It’s always fun to know what your enemies are thinking, so I asked three questions from our Liverpool blog-counterpart Mark Kastner, from The Liverpool Offside. The Reds are reaping the benefits of a project that has some parallels to Chelsea’s gate-crashing years — attacking with waves of highly skilled players, a sturdy defense, and an influx of African talent. So here are three questions I had for Mark ahead of Chelsea’s Sunday matchup with the Reds at Stamford Bridge.
WAGNH: With just five matchdays gone and Manchester City having already dropped five points, how much pressure is around the squad to keep that gap from closing in the early stages of the season?
TLO: I don’t know if there’s any more pressure on the squad than there would be had City not dropped five points already. These are two incredible squads that will no doubt replicate the title race from last season. As every Manchester United and Everton fan will point out, there was a point last year where Liverpool were 10 points clear of City.
Should City be level with Liverpool on points right now? Yeah, probably. A loss to Norwich and drawing to Tottenham when they took like four thousand shots is completely unexpected. But just like when City win, Liverpool can’t control when City drop points. It doesn’t make the margin of error any easier.
Liverpool only took 1 point off of City last season. They need to improve that total this year if they have any hopes of winning their first Premier League title. Whatever happens in the other 36 league games, well, happens.
WAGNH: Five wins out of five surely means there’s not too much to complain about, but if there’s one, it’s possibly the shuffling of your midfield. With Naby Keïta likely still out, who are you expecting to be named and what are you expecting from them?
TLO: I am a Naby Keïta stan. I love that little man. Towards the back end of last season, there wasn’t a Liverpool player more in form than he. It’s a shame his national team doesn’t value his health and ran him into the ground this summer.
Anyways, Klopp’s midfield is something else. I think most Liverpool fans have been crying out for a more creative aspect to the midfield. While Naby definitely provides that, it’s not at the sacrifice of the graft and shape Klopp asks from his central three. So far this season the first choice three have been Fabinho at the base, with Gini Wijnaldum on the left hand side, and Jordan Henderson in a more advanced role on the right. I suspect that’ll be the 3 we see on Sunday — with the caveat that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin starts in the Henderson role, though I doubt that.
The point of Klopp’s midfield is to hold the shape and intensity he asks from his team. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold don’t set assist records in a vacuum. The midfield three does all the dirty work for the team so that the front 3 and the fullbacks can create their magic. When things don’t go super well, the midfield is usually what fans criticize, asking questions like, “why don’t we have a more attacking center mid?” But I think those criticisms miss the context at times.
We’ll see a lot of rotation in the middle of the park this year for Liverpool. But whoever the 3 midfielders are that start, they’ll all be asked to do the same thing.
WAGNH: Ok, now — and hear me out before reacting — can we have Salah back?
Guys, I tried.
In all seriousness, thanks to Mark for taking the time for these questions. Be sure to check out the reverse post on The Liverpool Offside, where I talk about Lampard, Pulisic, and expectations.