It’s safe to say Liverpool are glad to see the back of a wearying 2020/21 campaign.
It had its moments – a rare win at Old Trafford, Alisson’s magical header against West Brom, and Mohamed Salah just in general – but it was a long, injury-fraught season that brought the Reds back down to earth.
Yet there is still reason to be excited ahead of 2021/22. After a strong finish to the campaign, Liverpool are set for a minor rebuild this summer. Two or three new additions will add some freshness to a squad that will already be boosted by the returns of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson, and Jurgen Klopp will be confident of adding some more silverware to the trophy cabinet before the season is out.
But how could the lineup look on day one? Come with 90min on a journey of cautious optimism as we predict how the Reds’ strongest team could look when the new season gets underway.
It takes a special kind of keeper to be so good that he justifies the odd clanger, but Alisson’s brilliance more than compensates for his impulsive style of play.
His command of the area is second to none while his speed of thought wins Liverpool far more points than you would think at first glance.
With any luck, he’ll be their first choice keeper for years to come – though they may need to seek out some dependable backup in case his injury record keeps up.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold
It was a difficult start to last season for young Trent but he pulled it together to rediscover some of his best form as winter turned to spring.
His omission from the March internationals actually proved to be one of the best things to happen to him. Whether it was the much-needed rest or the warning shot fired from Southgate, he returned from the break in inspired form and helped fire the Reds back into the Champions League.
CB: Ibrahima Konate
When the day comes that Klopp is blessed with a fully fit back-line, he will have some difficult decisions to make. Joe Gomez in his pulp was rapidly developing into one of the Premier League’s best centre-backs, while Joel Matip is a trusted lieutenant of Klopp’s who will have a part to play if he hangs around.
But Ibrahima Konate, the new arrival from RB Leipzig, may just be a step up on both.
The towering Konate – known as ‘Ibuprofen’ among his former teammates in Germany – looks like the heir-apparent to Virgil van Dijk and is one of the few defensive prospects on the planet with the potential to match his pace, power and aerial prowess.
CB: Virgil van Dijk
If he comes back half as good as he was before that challenge from Jordan Pickford, then it will be a breath of fresh air to have him back.
LB: Andy Robertson
Does he ever actually do anything wrong?
Robertson missed just 34 minutes of Liverpool’s Premier League season last time out, and now Georginio Wijnaldum is gone, he may be the only player Klopp can depend on to deliver no matter the circumstances.
He’s set to captain Scotland to the Euros this summer, and you just know he’ll be back fresh as a daisy for the start of 2021/22.
CM: Jordan Henderson
It’s to Liverpool’s credit that they managed to recover their season in the fashion they did without their captain, but one thing is for sure: they will be a lot better with him back in the team.
Last season posed some unique challenges for the 30-year-old, between filling in at centre-back in January to being sidelined for the season in February, but he’s no stranger to a bit of adversity.
Having been named on the bench for the final game of the season, he’ll be back at it and ready to go for the Euros.
Fabinho’s true value to Liverpool’s midfield was laid bare in the stretch of the season where he was forced to deputise at centre-back. He brings a level of control and intensity in the middle of the park that is sorely missing when he isn’t there.
Now that Wijnaldum is off to pastures new, it’s especially important that Fabinho remains fixed at the base of midfield. There’s just no-one else who can do his job.
CM: Youri Tielemans
Thiago is a regular starter at Anfield these days, while Curtis Jones continued his steady breakthrough last season and will expect to continue that after the summer.
But there is still space for a new face or two in the Liverpool midfield ranks, and the likes of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be moved on to make way for one.
Youri Tielemans is one who has been linked recently and he makes a lot of sense as a Wijnaldum replacement. He fits the profile for a Klopp signing and could add some goals and creativity to the midfield line.
RW: Mohamed Salah
31 goals last season, which is pretty ridiculous all things considered.
As long as he’s fit, he should always be in the starting XI.
FW: Roberto Firmino
Liverpool will be looking to the transfer market for some more backup for the front three, while Harvey Elliott might also be in the frame after his stellar season on loan at Blackburn.
When it comes to the crunch, though, it will be between Firmino and Diogo Jota to start on opening day, and the Brazilian is edging it on form.
He was back at his best for the final few games of the season, scoring three and assisting two in their last five, and the challenge of Jota over the summer should keep him on his toes.
LW: Sadio Mane
Mane admitted last season was one of the worst of his career, but when you’re finishing the worst season of your career on 16 goals and nine assists, you’re not doing too badly at all.
The Senegalese signed off for the season with a double against Southampton and with a proper break from the whole ‘football’ thing coming up, he’ll be back in amongst it by the time the players return to Kirkby.