Liverpool have had a slightly unusual start to the 2023/24 season.
The Reds have not blown as many teams away as might be expected with the quality players at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal, but they still entered the November international break just one point behind Manchester City with a feeling that they have more to offer.
There are hopes for a second Premier League title under manager Klopp and while they are right in contention at the top of the table, improvement is needed if they are to overtake Man City and keep other teams at bay.
Here are three areas Liverpool must focus on now to come back stronger after the break.
We can get onto the bigger picture stuff later on, but Liverpool have on paper the hardest game of the season to deal with once the international break ends.
The Reds visit Man City in the early kick-off on Saturday 24 November in a time-slot Klopp has bemoaned on many previous occasions. The flip-side to the negativity, however, is he has longer to tactically plan for the match rather than approaching it three days after a Europa League fixture.
It’s obviously a factor that many of his best players are away on international duty and not training at Melwood, but he can at least focus on the theory and work with the squad members who are there.
If Liverpool win that game, it will not only put them two points ahead of Pep Guardiola’s side but also send the biggest message possible to the rest of the Premier League over their title aspirations. Lose and they’ll suddenly sit four points behind City, who tend to only improve as the season wears on.
All the talk over the summer coming into the season focused on Liverpool’s midfield rebuild.
They lost almost an entire central core in the summer and added a whole new one, while a number of midfielders already at the club were injured with concerns over the level they would return to when fit again.
Understandably, there has been plenty of rotation and experimentation in midfield from Klopp over the first 12 Premier League games while dealing with commitments in Europe. The German manager has used ten different combinations in his three-player midfield over the first 18 games of all competitions this season.
His favoured trio has been Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Curtis Jones who have started four games together. Klopp has also taken to using Cody Gakpo as the most advanced midfielder on occasion.
Szoboszlai has become close to undroppable after a wonderful start at Anfield, taking to life in the Premier League very well. However, things have been less smooth for Mac Allister, who has taken the deep-lying role, and surprise summer signing Wataru Endo, who is still being used rotationally.
Klopp needs to decide what combination of midfielders he favours going forward as most of Liverpool’s recent success has been built on a fairly defined starting XI. Perhaps he favours this rotation with players like Ryan Gravenberch, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott occasionally starting, but he also has Stefan Bajcetic and Thiago to return from injury.
Almost every Liverpool fan has a different idea of what the midfield three should be, but we’ll get a big indication of Klopp’s preferred core for the big games when they take on Man City at the Etihad.
Liverpool have always been an extremely aggressive side under Klopp but it seems the coach feels that has slipped in recent weeks. He was particularly vocal about the issue after the Europa League defeat to Toulouse, pointing out their lack of fight.
“We can be a really good team, we have shown that. But I want it now,” Klopp says. “We cannot have what happened [in Toulouse]. We were not aggressive enough. It was as easy as that.
“I want us to learn from it. We can lose a game. My God. But we have to use it to learn the right things. To win a football game, you need to be aggressive.”
This ties in with a couple of draws Liverpool have had this season as well as victories that could have been a bit smoother. The Reds could be accused of playing too passively in draws at both Luton Town and Brighton in the Premier League, fixtures Klopp would have desired wins from, while the Toulouse loss also fits into this bracket.
There’s a ruthlessness Klopp must think his team is lacking right now, so he will want to get that out of them as soon as possible.
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