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Why Liverpool’s squad might be stronger, despite Sadio Mane’s exit

By selling Sadio Mane, Liverpool have lost one of the greatest players in the club’s recent history, but Jurgen Klopp will still feel his squad is stronger heading into 2022/23.

It really is the end of an era for this Liverpool team.

Last summer, they said goodbye to Gini Wijnaldum, a player who arrived during the same transfer window as Mane and was an integral part of the club’s success in the Klopp era.

That departure was tough to take, but Mane’s exit really does hit differently.

There is a strong argument to say the Senegalese has been Liverpool’s most important player in recent years. His £34 million arrival was the start of something special.

In his first season, Mane helped the club return to the Champions League. In his second, he played a vital part in them reaching the final of that very competition. The next year, he helped them go one step further.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 14, 2022: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with the trophy after the FA Cup Final between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Liverpool won 6-5 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

His best season was probably 2019/20, when the Reds won a league title for the first time in 20 years and, in his final season, he completed the set with a domestic cup double.

Understandable, then, that he felt he had achieved everything he could have at the club and wanted a new challenge this summer. A huge blow, but probably the right time for both parties to go their separate ways.

With the signings of Luis Diaz, Fabio Carvalho and Darwin Nunez, Liverpool have ensured his exit should not hit them as hard as it could have.

Rather than regret at Mane’s departure, there is optimism about an exciting new era at the club. The next chapter of the incredible story Klopp is writing at Anfield.

So how is this special team shaping up for the new season?

 

Defence more solid than ever?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 14, 2022: Liverpool's (L-R) Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip celebrates with the trophy after the FA Cup Final between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Liverpool won 6-5 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Joe Gomez‘s new contract is possibly the most underrated bit of business Liverpool have done this summer.

After limited opportunities last season, many expected the 25-year-old to seek more minutes elsewhere, in the hope of securing a spot in England’s World Cup squad.

By convincing him to extend his stay for an additional five years, Liverpool have ensured they have the best set of centre-backs in world football on their books.

Virgil van Dijk and Gomez should now be approaching peak condition, having returned from long-term injuries last summer, while the impressive Ibrahima Konate is a star in the making.

Joel Matip enjoyed his best season in a red shirt yet, having seemingly overcome the injury issues that have plagued him in campaigns gone by, and there is a real battle on to secure that spot alongside Van Dijk when the season gets underway next month.

There’s every chance the club will look to retain one of Sepp van den Berg or Nat Phillips as a fifth-choice option, too.

Between the sticks behind them, Alisson is in the shape of his life, backed up by the excellent Caoimhin Kelleher, who played a key role in the club’s success last season.

Full-back is one of the few positions the Reds have refreshed this summer, with 18-year-old Calvin Ramsay arriving from Aberdeen.

Having replaced Neco Williams, who’s exit to Nottingham Forest earned Liverpool £17 million, Ramsay will be tasked with pushing Trent Alexander-Arnold to his limits, just as Kostas Tsimikas continues to do to Andy Robertson on the other side.

Options aplenty.

 

Carvalho brings flexibility

BANGKOK, THAILAND - Monday, July 11, 2022: Liverpool's new signing Fábio Carvalho (L) and Curtis Jones during a training session at the Rajamangala National Stadium on day two of the club's Asia Tour ahead of a friendly match against Manchester United FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having mainly been utilised as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system at Fulham, Carvalho’s arrival at the club had many wondering which role Klopp had in store for him in this Liverpool team.

After featuring in both pre-season friendlies, the answer to that question is still largely unclear, but one thing he will add is more options and more flexibility.

In his first outing for the club, the defeat to Man United in Bangkok, Carvalho started in a stereotypical Klopp midfield three, but it was the position of his former Fulham academy teammate Harvey Elliott which offered the most food for thought.

Elliott, who was moulded into more of a central midfield role last season, began on the right side of Liverpool’s front three, and was probably the Reds’ brightest player on the pitch while he was on.

In the second friendly against Palace, it was roles reversed. Elliott began the game in midfield, setting up Jordan Henderson for the opener, while Carvalho came on in a wide role in the second half.

There has been a clamour among many fans for the Reds to further add to their midfield ranks this summer, but Klopp has made clear that he’s more than happy with his current options.

Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago was the first choice trio for much of last season, but Elliott will have his eyes on nailing down one of those positions, just as he did at the start of last season.

Curtis Jones is another who is yet to fulfil is potential, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain excellent options and James Milner will once again be Klopp’s Mr. Reliable.

 

A refreshed forward line

SINGAPORE - Friday, July 15, 2022: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez during the Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at the Singapore National Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When it became clear that Mane would be leaving the club this summer, Liverpool insisted they must have a replacement lined up in order to sanction his departure.

Nunez was an interesting choice, given the profile of striker he is and how he differs to Roberto Firmino, a player who’s played a unique role at the heart of the Reds’ attack in recent years.

In reality, Mane’s most like-for-like replacement was Luis Diaz, who arrived at the club last January. The fact he’s had the second-half of last season to settle was a huge bonus.

Mohamed Salah‘s new contract looks likely to bring his struggles towards the end of last season to an end, with Klopp making clear he still feels the Egyptian’s “best years are ahead of him.”

The Liverpool boss also believes Firmino “is back, 100 percent” and remains “a world class player,” while Diogo Jota‘s excellent start to life at Anfield looks set to earn him an improved contract.

Liverpool finished last season with seven senior attacking players to pick from. With Mane, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino replaced by Carvalho and Nunez, you could argue they have one fewer for the upcoming campaign.

However, as previously mentioned, Carvalho’s arrival could mean that Elliott is deployed in a right-sided attacking role more regularly.

It’s certainly an attack with a different look to this time last year, and one that offers Klopp more flexibility than ever.

Work your magic, Jurgen!


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