A summer of gentle evolution as Liverpool invite rivals to ‘catch us if you can’

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Premier League title trophy handed over on Wednesday evening, Sunday’s trip to St James’ Park, to take on Newcastle United, was one last chance to see these incredible champions strut their immortal 2019/20 stuff.

These lads, these utterly incredible lads in red. The champions by an 18-point chasm.

Sunday was all about thinking back over the course of the previous, incredulous, 37 Premier League games; Sunday was all about embracing the day and savouring the moment.

A job well done, it was also about casting an eye upon the horizon, potentially saying a few goodbyes along the way.

 

Evolution before your eyes

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp (L) and Adam Lallana (R) lift the Premier League trophy during the presentation as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Also; Neco Williams, Mohamed Salah. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In a world of footballing evolution, Jurgen Klopp will not allow this Liverpool to stand still, in the same way it didn’t stand still despite winning the 18/19 Champions League.

While we didn’t go into the 19/20 season with an influx of new signings, we did go into it with a new tactical approach. A higher defensive line compressing the pitch further still and making Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson the most offensive full-backs football has ever seen, upping their attacking contribution beyond what were already startling numbers in 2018/19.

Adam Lallana has bid the club a fond and tearful farewell, Dejan Lovren has followed him out of the exit door, as is likely to Xherdan Shaqiri.

Divock Origi stands at a crossroads with the club, as much as the club does with him. He’s off on holiday now, to mull over whether he should stick or twist, come or go?

Origi can as easily reach out for a regular game elsewhere, as he can stay at Anfield as a useful but perplexing figure, that sits on the periphery of the action, interjecting here and there with the occasionally, stunningly, vital goal, while still being a player that elicits the suspicion that there are better options out there.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Divock Origi kisses with the Premier League trophy as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Other potential departures are mooted or feared. Many expect Leeds United to offer James Milner the opportunity to see his career go full circle, with a return to Elland Road that smacks of two and two being thrown together, in a mathematical conundrum that might just add up to four.

Beyond all this, a standoff over a new contract remains in situ between the club and Gini Wijnaldum and decisions on the futures of the likes of Harry Wilson, Rhian Brewster, Marko Grujic and Loris Karius will be arrived at.

Less than seven weeks until the start of the new season, Liverpool’s short summer of champions could be a busy one, considering no major arrivals are thought to be lined up.

Yet, I doubt that Klopp would want it any other way. Blessed with the best team in the world, it is the backing dancers that will require rearranging.

 

Tight-knit group

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 26, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) celebrates scoring the fourth goal with team-mates captain Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott will likely figure in higher numbers of games if any or many of the above do depart Anfield.

Football has been a squad game for well over a generation now, but there is a balancing act to be settled upon and there will still be a core of players that are Klopp’s ‘go-to’ eleven, in games where the stakes are high.

It is no coincidence that throughout this Premier League-winning campaign, only 12 Liverpool players started a total number of games that stretched to double figures.

Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Of course, there were others that could or should have done likewise, but this where Klopp’s brand of collectivism is crucial in making his Liverpool tick. Making everybody feel important isn’t an easy task.

Today, probably every day throughout lockdown even, while the 12 names above largely speak for themselves, Klopp will have been considering and reconsidering the composition of his ‘shadow squad’ for next season.

Who to retain, who to cut loose?

 

Coming through, coming in

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Adam Lallana kisses the trophy after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In coming to these decisions, the paternal side of Klopp will have played its part too. It would have been the easy option to keep a player like Lallana for instance, yet at 32, with only 40 league appearances in the last three seasons, he is a player that deserves an Indian summer elsewhere, to join a club where he can play more games and spread the Liverpool feelgood factor.

In potentially choosing Brighton, he is also heading closer to home.

Seeing a player like Lallana depart, also means more elbow space in the Liverpool squad for Curtis Jones to find his natural place. It is the reassuring evidence of footballing evolution at play.

The easily derided Lovren is another. He leaves Anfield as an English, European and World champion, making way for somebody else who will be hungry to emulate those highs, be that a talented Netherlands under-19 international, or an experienced Senegalese international.

It will be the same, should Milner, Shaqiri or Origi find new challenges too. Fresh heroes will emerge, either from within or as new recruits.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s James Milner celebrates with the Premier League trophy as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

You will likely fret throughout the transfer window, as other ‘big six’ rivals strengthen their options, more so when those new signings are ones Liverpool have been linked to.

It was no different back in the 1980s. Big money would be splashed elsewhere, and a mild sense of panic would engender, as we occasionally missed out on transfer targets. It was all just shadow puppetry though, as when you’re the team on top, it is up to everybody else to find the final piece of their respective jigsaws.

Liverpool are now the team to catch however, chased by a set of rivals that are led by an increasingly paranoid Pep Guardiola and a cluster of managers who are a clear class or two below the top two.

Enjoy the limited summer and put your trust in Klopp and his team to be ready for the challenges ahead.

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