he know as he pulled off shirt to celebrate the first of his two goals that Simon Mignolet was digging his fingers into the Anfield turf at the other end ready to pull the carpet from under his performance.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 13, 2016: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action against Arsenal during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

To be fair, everyone I know thought Mignolet was amazeballs…, no sorry, drop the ‘amaze’ bit.
Bloody hell Simon, there’s me telling everyone you’re nowhere near as bad as people make out and you do that to me. Klopp may be defending him and fair play. But if Jurgen was an Italian, 19th century puppet-boy inflicted with awkward, guilt-induced, face-erections when telling porky pies, he could currently poke your eye out from Melwood.

That’s where the consensus stops though. Can, Moreno, Sakho, Lallana, Ibe…you name them and I’ve heard diametrically opposed views about every other player who started against Arsenal in our midweek fixture.

Football players will always split opinions. That’s normal. And you’ll always get the odd dissenter who’ll revel in telling you Messi’s not all that. However, like a working class Tory, disguised as turkey voting for Christmas you’ll always have people who wallow in choosing to be wrong. But, on the whole, when players are clearly very good people tend not to argue.

Non-Divisive Players

The Liverpool side of the 2008/09 season is a case in point. Arguably, the best Liverpool ‘team’ of the last twenty five years, they were not subject to mass debate – schoolboy joke alert! No one argued vociferously over the credentials of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Pepe Reina.

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, February 25, 2009: Liverpool's players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Champions League First Knock-Out Round against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. Back row L-R goalkeeper Pepe Reina, Albert Riera, Martin Skrtel, Dirk Kuyt, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres. Front row L-R: Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Yossi Benayoun, Fabio Aurelio and Javier Mascherano. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Why? It’s simple: When a player is very good, they are quite blatantly very good. I don’t mean potentially very good. I don’t mean show flashes of being very good. I don’t mean very good before they came to Liverpool when they played for another team. I don’t mean very good if everyone else plays to his strengths. I don’t mean very good for three games and then very bad for the next three. I mean…just…very good.

It brings a tear to my eye to think what that team could do in this league right now. The footballing Gods conspired to chauffeur them to the party seven years too early.

Even bad players can unite the supporters. Never have I felt so part of the Liverpool family as when I attended a candle-lit vigil of one hundred thousand Reds on the banks of the Mersey back in the Hodgson months and we embarked on a marathon pinching session to ensure that it was true: Paul Konchesky was actually a Liverpool player. Those were the days.

Supporting Roles

The very fact this team drives chasms through the spectrum of opinions indicates exactly what most of them are right now; not terrible; not great. In short, a cast of supporting players you could rationally argue have a place in the squad or could ‘do a job’ in the first eleven.

If you choose to listen, you’ll find plenty of supporters who could a put coherent and rational counter argument to your own on almost any current Liverpool player. You still might not agree with them but you can at least understand their argument.

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Group Stage Group B - Liverpool FC v FC Girondins de Bordeaux

Sakho, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Benteke, Firmino and Skrtel seem to bear the brunt of these arguments. But increasingly, and in my own experience Ibe, Clyne and Henderson are being entered into these discussions too.

Now listen, stop staring at your Emre Can tattoo and shaking with anger for a minute because you think I’m saying he’ll never be a great Liverpool player. I’m not. So move away from the caps lock. Move away from the caps lock. The likelihood is I’m not disparaging your favourite Liverpool player at all. There’s mitigating circumstances why the majority of players wouldn’t command a starting place if we had a crop of very good or great players around them.

The Current Players

Can, Moreno and Ibe have youth on their side and bags of potential you can’t simply discard. But we shouldn’t be relying on these players week-in, week out and they need space to develop. They need to be allowed to be inconsistent without the glare of such an intensive spotlight. It would benefit them if we relied on them less at this stage in their careers.

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - Thursday, September 17, 2015: Liverpool's captain Mamadou Sakho walks out to face FC Girondins de Bordeaux during the UEFA Europa League Group Stage Group B match at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m a big fan of Sakho, but Sturridge’s injury record has somewhat overshadowed the Frenchman’s and there should questions over whether he can be relied on as a first choice centre-back. Again, there is a place for him, but should we build the defence around him?

Firmino is new to the league and although underwhelming for much of the season, it would be criminal to not allow him time to bed in. His induction into the league would be eased if there were other fit and proven strikers who fit into our style of play, and we weren’t so desperately in need of him to hit the ground running this season.

Benteke isn’t a bad player. He could potentially be a useful, and very expensive impact player off the bench; the fulcrum of the elusive plan B. But it’s difficult to see how he can establish himself in the team next season except in bespoke matches that play to his strengths.

Milner, Lallana and even Henderson are the runners and the meat and potatoes in the team with the occasional flourish of creativity, with an eye for a pass or cross, but should ultimately be the sixth, seventh or eighth names on the team sheet. Throw Clyne into the mix too, minus the sparks of creativity, for another ‘solid’ and useful performer.

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 6, 2015: Liverpool's dejected players James Milner, Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva and Dejan Lovren after the 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United during the Premier League match at St. James' Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And then we have Skrtel and Lucas. Our longest serving players, simultaneously capable of man-of-the-match displays and flurries of good runs of form that render them good options to have in the squad in the minds of many. But on the other hand, they’re inextricably linked with a sustained period of little success and with a list of errors burnt into the brains of those who don’t rate them.

It’s a Liverpool team of never-ending pros and cons.


These players are not bad. They’re decent. But there has slowly been a lowering of expectations at our football club for years now and it’s time to stand back and ask the question: when did it become acceptable for the height of Liverpool’s ambitions to be a ‘decent’ team?

Pick your best current Liverpool player. Does he get in that 2008/09 team’s first eleven? Yes? Fair enough.

Pick your second best current Liverpool player. Does he get in? Keep going. I’ll be gobsmacked if you make it past a third name.

Then bear in mind, that 08/09 team, as great as it was, didn’t win a thing. You’d struggle to get more than three players in a team that for all its merits won nothing. It brings the current readiness of this crop of players into sharp focus. I’m setting the benchmark as a team who didn’t win anything, and this current one still isn’t fit to tie their shoelaces. Harsh I know. But I want Liverpool Football Club to be better than decent.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 13, 2015: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and players thanking supporters after the Premier League match against West Bromwich Albion at Anfield. (Pic by James Maloney/Propaganda)

It’s important to point out many of these players could easily do a job and play a part in title-chasing side, even a title-winning side. But crucially, only if they made up less than half of the team. It’s a team made up of too many individuals who currently need to be carried in some way with not enough players left to do the carrying.

This team does not need to be overhauled in its entirety but Klopp needs to make significant changes in the summer. Four or five could have a place in the starting eleven. A handful more would make able squad players. The rest can be binned off.

I’ll let you decide who falls into which category and what the right mix is…

[interaction id=”5698c8a76f21c9dc057b48d7″]


You can download Neil’s LFC ebook for free until Sunday at Amazon.


More on This Is Anfield

More LFC news, opinion & videos

Fan Comments

Comments are retrospectively moderated. Some could be subject to delays before publication. They must obey the comment policy. Comments load below.

Please only discuss the article above. General chat can be made on our forums at


  1. How many staring 11 need changing? I would be thinking 4.

    I think we surely need an upgrade in the GK department. Be that a completely new signing or giving ward a run. I have not seen anything of him so have no basis for judgement there. I do know he is still young but from reading plenty of comments and articles he could well be the answer. What I do know though is that we need some security at the back in the vein of rein.

    CB is the next upgrade I would go for. If the Matip stories are true and he signs he may be the answer. Hopefully he is the new hyppia.

    Clearly a striker is next. Ideally Sturridge is the preferred option but if that is not to be then we need to seriously need to look for something in that dynamic mould.

    The last one really depends on the formation used. 433 I would go for a new DM in either form of Alonso/mascherano. 4251 I would suggest a new AM to replace Adam Llalana. A Reus that is not injury prone would suffice. Those gotze rumors are fierce tasty.

  2. Mr. Neil Poole does have a point. Out of all those players from 08/09(taking into account starting eleven only),there are maybe at best 3 players that are replaceable.
    I’d say a fit Sturridge would be able to partner Torres(Replace Riera), Coutinho gets the slight nod ahead of Benayoun(Add some consistency to Couts and he can confidently displace Benayoun), and Sakho for Skrtel(he was pretty good back then but quality wise, I think Sakho is better).
    Let’s not forget that Gerrard was also in that team(he isn’t in the picture) so add him in there and we might not even be able to add 3 players into that starting eleven.
    However this isn’t to say we need wholesale changes. There are about 3-4 players per match that you can say don’t show enough to merit a starting position. Some of those have good talent and quality but fail to show it on a regular basis(give the benefit of the doubt to those younger ones like Ibe, Moreno, Coutinho, Firmino, etc..) while others….well, just look at Mignolet.
    I’d say we need 3-4 world class signings to replace those usual culprits and then we can build on from there. Those 3-4 world class players plus our other good influential players(Hendo, Can, Sakho, to name some) can be relied upon to get the results when it matters. This way you get around 6-8 very good players that can carry the team instead of 6-8 that need carrying.
    Also regarding the world class signings, you’re probably going to ask how will we get them without CL or “sugar daddies”. Well we can get them. It will be much harder for sure but I think many of these players would relish the opportunity to work under Klopp. Just ask yourself, would the likes of Willian, Sanchez, and Costa rejected us with Klopp at the helm? Maybe they still would have but odds are they would have agreed to join.

  3. the question depends on what is the club’s ambition? participate in PL as we have done for last 61 years in the top division, then this team is good enough. To win it, practically almost everybody except Coutinho, Henderson and in current form Lovren. But first and foremost any upgrade of Mignolet and Lallana in their respective position would do wonders.

  4. Just ask the morons to look at Ozil. He was pretty average last season and look at him now. Every good player needs to adapt and I can see Firmino adapting to the PL.

  5. Good article neil sometimes I agree somtimes I dont,but on this occasion I do,if we can get 4/5 new players an with klopp at the helm we can challenge for the title,dont need a complere overhaul just a good tweaking here an there,I think b4 klopp took the job he told them wat he needed an wanted an to ve fair to fsg I dont think they will renage otherwise he wouldnt have came to lfc.I understand r fans frustration with the past lot of years but with this manager we can go places,just look wat he has done with these players although not spectacular but some good work so with some more signings my mood gets better an better

    • This post doesn’t need a complete overhaul. A few more actual words and a bit of punctuation would just about do it….

  6. The only two, I could honestly see getting into that side are Clyne and Moreno. Henderson, Coutinho would probably be excellent from the bench. Would include Sturridge on that bench, but he never plays enough.

  7. Keeper, winger, striker, DM. Also we really need a set piece wizard. As bad as we are at defending set pieces, we’re pretty rubbish at the other end too!

  8. Exactly, and to a certain extent this applies to Benteke too. If Klopp himself gets rid of him,i am fine with it, if not, why not atleast give him another season to prove himself. Btw, this dosent mean i dont want a new striker, but surely, even if we get a new striker, there is no guarentee he will hit the ground running from day 1, so surely there is room for Benteke, ings, origi in the squad with the new striker . I just dont get fans who overslate our own players when out of form and overpraise them when they see 1 or 2 good game.

  9. I feel at the moment if Klopp played the diamond we would be playing really well. Firmino and Benteke with Lallana behind, Can, Hendo and Milner and Coutinho comes in when he is available and Lallana replaces Milner.

    Any thoughts if bothered?

  10. I reckon Sturridge will get a whole pre-season so maybe we do not expect him until February. He declared himself fit on Boxing Day so I say 6-8 weeks from then

  11. Oh well, trust the club website to pick out the man who needs the arm round his shoulder and a tickle of the ba lls to cheer him up with a meaningless award….. Don’t recall ever being asked by the club for my vote on the matter….

    Mine would have been Benteke in case you were wondering….

  12. I would change mignolet, bogdan, moreno, toure(old) ,skretel, Lucas, origi (effort but no goal as a striker),lallana,ibe(doesn’t know how to cross for a winger, selfishness, no end product,brainless),Allen.
    Maybe coutinho also,5 in 40 match player.
    I’m sure Liverpool with klopp can have better players than those above in every position,

      • Yes moreno, I think smith will overtake him if given the same playing time. Every match we can see klopp barking at him

        • Moreno has about the same number of caps for Spain as Smith does for Australia.

          Not only is the quality and depth of the Spanish team vastly superior to that of Australia, but to even get a look in at Left Back at present means competing with the LB’s of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea, among others.

          Nobody likes losing to Man Utd but have a beer instead of exhausting yourself with knee jerk reactions.

  13. Sell mignolet and all of our centre backs except Sakho.

    Bring in Varane, Godin, Der Stergen, Reus, Gotze and higuain.

  14. Moreno brainless, lallana brainless/gutless, coutinho one dimensional, mignolet the opposition favorite buffo_n/joker/saviour.
    Only those four for me, rest r OK.

  15. Liverpool have brought in every position except a proper world class DM for I don’t know how many years. Liverpool thinks Lucas or can or Allen are good enough n this is where every manager will suffer n lose their job unknowingly if this is not addressed.

  16. SKRTEL- he doesn’t fancy a fight against physical teams

    SAKHO- doesn’t fancy a fight, never looked assured in possession of the ball

    BENTEKE- Not just good enough

    MILNER- Not good enough

    LALLANA- Terrible conversion rate. That wouldn’t get you the title, no way. There are players out there that do all the hard work and still know how to use the ball when they get it and can score a goal too. Eriksen, Alli, Lamella, Martial, Sanchez,De Bryne, Miralas, Barkley, Arnatovic,Okazaki, Payet…….a long list. We deserve better.

    LUCAS- I don’t consider him a top DM, doesn’t compete with Can/Henderson for the shirt.

    MIGNOLET- I don’t think he’s a bad GK, I just think we need an upgrade.

    • So are you suggesting that the most important attribute for a central defender is to fancy a fight???

      Sakho’s pass completion statistics during his Liverpool career are superior to any other central defender, including the stylish in possession Daniel Agger, we have had in he premier league era as far as I am aware (approx. 90% over first two seasons). He plays positive passes too.

      He is physically powerful, reads the play as well or better than our other defenders and when he is fit he is clearly our best central defender.

      Get over his unusual gait. He is not Djimi Traore mk II.

      His ideal partner is probably a quick but I don’t think he is as slow as Sami Hyypiä who was a fine defender for the club.

      I see also that you have pointed out that Lallana is not of comparable standard as a footballer to Sanchez and De Bruyne. Well done.

      • In the EPL right now you just have to fancy a fight as a CB. You have little control over that. We are conceding from set pieces for a reason, we have lost to smaller team predictably for a reason. If you take away the bias and look at it from a neutral point of view you’d realize almost all the teams above us have stronger CBs.
        I’m not totally in support of the call for a new striker suggestion that most fans isolate the problem as. Once again, your AMs have to be scoring to go top nowadays. Carragher just summarized Lallana’s liverpool career.
        Also if Klopp doesn’t buy new attackers I still won’t fancy it next season cos the ones we have are poor. Klopp didn’t manufacture a Reus, he bought one and few other players he had in dortmund.
        The players are not doing a lot to help themselves either.

        • “The players are not helping themselves either.”

          That type of in depth analysis is reminiscent of Jack Lusby.

          Paolo Maldini, perhaps the greatest defender in the modern era, once said that if he had to make a tackle he had already made a mistake.

          You may notice with age and experience that central defenders tend to mature later than other outfield players. They often play deeper into their 30’s also.

          Without going into copious detail the reason is that it is a difficult position to play & more than any other position, it is the one where experience is of greatest value. Why is this so?

          The reason is that there is a great deal more to being an excellent defender than simply being up for the fight…

          Lallana was a terrible signing. Of the most recent batches of disappointments he is perhaps the most disappointing.

          Your comments regarding Sanchez, De Bruyne and Reus are totally irrelevant and incredibly naive. If you hadn’t noticed players of this ilk are not interested in joining LFC at present. Barcelona accepted an offer to include Sanchez in the Suarez deal, the player chose not to join.

          As for Klopp at Dortmund, of course he didn’t “manufacture” Reus or others. What he did, Reus being one of the most extravagant of his signings but still a valid example, was sign promising young players who had not yet become prohibitively expensive and developed them.

          Lewandowski, Gundogan, Hummels, Piszczek, Kagawa, Subotic etc all bought relatively cheaply and groomed together properly.

          I am not alone in thinking Sakho is a good defender, he is no Maldini or Cannavaro, and my belief has nothing to do with bias.

          The squad is poorly balanced, it needs height, pace, width, a goalkeeper and ideally a finisher or two that fits in with the pressing system. Origi has promise, as do some of the others.

          Football Manager 2015 and the real world just aren’t quite the same…

          • I have not asked Klopp to sign Sanchez or De Bryne. I am just pointing out the importance and effectiveness of decent AMs rather than clamoring for a CF.

            I know Klopp has an eye for good talents. I am simply hoping that he replaces our poor AMs rather than sign a striker and expect him to score all the goals which is what most fans are asking for.

            If Liverpool swapped Benteke for Giroud, we will still remain in mid-table. Since we are unlinkely to get a Suarez or a Torres then strengthen the midfield.

            Also, I don’t play football manager, I don’t have that time. You have picked the wrong person for that comment.

          • Those who do play the game are able to compare data for the attributes of their team’s personnel against data for every other teams personnel, thus instantaneously determining which players are, and are not, good enough based on broad generalisations about the values of those attributes in certain positions.

            Seemed like a cogent simile at the time for some reason? I am still well behind on pointless comparison at least.

            I am not aware of anybody suggesting a Benteke / Giroud swap, although I would take either over Torres nowadays.

            Most fans, by any rational definition of the term “most”, are asking, begging, preying for a goalkeeper by the way.

  17. To be honest i have mixed feelings in regards to the current sqad. Mignolet was a decent keeper when we first signed him but unreliable centre backs have shot his confidence to pieces. I am not convinced with Sakho ( i know he’s not in the pic above) his turn recovery is poor, his,distribution not great and he has no pace, nothing there that suggests he’s an 18m defender upgrade needed. Lovren has potential but needs a leader to direct him,as does Clyne. Allan gets plenty of time on the pitch but you hardly know he’s on it half the time. Morena good going forward but leaves space behind him, again needs direction. Skirtel’s saving grace is that he chips in with the odd goal but again is not great at set pieces. Defense is our Achilles heel and i wonder what they are doing on the training ground as this has been happening since 2012. I am not particularly worried about us in the forward positions, Ibe has potential, and Firmino looks like he can be a great player, but unless Klopp addresses the defensive issues then top four will be out of reach again.

Leave a Reply